Showing Off Just Kills Charity

Literally, in the case of Ananias and Sapphira.

Acts 5:1-11 (NIV)

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.” Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

The head-scratcher is, “What made you think of doing such a thing?” What motive could they have had?

Consider these clues. They didn’t sell their house; they sold a field. Having a field is not nearly as common as having a house. They were richer than most folks.

They didn’t just bring the money to the apostles; they connected the donation with the selling of the field and claimed that it was the total proceeds. Why? They didn’t need to explain where the money came from. Just donating, say, 10 talents would have been fine. Peter is getting at this when he says, “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? If they had simply been honest, it would have been viewed as a generous donation. Somehow, that wasn’t enough.

They couldn’t have sold the field for a lot more than what they donated. If the field was worth 20 talents, claiming that they only got 10 for it would have been silly. Although he kept back part of the money for himself, they donated most of it. Ananias only skimmed off what he thought he could get away with.

Coming right on the heels of Barnabas donating all the proceeds from the sale of his field, it looks like they were envious of the praise he got. They wanted to be big-shots too.

This unhealthy attitude is why many non-profits give their big donors special perks and invitations.

One of the challenges of the Christian walk is to do good works solely for Christ and not to show off. That’s virtually impossible without God’s help. The way to get humility is to pray for it.

Ask the Holy Spirit to keep a lid on your pride.

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Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.