Scripture Reference: Acts 4:32 through 5:11
Suggested Emphasis: We should be honest.
Memory Verse: “Do not lie to each other.” Colossians 3:9a
Because so many Jewish Christians stayed in Jerusalem after Pentecost, some Christians sold property and gave the money to the church so those in need could have enough. Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, sold some of their property and then decided to give part of the money to the church. They proceeded to lie and say that they had given it all. Peter confronted Ananias in front of the church and told him that by doing this he had lied to God. Ananias fell down dead. Unaware of what had happened to her husband, Sapphira came before the church and lied again about the money. She too fell down dead. The whole church was afraid.
The event of Ananias and Sapphira is set against the backdrop of life in the early church. The church was on fire and growing rapidly every day. Passages such as Acts 2:44-47 and Acts 4:32-37 describe the unity of the early church and of selling their possessions and sharing with those in need. In the minds and hearts of these Christians, everything they owned was held in common. Private ownership only existed in this early Jerusalem church for the sake of the whole church (4:32). Also note the practice of laying down the proceeds at the apostle’s feet as a surrender of possession to be distributed (4:34). You will see this is the practice in the story of Ananias and Sapphira.
During His ministry Jesus had encouraged his followers to not hold to any material attachments in this world, knowing that they would one day have to literally leave everything behind, whether due to persecution or the pending destruction of Jerusalem, or to the call of God. Jesus also taught the importance of caring for those in need through His words and example. With these teachings in mind it is not surprising that the early church radically embraced these ideals in selling their property and sharing their profits. In the future this practice would prove necessary for the church’s survival when persecution would begin and Christians would lose employment and income.
Understanding this backdrop is vital to understanding the gravity of the sin of Ananias and Sapphira and the harshness of their punishment. Ananias and Sapphira were under no enforced obligation to give all of their profits to the church but as all property was no longer considered private there appeared to be an accepted agreement in the early church for complete honesty financially and morally. So the real sin of Ananias and Sapphira was not withholding money but the fact that they were lying to cover up the fact that they were publicly saying they gave all the money to the apostles while secretly keeping some of the proceeds for themselves. Peter stresses in verse 4 that they did not lie to them “but to God.” It was for their dishonesty that Ananias and Sapphira were punished.
It is important to understand why the punishment for Ananias and Sapphira was as harsh as it was. As modern day Christians we struggle with this idea of God smiting them in an atmosphere of the New Covenant and Grace. It does seem like an Old Testament thing to do. It helps to recognise the church at this stage as being in its infancy and most certainly exposed to Satan’s attacks. Satan will attack God’s church from both without and within. The incident of Ananias and Sapphira was the first noted internal spiritual attack in church history. God needed to protect the purity and the witness of the church. Should that lie have been overlooked or allowed to stand as it was, it would have allowed for further dishonesty, corruption and hypocrisy and thus could have destroyed the fledgling church. Ananias and Sapphira were killed both as an example and as an act of protection. The focus of this story is the survival of the church and any attempt to create an application regarding God’s ability and capacity to forgive would be a misuse of the text.
When teaching this story with the background in mind, it could be useful to explain why God takes dishonesty so seriously. Dishonesty can destroy marriages, families, churches, relationships and our witness. It hurts us. It hurts others. It hurts God. If we are honest, even when we make a mistake, things can be made better.
(Background Information submitted by Kayla Robinson, January 2012-Thanks Kayla)
- What happened before this story?
- What happens after this story?
- List of all Bible stories and themes on this website.
Way to Introduce the Story:
Share a personal story about a time when you or someone you know told a lie which led to more lies or negative consequences. Take care to be age appropriate. “Children, today we are going to learn about a time when two people told a lie.”
We can learn important lessons from the Bible. The book of Acts tells about some important things that the first Christians learned. This story is about a very serious lesson they learned about telling the truth.
The church in Jerusalem grew bigger and bigger every day. People heard about Jesus and then told other people. Soon hundreds and hundreds and even thousands of people decided to follow Jesus and were baptised.
