Acts 5:1-11 - The First Sin and Trouble in the Church: Keeping Back

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Now we saw that in the early church there was tremendous enthusiasm… and sometimes enthusiasm can get misdirected. 

Paul said "For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge." (Romans 10:2)

In the early church, because of their excitement and their zeal and because they were expecting the Lord to return at any time, they would come into the fellowship would sell everything.  They would bring the money and lay it at the apostles’ feet.  So there was sort of a community that was formed.  So that everyone received then from the church according to their needs. 

There is no indication that God directed it.  It would seem that it was something that just grew out of the enthusiasm because of how God was working and the mighty things that were being done.  Everyone was excited.  It was not something that was required.  It was something that was just freely done by the people in their excitement and zeal for God.

As I said, they believed the Lord was going to return at any time so they probably thought “we are not going to need it anyhow so let’s just give everything away.” 

They may also be another reason:

remember that Jesus had prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem. He had said that it was going to come soon and that when his disciples saw it, they were to leave the city immediately (Matt. 24:15–22). When the destruction finally did come in a.d. 70, some of the Christians remembered Jesus’ words and left the city.

In these early days the Christians were no doubt living with thoughts of the destruction of the city, and this may be why they were so willing to sell all they had. They might have thought, The Lord has told us that Jerusalem is going to be overthrown. Our possessions are not going to do us any good then. The thing to do is sell them and use them in the Lord’s work now.  Either view is probable

But there were problems that developed from this.  In chapter five we come across the first problem.  However in order to understand chapter 5, we need to go back a little bit to chapter 4.  At the end of the fourth chapter, it tells how no one lacked anything for those that possessed land or houses, they sold them and they brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  Distribution was made to everyone according to his need.  It tells how Barnabas sold his land and brought the money in.   


Someday we are going to die, and the good we can do with our possessions will end then. Doesn’t it make sense to take care how we use our possessions and use them well now? We should make them count. I am not saying sell all you have. Normally that would be an unwise thing to do. But make sure you use your possessions for the Lord.

Barnabas means “Son of encouragement” so the early church named him Barnabas because of the way he acted.  Unfortunately, as it was soon to turn out, sitting over on the side of the church somewhere there were two people who noticed what was going on and who wanted to be acclaimed like Barnabas. Their names were Ananias and Sapphira.

They thought, I wish people were praising us like that. Look at the attention Barnabas is getting. He sold his field and gave them money. They named him “Son of Encouragement.” How marvelous it would be to be thought of like that by our friends. So they decided to sell their piece of property and do the same thing.

Sadly, as we read the story we find that they were not at all like Barnabas. Outwardly they seemed to be, but inwardly they were of quite a different character.

!! A.                 The Imperfect Church (5:1-2).

1.                  “Ananias and Saphira sold a possession…” (v.1a).

a)                  No church is perfect.

(1)                 There is no perfect church, not even the church of the apostles.  I read Acts 4:32,

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had,” and I think, ah, there’s the perfect church. But even this church had Ananias and Sapphira in it.

(2)                 Someone once told Charles Spurgeon that they were leaving his church because they were going to find a perfect church. Spurgeon, who had a great deal of wit and sometimes was more forthright than people dare to be today, said, “When you find it, please don’t join it, because you’ll ruin it.”
(3)                 I get excited and concerned at the same time when people come to Calvary Chapel in La Mirada, where I serve, and people will express an exalted idea of what they find there.
(a)                 Nobody has ever told me that they are joining Calvary la Mirada because it is perfect—But often people are quite enthusiastic when they come. They say things like, “I have finally found it. This is the church for me. It is what I have always wanted.”
(b)                Again, I get excited and concerned because I think, just let a week go by, a month, a year. Let them get to know us a little bit, and that enthusiasm will vanish.  I would hope, because God does work in us, that they also find good things as well as disappointments.
(c)                 I know they can find fellowship, faithfulness to the Word of God, people who will be concerned for them and pray for them. Calvary La Mirada is a good church. But there is no perfect church, and there was not even in Jerusalem.
(d)                We need to pray for our congregations. We need to pray that God will help us do better, protect us from Satan, and keep us faithful to himself.

2.                  “He kept back part of the proceeds, his wife being aware of it…” (v.2a).

a)                  Keeping back is partial commitment.

(1)                 Ananias and Sapphira refused to give everything beyond their own necessities. They kept back part of the money.  They chose to hang on to part of the world.

                “And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15).

                “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).

                “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim. 6:10).

                “There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty” (Proverbs 11:24).

                “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard” (Proverbs 21:13).

                “He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse” (Proverbs 28:27).

                “There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt” (Eccles. 5:13).

                “For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely” (Jeremiah 6:13).

