July 13 I Monday
“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.” —Acts 5:1-2
The early church was a generous church. Luke tells us, “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32). Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles nicknamed Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement,” began a practice of selling land and giving the profit to the church to be distributed to the poor.
Ananias and Sapphira were caught up in this fervour of generosity, but unlike Barnabas and others, they chose to keep back some of the profit from the sale of their property. When Peter confronted Ananias after he claimed to have given the full amount, Ananias immediately fell over dead. A few hours later, Sapphira told the same lie to Peter and she also fell over dead.
Ananias and Sapphira were not required to give money to the church. The apostles did not show up at their doorstep demanding the church’s cut. As Peter reminded Ananias, “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” (Acts 5:4). Ananias and Sapphira were completely in their right to keep some of the profit for themselves, but they did wrong when they claimed what they gave was the full amount.
We want to assume people give out of a spirit of generosity, compassion or grace, but selfish motives can easily sink in. For Ananias and Sapphira, it was jealousy and greed. They wanted the best of both worlds, receiving praise from others for being incredibly generous while lying to keep some financial gain for themselves. Theirs was a hypocritical generosity, caring more about looking good in the eyes of others rather than the people the money they kept would have helped.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4).
Hypocritical givers receive a reward of praise and gratitude from others, which only inflates their egos. Generosity fuelled by greed may help people for a time, but it does nothing to reveal the heart of God. We are all called to give, but to give honestly, cheerfully and with a heart genuinely concerned for the needs of others and this is what merits heaven’s attention.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, create in me a kind and compassionate heart that is concerned for the needs of others. Help me to give generously and cheerfully without drawing attention to myself. Amen.