Ananias: Satan's First Attempt Against the Assembly of God

Acts 5:1‑11  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 6
(Acts 5)
We would ask the attention of the readers of this little magazine to some striking contrasts in connection with this very solemn case of evil. At that time the assembly was composed of believers. " And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul." They bad heard and believed the glad tidings of forgiveness of sins. They had repented, and were baptized, and they continued steadfast in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. The Lord had added them together, and thus the assembly, or church, had been formed.
And they thus added together were the church, or assembly. (See Acts 2:29-4729Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. 30Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; 31He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. 32This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. 34For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, 35Until I make thy foes thy footstool. 36Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. 37Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? 38Then 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. 39For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. 40And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. 41Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:29‑47).)
They were then the assembly that believed, and were of one heart and of one soul. This was the church as formed, and baptized by the Holy Ghost. (1 Cor. 12:1313For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13).) It was seen thus in its unity, in faith, and the power of the Holy Ghost; and the effect, or fruit of faith was truly marvelous. "Neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all." Still further was the fruit of faith manifested in the selling of their possessions, and bringing the price of the things sold, and laying it at the apostles' feet. Such was the assembly as formed by the Holy Ghost. " But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife." Yes, in contrast with the company of believers—not said to be one of them. " A certain man;" not a word as to his being a believer. Nay, as a man he seeks to join himself to them by works. Works first—just what a natural man always seeks to do. He " sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet." Now, as this is the first attempt of Satan to introduce evil into the assembly, by a certain man, thus to join himself to them, it surely demands our closest attention.
What had he done? Just what many now seek to do. He makes a profession that in outward appearance imitates the fruit of faith. At that moment the effect of faith was very striking: the selling of possessions, and laying the price at the apostles' feet. Very well, he does this—he sells his possession, and becomes like those whom the Lord had added, but he kept back part of the price. There is no evidence that he truly recognized God, the Lord Jesus, or the Holy Ghost on earth in the assembly.
It was a wonderful imitation of faith in thus seeking to join himself to them. No such terms or conditions had been propounded, but he acts as though there had. He saw the fruits, or effects, of faith, and he thought by falsehood to obtain a place in the assembly. How terribly all this is exposed! " Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?" Who would have thought that this apparently religious act was the very work of Satan—his first effort to introduce evil into the assembly of God? Strange that this has had so little attention. How often we consider the way in which Satan introduced evil in paradise; but here is the assembly, the dwelling-place of God on earth, and here is the first great attempt to introduce evil into it.
God acts by His servant, Peter, in government, and in this case death was the immediate penalty of thus seeking to lie to the Holy Ghost in the assembly. What a contrast, then, this certain man and his wife present to the assembly of believers. In the one case the most wondrous display of works, the fruit of faith; in the other, Satan deceiving the man, and leading him to seek entrance by works and falsehood which are most dishonoring to God, and can only be condemned as wickedness.
We would also call attention to the Lord's work, and to Satan's work. The Lord added believers together by the Holy Ghost. Satan sought by deception to get a certain man and his wife joined to them. Solemn question, dear reader: Have you been added to the Lord, and thus form one of the assembly of God? Are you quite sure it was the Lord? Does the world see in you the fruit, the effects of faith, in a holy life? Or, has Satan deceived you, by leading you to join yourself to the assembly, or the professing church of God, by works? If still a stranger to God, His righteousness in justifying you from all sins, and seeking to join yourself to them by works, you know? like this very certain man, you have kept back a part of the price. Ananias desired to be thought very religious. Have you had this thought? What a deception of Satan! Oh, how many in this day have joined themselves to the professing church on this very principle of Satan! How many in ay be seen at what is now called holy communion! and what apparent devotion one day a week? and a. few other times in the week, and in other ways apparently very devoted. But see them devouring the most trashy novels, or spending hours of indolence. Thou also hast kept back part of the price. Yes, let us remember this first lesson of Satan's effort against the assembly, the church; that it was by seeming good works to introduce evil. God exposed this, and judged it, surely for our instruction. This would enable us to detect much of Satan's work from that day to this. He was a liar from the beginning, and, as in this case, so we shall find the work of Satan is always marked by a lying spirit. Is it not a solemn thing to lie in connection with the assembly of God?
Is not every attempt to come to God, or to join His people, on the principle of our own works, a lie? Are we not sinners, guilty sinners, deserving hell? To come to God, then, on the ground of being very religious, or very holy, is it not a lie? Have you ever come to God, owning what you are, and all that you have done?
In how many ways may a certain man keep back part of the price of what he professedly gives up? How little of counting all our best things but dung! A man may give up his ecclesiastical position, and connection with what is contrary to Christ; he may seek to join himself to them that are truly gathered to Christ, and still keep back a part. Yea, for years he may be his own center, his thoughts wholly occupied with his work. But let a time of testing come, and, to the surprise of many, that man will soon be turned aside. So of the world, intellect, &c. If intelligent faith has not produced as fruit a full surrender to Christ, failure and sorrow are sure to come.
