Justice Doesn’t Reward Lies
While God is most certainly a God of love, we should also never forget that He is also a God of justice. Thus the apostle urged us to “consider both the goodness and the severity of God.” (Romans 11:22a)
While the New Testament focuses more heavily on the goodness of God, there are occasional and important reminders of His severity also. For instance, as one begins reading through the book of Acts, observing the beginning and early growth of the church, we are moved by the generosity of the saints, one for another, as those with many possessions sold what they had in order to take care of those with fewer (cf. Acts 2:44-45) The love of God was at work in the church. One Christian, a man named Joses, was so generous and so loving, that the apostles nicknamed him Barnabas – meaning “Son of Encouragement.” (Acts 4:36-37) However, following the uplifting account of Barnabas, we then read about Ananias and Saphira (cf. Acts 5:1-11)
This husband and wife had some land, and coveting the acclaim others, like Barnabas, had received, they sold the land and decided to give to the church. But they didn’t want to give it all. They wanted to give just enough to make it look like they were generous people. So they concocted a lie about the value of the property, gave a portion of the money to the church, having determined to keep the rest for themselves. And God struck them dead for it, on the spot. One moment they were lying to the apostles about money, the next moment they were dead (cf. Acts 5:5, 10)
Consider the goodness, and the severity, of God. Being struck dead is, most people would probably agree, a rather severe punishment for lying.
There are numerous valuable lessons that one can glean from the actions of God regarding Ananias and Saphira. Many commentators rightly pointed out that God, who was working signs and wonders through the apostles, wanted people to know that Christianity was not a casual social experience. The church was not meant to be a vehicle by which one promoted one’s self in the community. If you were going to be a Christian, you needed to be serious about it.
Others also point out, rightly, that the text makes it clear that Christians are also meant to take the Holy Spirit, who was even then working through the apostles, quite seriously. The Holy Spirit, who was giving men the Word of God, and confirming that Word through the work of the Apostles, was God, and was to be treated with all reverence. Lying to the Holy Spirit was not a small thing.
With that being said, the most immediate lesson is actually rather a simply one: don’t tell lies. The sin of Ananias and Saphira was that of lying. They had lied about money. And God most certainly did not approve of the behavior.
Quite a few people have convinced themselves that there are greater sins and lesser sins. Quite often, grouped into the category of “lesser sins,” is the concept of the white lie: an untruth that doesn’t actually hurt anyone. Lies about money, income, and the like, are also often justified as being mere expedients.
When we are tempted to believe such things, we should take a step back mentally, and remind ourselves that God has never taught such a thing. To the contrary, the Bible is quite clear in this regard. Among those things God abhors is a “lying tongue.” (cf. Proverbs 6:17) We are commanded to “put away lying.” (cf. Ephesians 4:25) And we are severely warned that unforgiven lies are a sin which brings eternal condemnation and a place in the lake of fire. (cf. Revelation 21:8)
If we were to doubt just how serious God was about this whole business of honesty and truth-telling, we have only to remind ourselves of how God treated Ananias and Saphira for their lies. And while God does not make a habit of striking people dead on the spot, He obviously wanted to get across a message, and did it in a rather pointed way.
So next time you are wondering whether it would be right or wrong to tell a particular lie, or the next time you try to justify telling a lie to yourself, stop, remember the warning of Ananias and Saphira, and remind yourself, “Yes, lying is always wrong.”