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  • Revd Dr James Hughes

Some thoughts on Acts 5:1-16

The title is no attempt at false humility. This really is some thoughts on Acts 5:1-16, which struck me when preaching a recent sermon on our desire to be at the heart of the community.

First, I was struck by the immediacy of this section of Acts. We are used to dealing with delay in ministry: we sow seeds in faithfulness and do not expect to reap a harvest, the process of discipleship is long, and plans require some vision and much patience. But here in Acts, certainly in these first seven chapters, things happen very quickly. Understandably we see the speed with which the early church grows, the many signs that attest to God’s power, and the way in which the early church in Jerusalem behaves, internally and externally, and we would wish for some of that. At the same time, we notice the immediacy of the opposition and persecution that comes on the church, climaxing in Acts 7, and of course the immediacy of judgement which comes on Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. We should be grateful for God’s patience with us when we sin and deserve judgement.


Which brings us to the second point; the sin of Ananias and Sapphira. Here I consider it as a lack of integrity. The context for Acts 5 is the end of Acts 4, where the believers are giving generously of their possessions as need arises, and where we finish with the example of Barnabas.


But then we read:

Acts 5:1-2 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.

As is frequently noted here the problem is not that they didn’t give all the money to the apostles for the use of the church. The problem is that they sought to deceive the church about what they had done. The issue therefore is a lack of integrity. And the deception leads to judgement - for both of them:

Acts 5:9 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.”

We have already noted the immediacy of this judgement, and we rightly take its starkness as a warning, and give thanks that mercifully God frequently withholds judgment on our lack of integrity.


At the same time, the importance of integrity is underlined. I take integrity as being and serving as who we are, not pretending to be something else. When we were looking at this as a congregation, it seemed to us that we need to serve the local community as the church, not pretending to be something else. We are a church. We are the people who talk about Jesus, and who want to share Jesus. We want to be welcoming, we want to serve, we want to include people, all with integrity.


There are of course the issues of the day in the Church of England and in the wider church in the UK and across the world to which we can apply this need for integrity. But I suspect that there will be such issues in every age. I am just about old enough to remember when it wasn’t all about sex, and when belief in the miraculous would have been the sticking point. In another 30 or 40 years there will be something else. In all this Acts 5 calls us back to acting with integrity.


Third, and finally, I was struck by the clarity of this passage. There is a certain clarity in God’s action:

Acts 5:10-11 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.


There is clarity in Peter’s words in verse 9 explaining why judgement comes, and there is a clarity of response in verse 11: fear. Clarity means we will sometimes say that which is not welcome, and which causes a negative response in our hearers.


We do not speak harshly, nor unkindly, nor smugly, but look at Acts 5: there isn’t a way of spinning what happens here to make it palatable to someone who wants to pretend that they are the ultimate agent, not God.

And that clarity, coupled with integrity brings a response:

Acts 5:13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,

Everybody knows what the early church stands for, and that brings a response of fear. At the same time, their integrity and clarity are respected. and even more than that, people do come to Jesus. Notice Luke’s comment ‘more than ever’ – which suggests that the church here grows more as a result of this event or grows more in response to the general integrity of the church displayed in Acts 4 and 5, than on the day of Pentecost.


So, I hope these thoughts are helpful to you, as we encounter immediacy, integrity, and clarity in Acts 5.

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James Hughes is Vice-chairman of the Latimer Trust.

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