Contriving That Goes Astray

“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.’ When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

“After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.’ And she said, ‘Yes, for so much.’ But Peter said to her, ‘How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.’ Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last.” Acts 5:1-10a

Contrive: To plan with cleverness or ingenuity; devise. To invent or fabricate, especially by improvisation. To plan with evil intent; scheme.

The account of this couple carries several lessons, but a superficial reading affords none of them. Our Lord is deeply interested in our hearts, knowing that from them stem our actions and words, so He includes this story to warn of motives that meander from His sway. We must dig beneath the surface in both our reading and applying to get the gold. Begin with the “But…” (Luke 6:45)

The preceding paragraph tells of the growing early church’s unity of heart and soul, and God’s great grace being poured out in abundance with results of lavish generosity. What Ananias and Sapphira actually did was not condemnable as much as how they made their decision and carried it out. They had at their disposal the full amount they owned, as had the other believers, but their motives and actions stood in stark contrast. Peter discerned that Ananias had lied to the Holy Spirit and God after contriving with his wife to pretend they had made a lesser amount. They agreed to be dishonest and hold back some of their proceeds, putting on airs of righteous generosity like the others had displayed, while inwardly hoarding selfishness. (Acts 4:32-37)

The consequence for Ananias was death, and without knowing her partner in deception had died, Sapphira fell to the same grave judgment. Lying, making light of God’s omniscience, attempting to deceive the Lord, and putting on appearances because we fear man more than God, are an affront to His holiness, and will not be tolerated.

Where has my clever planning been tainted by greed and self-promotion, and strayed from biblical principles? What habits need to be reconsidered and corrected before the penetrating light of God’s word?

Father, bring my every plan under holy scrutiny and purify my secret motives. May all I do and say align with godly integrity and truth.

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