                “And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness” (Ezekiel 33:31).

                “And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage” (Micah 2:2).


b)                  Keeping back is deception:

(1)                 If they were not believers:
(a)                 Then Ananias and Sapphira would wanted the church to think they were fellow believers. They wanted the acceptance and the fellowship of believers without paying the price of commitment and loyalty to Christ and His church.

B.                Peters Reply to Ananias (v.3-6).

1.                  “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart…” (v.3a).

a)                  The role of Satan.

(1)                 Being a mouthpiece for Satan: When Peter spoke on this occasion, he was conscious of speaking under the direct impress of the Holy Spirit. There were times in Peter’s life, especially before his conversion, when like many of us he simply blurted out whatever happened to be in his mind.
(a)                 Remember when Jesus began to tell His disciples He must be killed?

Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”" (Matt.16:21-23)

(b)                Here we see Peter being a mouthpiece for Satan.  Whether by obsession, oppression, or simply by supernatural influence, Satan managed to prompt Peter to oppose Christ’s way and try to lure Jesus into disobeying God’s will.
(c)                 The text does not explain the means of the temptation, only its source.  Because Peter had taken the side of Satan, he became a stumbling block to Christ.

(i)                   Stumbling block is from skandalon, a word originally used of an animal trap, in particular the part where the bait was placed.

(ii)                 The term eventually came to be used of luring a person into captivity or destruction. Satan was using Peter to set a trap for Jesus.

But learned from his mistake… later he writes "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world." (1Pet.5:8-9)

(iii)                How do we practically do this?  How can we have victory?

James tells us: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

(iv)               But how do we first submit to God? We do it through prayer and that devotional life of which prayer is a part.

(v)                 Our example here is Jesus, who resisted and overcame the devil in his temptation.  Jesus had just spent forty days in close fellowship with God.

(vi)               When the temptation came He said “It is written.”

(2)                 God uses Satan to achieve His purposes (2Chron.21:1 see also 2Sam.24:1):
(a)                 This apparent discrepancy is resolved by understanding that God sovereignly and permissively uses Satan to achieve His purposes.
(b)                God uses Satan to…

(i)                   judge sinners (cf. Mark 4:15; 2 Cor. 4:4),

(ii)                 to refine saints (cf. Job 1:8–2:10; Luke 22:31, 32),

(iii)                to discipline those in the church (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1–5; 1 Tim. 1:20),

(iv)               and to further purify obedient believers (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7–10).

(c)                 Neither God nor Satan forced David to sin (James 1:13–15), but God allowed Satan to tempt David and he chose to sin.

2.                  “Was it not your own… after it was sold, was it not in your own control…” (v.4).

a)                  The right of ownership.

(1)                 Peter was not inventing the right of private property. It is something that was already in the Old Testament. You have it in the Ten Commandments.
(a)                 The eighth commandment says, “You shall not steal” (Exod. 20:15). In order to steal, you have to take something that belongs to somebody else, something they own.
(b)                Thus there is the right of private ownership.
(2)                 The problem was not that Ananias did not give everything he had, but that he pretended to be giving it when actually he was holding back some. The problem was his hypocrisy and lying.

3.                  To lie to the Holy Spirit… You have not lied to men but to God…” (v.3 &4).

a)                  Sin is always against God.  

(1)                 This passage teaches three vitally important truths about the Holy Spirit.
(a)                 First, it affirms that He is a person, not an influence or impersonal force, since He can be lied to.
(b)                Second, verse 3 says Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit, while verse 4 says that he lied to God, a clear affirmation of the deity of the Holy Spirit.
(c)                 Thirdly, all sin is ultimately against God.  Jesus himself proclaimed that He is God by forgiving sins (Mark 2:1-11).

b)                  How God see’s us.

(1)                 When we look at the following passages, we will see that when God’s people murmur and complain or even are hurt by others, the Lord takes that personally.
(a)                 1 Samuel 8:1-7 – rejecting the Lord.
(b)                Acts 9:1-5 – persecuting the Lord.

C.                The Sin of Saphira (v.7-11)

a)                  Bearing the full measure of guilt and responsibility.

