Hypocrisy versus Integrity (Acts 5:1-12)
At income tax time, honesty is in short supply. A few years ago, the IRS became suspicious about a deduction claimed on a preacher’s income tax form. He had put down $450 for a “clerical collar,” the little white collar some preachers wear. IRS agents thought this was a little out of line, and they called him in to explain himself. He said that it was an innocent mistake: the $450 should have been $4.50. Sympathetic IRS agents allowed him to pay the extra tax, plus 6% interest.
But one shrewd auditor had second thought. He looks at the minister’s past income tax returns and found that he had consistently misplaced decimals. For 3 years in a row, things like $4.50 came out to $450 in the deduction column. The red-faced preacher paid the added tax, 6 percent interest—and a 50% penalty for fraud.
What if the IRS were to look through your past income tax forms? What would they find?
Because honesty is in such short supply, we need to think about how honest we are. We want to explore the case of Ananias and Sapphira and think about our own integrity.
Ananias and Sapphira—Act 5:1-2
Ananias and Sapphira plan to deceive.
Some in the church were selling their property and using the proceeds to help those in need. One of the best examples of what the early church was doing is Barnabas (Acts 4:36-37). He sold a field and brought the proceeds to the apostles. Ananias and Sapphira want in on the action—they’re wanting to gain some positive attention.
Ananias sold some land and he kept part of the money for himself. He pretends to be giving all of it to the church. His wife is in on the deception from the beginning.
Peter confronted Ananias with his hypocrisy. Acts 5:3-4. Ananias’ sin wasn’t in not giving it all. It was in lying, dishonesty, and in hypocrisy. It was a lie to God himself, even to the Holy Spirit, who is God, who was in their midst.
Ananias and Sapphira die. Acts 5:5-6.
Many people have doubted this story through the years. But it isn’t really so unbelievable, not even to the supposedly sophisticated mind that scoffs at anything supernatural in ancient times as mere myth and superstition. Edward I once blazed in anger at one of his courtiers and the man fell dead on the spot. There are many instances throughout history where people realize that they have violated some religious taboo and the people simply die, sometimes immediately, sometimes slowly. I would not at all want to remove the supernatural from this narrative. What I am saying, however, is that the skeptic really has no grounds whatsoever to say that this could never have happened.
Sapphira came in a short time later, and Peter quizzed her. Acts 5:8-9. Sapphira fell down dead too and was buried.
Notice the effect upon the church. The whole church was filled with fear: “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” Many Christians harbor secret sins—perhaps you harbor some secret sin. The fact that fear ran through the church indicates that others felt guilty, too. We, in this age, need enough fear to consider the consequence of our actions.
This incident seems harsh to us, but it was a wakeup call for the early church that this was serious business. And things haven’t changed one bit. It’s serious business today.
This text shows the seriousness of sin.
If God judged people in this way today, how many dead bodies would we be carrying out? Many criticize this passage for its harshness; judgment is not a popular subject in the modern world. One woman in a 12-step recovery group said: “I truly believe God loves and cares rather than judges and condemns.” God does love and he cares with a depth of love that we cannot fathom, but God also judges.
It shows the absolute honesty of the Bible.
This story is embarrassing. It shows that some members of the church in the earliest days were not honest. There were hypocrites. But instead of a “cover-up,” you get a “tell all.”
A court painter was painting a picture of Oliver Cromwell. In order to please him, he didn’t include several unpleasing facial qualities such as a couple of warts. When Cromwell saw the completed portrait, he said: “Take it away, and paint me warts and all.”
The church isn’t perfect today. It is still full of people, you and me, who are imperfect, who make mistakes. It has always been that way, even from the beginning. This is no excuse for our shortcomings, but it is reality, and should prompt us to always be striving to do better.
This is a lesson about the sin of hypocrisy and dishonesty.
This is a sin against God. This is a serious problem still today.
Problems with Hypocrisy and Dishonesty
One of the greatest problems with hypocrisy is the influence we have with outsiders. Robert Tamasy writes about a Christian friend of his in the Midwest who was general manager of a chain of newspapers. One of his responsibilities was the setting of advertising policies. At one point he ordered that advertising clients who used a Christian symbol or Bible verse on business cards or stationery would be required to pay cash in advance. These were his worst paying accounts.
One of the most effective ways to share Christ with others is not through that we say, but through what we do. “Likewise you wives, be submissive to your husbands, so that some, though they do not obey the word, may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives when they see your reverent and chaste behavior” (1 Pet 3:1-2).
Think of the damage we can do for the cause of Christ in our own families if we pretend to be one thing to fellow Christians and we’re something else in our own family. Wives, do you think you can convert your unbelieving husbands that way? If you say, “Well, I just don’t think I want to go to church tonight; I’m kinda tired,” do you really think your husband will be attracted to Christ? Fathers, do you think you can bring your children to Christ if you’re harsh with them while you claim to be a righteous, godly man? Will your children be attracted to Christ?
Let us put away all deceit, all hypocrisy, and present ourselves as we really are!
The Need for and Value of Integrity
As Christians, we need integrity. God hates hypocrisy and phoniness. We are representatives of Christ, we are his ambassadors. Many people are going to judge Christ by us. Maybe that is unjust and unfair of them, but it is a reality in life. Because, rightly or wrongly, Jesus’ reputation is on the line, and we must be known as people of integrity.
We must be honest all the time, not just sometimes. Not just when we know somebody is looking or when someone is watching.
A man bought fried chicken dinners for himself and his date late one afternoon. The attendant at the fast food outlet, however, accidentally gave him the proceeds from the day’s business—a bag of money (much of it in cash) instead of fried chicken. After driving to their picnic site, the two of the sat down to enjoy some chicken. They discovered a whole lot more than chicken—over $800!
But he was an unusual guy. He quickly put the money back into the car and drove all the way back. Mr. Clean got out, walked in, and became an instant hero. By then, the manager was frantic. The guy with the money looked the manager in the eye and said, “I want you to know I came by to get a couple chicken dinners and wound up with all this money here.” The manager was thrilled to death. He said, “Let me call the newspaper. I’m going to have your picture put in the local newspaper. You’re one of the most honest men I’ve every heard of.”
The man quickly jumped in: “Oh, no. No, no don’t do that!” Then he leaned closer and whispered, “You see, the woman I’m with is not my wife. She’s, uh, somebody else’s wife.” The man seemed to have a good heart, but on closer examination, his heart was not that good.
Be committed to honesty and integrity within yourself. Be committed to the truth regardless of how much it hurts. Don’t fight and argue with your conscience and try to deceive yourself. If you know something is wrong, don’t do it. Don’t rationalize your sin away.
Be committed to honesty and integrity with others. Husbands, be honest with your wives, and you wives be honest with your husbands. Parents, we must work to be honest and sincere with our children; if we are not, we shall lose them. In the workplace, be honest with your fellow employees and with your boss.
Be committed to honesty and sincerity with God. A few years ago, Oscar Hammerstein II was on the cover of the New York Herald Sunday magazine. Hammerstein saw a picture of the Statue o Liberty taken from a helicopter. Hammerstein was amazed at the detail there. The sculptor had done a painstaking job with the lady’s hairstyle, and yet he must have been pretty sure that the only eyes that would ever see his detail would be those of seagulls. He could not have dreamt that any man would ever fly over this head. He was artist enough, however, to finish off this part of the statue with as much care as he had devoted to her face and her arms and the torch and everything that people can see as they sail up to the bay.
Only God knows, but God knows. So be genuine.