Let us return to the contrast. In the sight of God grievous evil had presented itself; deception and lying in the very assembly of believers who " were of one heart and of one soul." All looked well, possession sold, money laid at the apostles' feet; but there was deception—a part was kept back. Is it not the same when perverse men have come in, that is, perverting truth by keeping back a part of the facts in any case? Let us not forget that this is the very mark left on the first attempt of Satan to corrupt the church of God. It may be said it is nothing, no doctrine of Christ is attacked. Did God regard this as nothing? How awful the judgment on Ananias and on Sapphira his wife!
What, then, were the effects of this evil in the assembly, and God's judgment of it? Several most striking effects. " Great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things." This is sure to be one—the first—effect where God exposes and deals with evil. There will be deep searching of heart, individually and corporately. Then follows a remarkable display of the power of God; and if there be real self-judgment, this will always, in its measure, be the case. Signs and wonders were wrought among the people. We may here notice a very peculiar parenthesis, from the word "and, "in verse 12, to the end of verse 14. Let us first see how the narrative runs on, and then return and examine carefully the parenthesis. Signs and wonders, then, were wrought among the people, " Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might ]overshadow some of them. There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits; and they were healed every one.'
Now is not this most remarkable, and very encouraging? A shocking spirit of falsehood is detected in the assembly, and it is judged and put out; or, in our day, we may have to purge ourselves from it. (2 Tim. 2:20, 21; 3:14; 4:1, 220But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. 21If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. (2 Timothy 2:20‑21)
14But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; (2 Timothy 3:14)
1I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; 2Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. (2 Timothy 4:1‑2)
.) What may we learn and expect from Satan's first attempt? If we are with the Lord, we may, instead of hanging down our hands, expect signs and wonders, souls blest on every side, sin-sick souls, and them that are vexed with unclean spirits restored. " They were healed everyone." What a complete victory this was over Satan! May we never forget it, but have faith in God, and an ever-increasing love to souls!
We will now turn to the still more striking lesson of this parenthesis: ("And they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch. And of the rest durst no man join himself to them; but the people magnified them. And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.") Thus the purging out of this terrible evil of falsehood not only produced great fear, but great boldness. "They were all with one accord in Solomon's porch." Oh, for more fear of evil, and boldness for Christ! What present lessons these are! The next most important truth seems at first sight a contradiction. "Of the rest durst no man join himself to them." "And believers were the more [or, were more than ever] added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women." Here the all-important difference between a man joining himself to them, and being added to the Lord, is brought out in striking contrast. The whole church was then together in the unity of the Spirit; now, a few here and there are gathered together to the Lord. The principle is the same. Clearly the judgment of evil put a stop to, prevented, what Ananias had sought to do—join himself to them. Yes, it stopped men from joining the church, or assembly. This is still the case, no doubt. How can we, they say, join such a company as that? why, they have had such evil in their midst, and such falsehood, and they have had such a to-do; what they call putting out evil, or separating from it. The fact is, these persons durst not join themselves to them; they dread the holy discipline of the assembly, owning the presence and authority of Christ. " Of the rest durst no man join himself to them." Did this in the least stop the work of the Lord? Far from it. "And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women." This is assuredly most encouraging to any that are truly added together—two or three gathered together to His blessed name, as He said. (Matt, xviii. 20.) Is it not a mercy that certain men are thus prevented from joining themselves unto them, men deceiving, lying unto the Holy Ghost?
Let us remember the Holy Spirit is as truly present as when evil was thus solemnly judged in the case of this certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife. Satan can imitate the fruit of the Spirit in part. And oh, how he can quote scripture to back his wicked designs! We see how, in this case, his leading Ananias to imitate piety, with lying deception, was judged of God. And in the Lord's temptation we also see how He met the adversary's quotation of scripture. Yes, scripture may be quoted and perverted, and a sad spirit of falsehood be developed in the assembly. The Lord comes in—it may be in judgment—men may be deterred from joining themselves to them yet, so far from this hindering the real work of the Spirit, may we not count on blessing abounding all around, and believers being more than ever added to the Lord? No doubt such as have joined themselves to the twos or threes gathered to Christ will drop out of rank. May the Lord's weak ones go on strong in faith! Is there not a striking likeness between this first effort of Satan to corrupt the church of God, and the very last he has made in these days, probably the last of the church's existence on earth before the coming of the Lord? Never was there a more needed time to walk by faith. God is working His own gracious purposes in the midst of human failure. May the reader beware of taking a false position, if not a believer; and this, not only as to salvation, but also of taking the place of joining the assembly, or of professing to own the Lord present in the midst, if you do not believe it. God will have truth and righteousness in His presence.
We have only suggested a few thought?,—we believe from the Lord—on this important scripture to believers at this present time. May the Lord lead the reader to meditate upon them, in depend-once on the Holy Ghost. Nothing could be more solemn as a warning, or more fitted to encourage the Lord's people, whether in gospel work to the multitude, or His assembly, for, notwithstanding all that has happened, believers shall yet be added to the Lord more than ever. C. S.