(1)                 Luke points out her guilt in 2 ways. In verse 2 he adds the “with his wife’s full knowledge.” Then, after Ananias had been judged, he notes that she repeated her husband’s lie.
(2)                 When you and I do wrong things, we work hard at shunning responsibility.  An example:
(a)                 A little boy once said to his mother, “Mother, why is it that whenever I do something wrong, it’s because I am a bad boy; but whenever you do something wrong, it’s your nerves?”
(b)                The mother was recognizing that her son was a creature made in the image of God and was responsible for what he did. But in her case, she excused her bad behavior by her genes.
(3)                 When we blame somebody else for our conduct, in the final analysis the person we are actually blaming is God.
(a)                 If you try to excuse yourself on the basis of your environment, well, God is ultimately the one who is responsible for the environment, isn’t he?
(b)                If you appeal to internal factors, well, God created those. Whenever you try to excuse yourself for some wrong behavior, you are actually attempting to shift the blame for your sin to God.
(c)                 But that will not do. Sin is still sin. God is not its cause.  In the end God will judge it.
(4)                 This passages teaches that God is not indifferent to his people’s sins.

Peter wrote in his first letter, possibly remembering this incident, “It is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel?” (1 Peter 4:17).

b)                  Keeping back is allowing Satan to fill the heart instead of the Holy Spirit.

(1)                 The Holy Spirit is not the Person who stirs sin; He is not the Person who arouses a person to hoard and keep back. The Holy Spirit stirs love—love that cares and ministers (Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22-23).
(2)                 The Holy Spirit is not a murderer, not the one who tempts men to keep back that which would keep others alive (whether food or safety from freezing weather, or whether life in Christ). Keeping back is of Satan; it is allowing one’s heart to be filled with Satan’s lies...
(a)                 the lies that the challenge to give all one is and has is too much to ask (Luke 9:23).
(b)                the lies that to lose oneself completely in the cause of Christ, is too unreasonable.
(c)                 the lies that what is important is to secure more and more in order to be acceptable, to have position and promotion, esteem and the comforts of the world.
(d)                the lies that one is justified in keeping back some because no one knows the future and, after all, everyone else does it.
(e)                 the lies that one can give some and keep back some and still be acceptable to God.
(3)                 The thing to remember is that Satan is the “father of lies and murder” (John 8:44).
(a)                 His strategy is to get us to believe his lie that we can keep back. His purpose is to keep the needs of the world from being met so that many persons will die prematurely, die without ever experiencing life, real life.

                “No man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

                “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

                “Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22).

Read (Matthew 25:41-46).

Read (Luke 16:19, 22-23, 25).

2.                  “To lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the price of the land…” (v.3b).

a)                  Keeping back is lying to the Holy Spirit.

(1)                 There are several ways this is true.
(a)                 A person says that he is surrendering his life to Christ, but he does not give all.
(b)                A person says that he wants the Spirit’s presence and power when he is really unwilling to surrender all.
(c)                 A person says that he is committed to walk as a brother with other believers (who are indwelt by the Spirit) when he is not willing to pay the full price of discipleship.
(d)                A person says that he wants the fullness of God’s Spirit when the acceptance and approval of men is more important.

Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?" (Acts 5:3, NASB95)

We also read in Acts 7 "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did." (Acts 7:51)

Paul says in Eph 4 "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." (Ephesians 4:30, NASB95)

b)                  Keeping back is acting against and lying to God Himself.

(1)                 Keeping back mocks God. A person mocks God’s Word when he says that he is giving his life to God (which means all he is and has), but he does not do it.
(2)                 The person who keeps back is saying that he does not have to be honest with God, that he can lie to God.
(3)                 Pretending always mocks God and His Word. Pretending damages the name of God and causes the world to mock and scoff God, to deny Him and His power.
(4)                 The pretender actually does more harm and damage to the name of Christ than the greatest sinner. How? A pretender shows and proclaims something—his life cries out to the world: “The power of God’s Son is...
(a)                 not attractive enough to draw me.”
(b)                not challenging enough to captivate me.”
(c)                 not important enough for me to give up everything.”
(d)                not powerful enough to change me.”
(e)                 not loving enough to demand my loyalty.”
(f)                  not beneficial enough to pull me out of the world.”
(5)                 Keeping back cuts the heart of God. God loves the pretender (hypocrite, deceiver, liar). As long as the pretender’s heart has enough softness to respond to the gospel, God reaches out to him. He wants the pretender, the man who keeps back, to be saved. As long as he is lost, God’s heart aches, longs, hurts for the man to come home.
(6)                 The person who keeps back rejects the clear teaching of God’s Word...
(a)                 that a man must deny himself completely (Luke 9:23).
(b)                that God will give all “these things”—all the necessities of life—to the man who seeks Him first.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

“Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee” (Mark 10:28).

“And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me” (Luke 5:27).

(Luke 12:33; Luke 14:33; 21:34; 18:29-30; Romans 15:1).


D.                Keeping back is severely judged (5:5-6).

a)                  The sin of holding back is serious, very serious to God.

(1)                 When a person comes to Jesus Christ, God expects the person to be sincere and genuine through and through.
(2)                 He expects the person to deny himself—to give all he is and has to meet the desperate needs of dying people. This is the only reason Jesus Christ came to earth. There is no acceptance of anyone who does any less—only judgment.

b)                  The sin of keeping back involves many other sins, terrible sins.

