Monday, May 22, 2017

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A Theory on the Demise of Ananias

Acts 5 recalls the story of Ananias and Sapphira who are a rather infamous couple. They have the dubious distinction of being the earliest “martyrs” of the faith of Yeshua – believers who died, but for the for the wrong reason, and in shameful fashion to boot (compare their demise with that of Stephen in Acts 6).

We know why G-d took them: Ananias and Sapphira sold a field they had owned and donated the funds to the Apostles. However, they lied about the price. We know it was bad for them to lie –this is a given. But what we don’t know, or rather what Scripture does not say explicitly, is why they were judged so quickly and definitively.

Now I have heard a lot of bad sermons about this couple. Usually it goes something like this: Ananias and Sapphira held back money from G-d – or some other nonsense about “not tithing” and the like. And this is complete fantasy. After all, one could argue that they in fact did give, and potentially a lot. Yet G-d judged them for lying. Let’s face it, if G-d was equally swift to take home believers who are less than honest about finances, it is unclear to me how many of us in the body of Messiah would be left standing. Yet the question remains: why would God judge them so harshly?

A contributing factor is that I believe Ananias and Sapphira were contending to be leaders in the community. Now this is conjecture on my part, but it is not completely baseless. If we look just prior to Acts 5, we see another believer in Yeshua parting with his possessions – Barnabas (Acts 4:36-37).

Who was Barnabas? He was a Levite who lived in Cyprus (Acts 4:36), meaning he was a Jew presumably knowledgeable in the Torah. He is a pretty important figure in the spread of the Gospel. It was Barnabas who was sent to investigate about this guy, Saul (later Paul) in Acts 11:22. It was Barnabas who worked with Saul, and likely trained him (Acts 11:25-26). It was Barnabas who was instrumental in bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles – he was called by God to be an Apostle to bring the Gospel to the nations (Acts 13:2-3).

It is my contention that Barnabas was thought of as a leader because he exhibited the qualities of leadership, most notably, he was not given to a love of money and not greedy (check 1 Timothy 3:3, the quality of an Elder).

This is why I believe Ananias and Sapphira paid a terrible price – they may have fancied themselves as leaders. Maybe they were well-versed in the Scripture, or perhaps they felt that their wealth gave them a right to lead. Perhaps they were trying to “buy” their way into leadership – note that the ex-sorcerer Simon apparently tried to “buy” leadership credentials, and was chastised for it and later repented (Acts 8:18). Ananias and Sapphira likely were trying to look like mature disciples but in the end they were not. G-d would have none of that at such a critical time in the formation of the leadership of the Jerusalem congregation – and today we are blessed because G-d didn’t just let anyone lead the movement.

This entire incident is a loving reminder about the necessity of strong character in leadership. We see from time to time many who think they should be leaders, .but they do not qualify because of bad theology or character issues. They are not necessarily bad people – they are just not ready to lead. This is why a key component of the mission of a local congregation is to train believers – to help them become leaders, to help them become mature disciples (Ephesians 4:12). It is not enough to just teach good theology every Shabbat. That, of course, is very important – but if we are not molding believers into the likeness of Messiah we are missing the point. If we are not helping people in their development to be transformed into the image of G-d – then we are going to wind up with a lot of people like Ananias and Sapphira and not with many people like Barnabas.

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