Study 5: The Church and Money

Find the text of Study 5: The Church and Money below. If you’d prefer to listen to the study, you can listen to the audio file below — the content is the same. We hosted a Zoom meeting for discussion of this study the week we first posted it. If you have questions or would like to discuss this study, you can email us at hurtbychurchky@gmail.com or send us a message (anonymously, if you’d like) through the website here.

AUDIO:

STUDY TEXT:

Read Acts 5:1-11 (NIV below).

1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 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.

3 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? 4 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.

5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

9 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.”

10 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. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
Raphael; Thornhill, James; Ananias and Sapphira; The Death of Ananias; https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/work-of-art/O2714 Credit line: (c) (c) Royal Academy of Arts / Photographer credit: Marcus Leith /

The story of Ananias and Sapphira is shocking. We’re told at two different points in this story that “great fear” seized “all who heard” about it. The message the church often gleans from this story is about being truthful, with people but especially with God (in verse 4, the words that are spoken just before Ananias falls and dies are “You have not lied just to human beings but to God”). 

The members of the church would often sell property and bring the money to the apostles’ feet to be distributed to those in need (Acts 4:34-35). Ananias is doing this very thing — but he keeps part of the money for himself and (we assume) pretends that what he brings to the apostles is all the money. Then we’re told explicitly that his wife lies and tells the apostles it’s the full price. Both of them die. This is where we generally walk away from the story with the message that we need to have a proper “fear” or “healthy respect” of God and what God expects from us — namely, that we’re honest and don’t feign generosity. 

What are your first thoughts when you think about the church and money? What attitudes have you seen about the church and money in today’s world?

We read this today as one complete story, and we can step back from a bird’s-eye view and make our own judgments. But those in Jerusalem immediately after these events happened did not receive it in this manner. It’s worth imagining a little bit more about what this “great fear” may have felt like to the people — inside and outside the church — who heard about this bit by bit when it happened.

What bits of news might have spread first? 

  • “Ananias is dead”? 
  • “Sapphira’s dead”? 
  • “They both died suddenly at church”? 
  • “They had lied to the church about their giving”?

What kinds of questions do you think you would have? What kinds of answers do you think people were coming up with?

This was a different world from the one we live in. A man and a woman died spontaneously in church after being confronted about lying about their giving. In today’s world, this would be greeted with a healthy amount of skepticism — and certainly with immediate involvement from the authorities. But in Acts, we’re reading about a young church that has just received the Holy Spirit and is recognizing God actively at work in the world — most notably through the recent resurrection of Jesus. We’re reading about a world where, for better or worse, people were more willing to see divine beings at work in the world around them — where people might have been more likely to respond to this news with a “healthy respect” of God instead of a fear of the church.

So this becomes an imperfect thought exercise, since the reactions we imagine we would have today may not have been the ones people had then. And yet it is a valuable exercise, because people living in the world today are reading the story in Acts 5 and reacting to it. What are some of the negative things people might think about the story of Ananias and Sapphira?

  • “The church cares more about money than about people”? 
  • “The church’s highest value is how much money you give”? 
  • “To follow this God, you have to sell everything you own and give it all to the church”? 
  • “The leaders in the church are watching the offering plate to see who’s giving what”?

We know Peter would not have agreed with these statements – and that most churches today would not. But they’re certainly conclusions some could reach from a cursory reading of this story, especially if it’s taken out of its context in Acts and in the New Testament. We also live in a world today where there are still issues involving the church and money, and hurt that can result from those. It’s entirely possible that conclusions like these could be reached by some in today’s world just from their own experiences with the church and money that left them hurt.

Do you know of anyone who has been hurt by the church in regards to money? What do you imagine these kinds of “hurts” could look like today?

We may not have stories as shocking as that of Ananias and Sapphira in today’s world, but certainly these worries about the church and money are still present. As you think about your own world today, consider the following three questions:

  • What have you heard from the church about money?
  • What have you read in the Bible about money?
  • What do you think God thinks about money?

Are the answers to those three questions similar? Slightly different? Complete opposites? Should they be the same? Why do you think there may be differences in those answers?


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