There is a story in the early church about a married couple who tried to buy accolades, recognition, and influence from the Apostles and the church. They didn’t approach them with a clear offer of bribery, instead their corruption was in the form of giving an offering that looked bigger (more sacrificial and costly on a personal level) than it really was.
“Ananias… with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart… You have not lied just to human beings but to God.’ When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died…
About three hours later his wife came in… At that moment she fell down… and died.”
~ Acts 5:1-10
Their money was their’s to keep or to give away, there was nothing wrong with going in either direction. What was wrong was their jealousy-fueled attempt at deception, giving a seemingly sacrificial offering in order to gain accolades and “awards” of recognition. They had seen the way a man Joseph was treated earlier by the Apostles when he gave a sacrificial offering:
“Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”
~ Acts 4:36-37
Joseph [apparently] already had a good reputation among the Apostles, who had nicknamed him with a new name, well before he gave the sacrificial offering. But, the married couple saw his recognition by the church leaders and became very jealous, devising a plan to garner the same level of attention. It was like the “Me Too! Me Too!” jealous rampage of an immature child, only done with the deceitful strategy of mature adults.
The Holy Spirit early in the life of the newborn church put His Divine foot down. The buying of accolades, recognition, and influence within the church is corruption based upon jealousy and deceit. For Ananias and Sapphira, the wages of their sin were exacted from them immediately: death! Everyone in the church and in the city who heard about this took notice, and a godly fear gripped their hearts (Acts 5:11).
Perhaps you wonder why there are not more people dropping dead in pastors’ offices today. Has God changed His mind and changed the rules about the Ananias and Sapphira kind of sin?
No, He hasn’t. God’s silence does not mean God’s approval. God’s grace provides us an unearned delay of our final judgement so that we will have a little extra time to reconsider our sins, turning from them, and turning wholeheartedly to Christ (this is called repentance). However, the length of this grace period is not guaranteed to last another minute, much less a lifetime. Woe to the next jealous “Christian” who engages in a deceitful, sacrificial offering of money, service, or influence with the wrong intent. The Holy Spirit is still holy, and still wields the sword of life and death.
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