(1)                 At the very least it involves the five sins described in this passage (see outline— Acts 5:1-4 and note— Acts 5:1-4).

c)                  The heart of a person is not truly known except by God.

(1)                 When some read this passage, they wonder why Ananias was not given a chance to repent. They think the judgment was perhaps harsh.
(2)                 They have difficulty thinking of God as Someone who judges people to death. But note something—note exactly what is said.
(a)                 “Satan filled thine heart.”
(b)                “[A] lie to the Holy Spirit.”
(c)                 “Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.”
(3)                 No one could know these sins had filled Ananias’ heart, not by what he did, not without God. God revealed to Peter that the sins had filled and completely possessed Ananias. It appeared that Ananias was lying “unto men,” simply trying to deceive the church. But it is said that his heart was filled, completely occupied and possessed, by Satan. No one could have looked at the sins of Ananias and known their depth—that all three sins were so deeply rooted—not apart from God revealing the fact.
(4)                 The point is this: only God knows the heart of a person, what is in the depth of a person’s heart and what fills a person’s heart. Only God knows when a heart is fully possessed by evil. This is the reason God alone can judge, the reason judgment has to be left up to God.

                “Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first” (Matthew 19:30).


d)                  The sin of Ananias seems to have been close to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (that is, saying the work of the Holy Spirit is of the devil (Matt1231-32).

(1)                 The sin of Ananias, of keeping back was saying...
(a)                 the work of the Holy Spirit allows sin.
(b)                the work of the Holy Spirit in a life still allows a person to keep back something for himself.
(c)                 the movement of the Holy Spirit in a life still allows the devil to fill a heart with some sin.
(d)                a person can be both righteous and worldly, living for God and for mammon.
(e)                 the Holy Spirit is not more important in a life than the devil and mammon.

e)                  If Ananias and Sapphira were genuine believers, if they had really trusted the Lord as their Savior, then their sin may be the “sin unto death” taught by Scripture (see Deeper Study #1—1 John 5:16 for discussion).

(1)                 Now note a most serious fact, a fact so serious it determines one’s eternal destiny.
(a)                 Judgment upon sin does not always come as soon or as quickly as it did upon Ananias and Sapphira.
(b)                But all sin will be judged. There is no escape from the penalty of sin, not if a person continues in sin.

The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth” (1 Tim. 5:6).

But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Tim. 6:9).

The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20).

He that pursueth evil pursueth it to his own death” (Proverbs 11:19).

Evil shall slay the wicked” (Psalm 34:21).

But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death” (Proverbs 8:36).

The perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them” (Proverbs 11:3).

Disobedience received a just recompense of reward” (Hebrews 2:2).

How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation” (Hebrews 2:3).

Them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness...shall utterly perish in their own corruption” (2 Peter 2:10, 12).


            The point is simply this: keeping back is condemned by God, and it is to be judged. Sooner or later it is to be severely judged. The only answer to sin is confession and repentance. The sin and judgment of Ananias and Sapphira shows this. God hates sin. Men must repent of sin. There is no other way to be acceptable to God.

            “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).

            “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).

            “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

            “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee” (Acts 8:22).

            “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30).

            “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).

            “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).

            “But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die” (Ezekiel 18:21).


E.                 Keeping back influences others to sin (5:7-10).

1.                  Note the three subpoints in the outline.

(1)                 Ananias, as head of the household, was responsible for his wife. He led his wife to follow right along with Him; he caused her to lie.
(2)                 He had the opportunity to lead his wife in righteousness, that is, in helping to meet the needs of so many who were so desperately in need. He had the opportunity to lead his wife to a complete and fulfilled life in Christ, a life perfectly assured of eternity.
(3)                 Instead he led her to sin and death. Scripture is strong in what it has to say about being a stumbling block and leading others into sin and death. (See notes— Matthew 18:6; note— Matthew 18:7-9 for more discussion.)

“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).

“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13).

“Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way” (Romans 14:13).

“Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” (1 Cor. 5:6).

“But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Cor. 8:12-13).









F.                 Keeping back—its judgment caused great fear (5:11).

a)                  Everyone recognized the great cost and seriousness of following Christ.

(1)                 Following the Lord meant...
(a)                 denying self completely, surrendering to Christ all one is and has.

“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccles. 12:13).

“Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isaiah 8:13).

(b)                walking the straight and narrow path, living righteously and godly in this present world and looking for the glorious return of the great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

“For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Romans 8:13).

“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Galatians 5:24).

“Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12-13).

“And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Peter 1:17).

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