Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

"Love" that Uses God and Others

It's not real love at all.

Getting Love Right (4)

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Acts 5.1, 2

The guise of good
A well-kept heart is the key to a strong soul. Fearing and loving God we find the proper ground and focus for loving our neighbors as ourselves. We love ourselves as we engage more fully with the grace of God, and are transformed increasingly into the image of Jesus Christ. But self-love can go sadly awry if we fail to keep it in check. We must be very diligent against unbridled self-love, because self-love is very subtle and ingenious in asserting itself.

In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, for example, unbridled self-love donned the guise of good works to steal honor from God and refocus it on people. This couple witnessed the good work of generosity which Barnabas did, selling a piece of property and bringing the proceeds for meeting the needs of others (Acts 4.36, 37). We can imagine, from what we know of him, that Barnabas did this work without show, and in a way that many voices of praise and thanks went up to God. His work was known in the community, it’s true, but not because he in any way sought to advance or aggrandize himself through this expression of love.

But Ananias witnessed this gesture, and he saw in this good work of love a way of doing good, at least outwardly, and thereby gaining the esteem of his neighbors, and even improving his material lot in certain ways. And he, like David with Joab, persuaded his wife to join him in this bit of selfish indulgence.

And this was all the opening unbridled self-love required.

From self-love to deceit
As we have seen, unbridled self-love is a slippery slope. Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, sold a possession, just like Barnabas and others had done, but they kept back for themselves a certain portion of the proceeds of the sale. In itself, this was not wrong, as Peter observed (v. 4). The property was theirs, as were the proceeds from the sale. They decided, however, to make it seem that they were wholly selfless and loving in this action, by claiming that what they contributed from the sale was all the proceeds, instead of merely just some. This decision should have sent up a warning flare for Ananias and Sapphira, alerting them that self-love was gaining the upper hand in this situation. This is not what Barnabas or any of the others had done. But it was the course this husband and wife chose to follow.

When Ananias brought the proceeds of the sale to the apostles, he represented their gift as the entire proceeds of the sale, so that they might be seen to be estimable folk like Barnabas. They hoped to impress their neighbors and gain the plaudits of the apostles by their act. But they failed to reckon on one thing: The apostle Peter, filled with the Spirit of Jesus, saw through their selfish action and their attempt to use God and His people for their own selfish ends.

We don’t know exactly how Peter was able to discern this, except that, being filled with Jesus, he could discern what was in this man and his wife and this ostensible act of goodness (cf. Jn. 2.24, 25). In trying to gain some advantage for themselves, this couple had lied to God. Failing in love for God, because of self-love having seized the throne in their hearts, they failed to love their neighbors, and instead injected into the community of faith a stain of deceit, disingenuousness, and mere self-interest. Had the apostles allowed this “good work” to go unchecked, we can only imagine what other ills might have followed in its train.

God’s judgment
In many ways, this situation resembles that of Achan in the book of Joshua (Josh. 7). There, the people of God had just begun to realize His victories and promises, when an act of unbridled self-love by one man jeopardized the wellbeing and future of the entire nation. God acted decisively both to expunge this stain from His people and to warn others against failing to guard their hearts with all diligence.

In Acts 5, the people of God had just begun to realize His Presence and promises, and now a cancer of self-interest threatened the wellbeing and future of the entire community. God acted decisively against Ananias and Sapphira, perhaps intentionally to recall the situation with Achan and to emphasize how important it is to guard our hearts against unbridled self-love.

The result of God’s action was to increase His blessings in the community, by increasing among them the fear of God, first of all, and extending His power to bless and increase the community as well (Acts 5.11-16).

When through self-love we stray from the path of love for God and neighbors, we may expect that God will, by some means, confront us with our sin and work to help us get love right again (Heb. 12.3-11). His discipline is not pleasant, but the effects of self-love gone awry are pleasant neither to God nor our neighbors. If He must discipline us – by exposing our selfish ways, as Paul did with Peter in Antioch (Gal. 2), and bringing us to confession and repentance – then He will do so. He loves us too much to leave us in the grip of unbridled self-love. He intends His discipline to renew us in fearing Him, so that we might again know His Presence for love.

In many ways we may be tempted to use God and our neighbors, whether by seeking material advantages or simply the praise of our neighbors. We must be on guard and diligent against all such tendencies of self-love, for true love cannot flourish where self-love rules the heart.

For reflection
1.  What are some ways you might be tempted to use God or your neighbors to your advantage?

2.  Why did Luke make a point of saying that the fear of God “came upon all the church” after this situation was resolved?

3.  What are some ways we might prevent self-love from going awry in our heart?

Next steps – Preparation: Make a list of the ways you think self-love might try to gain the ascendance in your heart. Pray over these daily, until you find that you are continually mindful and therefore diligently on guard against them.

T. M. Moore

Your soul in the Kingdom of God
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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