But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s [a]full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But 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? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not [b]under your control? Why is it that you have [c]conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. 6 The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.
7 Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land [d]for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, [e]that was the price.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” 10 And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.
Wiersbe writes in his New Testament Commentary:
"Do we really mean everything we pray about in public? Do we sing the hymns and gospel songs sincerely or routinely? If God killed “religious deceivers” today, how many church members would be left?"
These questions pack a punch, don't they? All of a sudden, the realities of deception come very close to home and all we are left with is feelings of doubt and guilt. But may these feelings bring us to repentance!
Note the contrast between Barnabas and Ananias & Sapphira. Both freely offered but one did it for the LORD's glory and the other for selfish gain. Barnabas' story is written so simply - he owned a tract of land, sold it, brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. No lies, no deception. He simply laid the money at the apostles' feet - all the money - and desired them to do with it as they wished, for the LORD's glory. Notice the focus of his gift. He gave freely and released it freely. Not Ananias & Sapphira. This couple clearly had a mind to cheat people and to lust for recognition. To say it was one person's idea would be false. Luke clearly describes for us that Ananias' wife clearly understood what they were doing and agreed (see vs. 2).
We need to keep in mind that this drastic action was not because of their gift or even what they gave, but because they desired recognition and, in that desire, lied to the Holy Spirit. Again, note the contrast with Barnabas. He desired no recognition. He needed no praise. He simply gave freely for the LORD's work. And yet, isn't it always the way that there is one in the crowd that desires the same praise, the same lime-light, so in steps Ananias & Sapphira.
Wiersbe explains, "They were not required to sell the property, and, having sold it, they were not required to give any of the money to the church (Acts 5:4). Their lust for recognition conceived sin in their hearts (Acts 5:4, 9), and that sin eventually produced death (James 1:15)"
This is a powerful picture for us of how essential it is to watch our motivations - not just when we give (though this is paramount) but in all that we do. Stealing 'the lime-light' from God does not go unpunished. It is clear to me that this explanation Luke describes for us is a warning to each of us. As the people were overcome with great fear (vs. 11), we would do well to react the same, with a healthy fear, believing that to give should not be for dishonest gain, but for the LORD's glory.