There were many different kinds of people in the church. Some were poor and some were rich. But everyone shared what they had so that no one would be hungry or not have a place to live. One good man, named Joseph, owned a field and had a good idea. He sold the field and took all the money he earned to the apostles. The apostles shared the money with those who needed it. Everyone was happy to share what they had.
Everyone, that is, except a man, Ananias, and his wife, Sapphira. They wanted people to think they were really generous like Joseph but, in their hearts, they didn’t want to share as much as Joseph did. So people thought Ananias and Sapphira were sharing but God knew what Ananias and Sapphira were thinking in their hearts.
In the Bible we read that Ananias and Sapphira owned some property just like Joseph did.
They decided to sell it and give the money to the apostles like Joseph had done. The apostles could share the money with those in need and everyone would see how generous they were. But Ananias and Sapphira didn’t want to give ALL the money to the apostles. They wanted to keep some to themselves.
So Ananias made a plan. They would tell everyone that they were giving ALL the money to the apostles but, really, they would secretly keep some back for themselves. They thought they could tell this lie and no one would ever find out.
So Ananias hid some of the money and took the rest to the apostles. He told them, “My wife and I sold our property and here is all the money. You can give to people who need it.”
The apostles were wise men and, with God’s help, figured out the lie. The apostle named Peter said, “Ananias, you could have kept that money and no one would have thought you were bad. But you decided to tell a lie about it in front of all of these people. But you haven’t just lied to all these people. You have lied to God. You have lied to the Holy Spirit.
Right after Peter said this everyone was shocked to see Ananias fall down and die. This was very serious!
About three hours later Sapphira came to the same place. No one had told her about Ananias so she did not know what had happened earlier. Peter asked Sapphira, “Your husband gave us the money from the the property you both sold. He said that this is all the money. Is that the truth? Is this all the money?”
Sapphira thought everyone still believed the lie so she said, “Yes the amount Ananias said is correct. It is all the money.”
Peter said, “Sapphira, you have lied to God and to the Holy Spirit just like your husband did. It is a very serious thing to lie to God!”
And everyone was shocked again when Sapphira fell down and died just like her husband did. Sapphira was taken out and buried by her husband.
They news spread to everyone. The Christians had learned an important lesson. They knew that lying was very serious to God and that they should always tell the truth.
Ways to Tell the Story:
This story can be told using a variety of methods. Always remain true to the facts found in the Bible but help children connect to its meaning by using drama, visual aids, voice inflection, student interaction and/or emotion.
Click here for visual aids and story-telling methods.
Click here to download these illustrations and the slideshow. Be selective. Each teacher is unique so only use the illustrations that best relate to the way YOU are telling the story in THIS lesson. Too many illustrations can be confusing so eliminate any that cover other stories or details you do not wish to emphasise in this lesson.
- Who were the husband and wife in the Book of Acts who lied about their money? Ananias and Sapphira
- What happened to Ananias and Sapphira when they lied to the whole church? They fell down dead
Learning Activities and Crafts:
- Help the class look up the word “lie” in a dictionary and a thesaurus. Write down and discuss your findings.
- Discuss situations where lying is a temptation.
- Role play today’s story.
- Have the children draw a cartoon strip depicting the story.
- To set the scene for the story use fake money and game pieces to “buy and sell property”. The hotels and houses from Monopoly work well. As you make the transactions talk about how Joseph sold his property and gave the money to the apostles to share with the church. Then act out the transaction where Ananias and Sapphira hid some of their proceeds and only gave part to the apostles and lied about it. Because the children actually turn the “property” over and count out the money the children understand the lie more clearly.
Check the Teaching Ideas page on this website for ideas that are adaptable to any lesson.
Other Online Resources:
- Colouring page and puzzle worksheets (Calvary Curriculum)
- Application Activity: Really good application to teach about what happens when we lie. Uses icecream and salt. http://www.overthebigmoon.com/an-object-lesson-for-kids-on-honesty/
- Questions, craft and discussion starters at http://sundayschoolsources.com/lessons/Acts/AnaniasSapphira.htm
- Video clip (3 minutes) telling the story a rather dark style. I think it is great but it suits older children. The video is on Youtube at http://youtu.be/CyCAVatfLmY.