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Articles

Pilfering Christians

In Acts 5:1-11, we read about Ananias and Sapphira, a married couple who were Christians. Prior to this account, we read that many Christians were selling things to meet the needs of their family in Christ (4:34-37). It seems Ananias and Sapphira wanted to appear as if they were willing to be just as generous. Ananias, "with his wife's full knowledge," "sold a piece of property and kept back some of the price for himself" (5:1-2).  When Ananias laid the money "at the apostles' feet," Peter charged Ananias with lying "to the Holy Spirit" (5:2-4). Ananias had either directly said or implied that he was giving the full purchase-price to the apostles. He was struck dead and buried (5:5-6). His wife came in, "not knowing what had happened," and also lied about the purchase-price (5:7-9). She too was struck dead and buried (5:10).

Lying was not the only sin Ananias and Sapphira committed. In a sermon on this text, Gary Fisher pointed out something I had not noticed before. The phrase "kept back" (5:2, NASB) was translated from the Greek word, nosphizo. Nosphizo is used only one other time in the NT outside of Acts 5. In Titus 2:9-10, Paul uses this word to command Christians who are slaves not to pilfer from their masters. After a little more research, I discovered nosphizo is also used in the Septuagint (Greek OT and Apocrypha) translation of Joshua 7:1 and 2 Maccabees 4:32 with the same meaning: to steal, pilfer, or embezzle. Therefore, the use of nosphizo in Acts 5 seems to imply that Ananias and Sapphira had committed the purchase-price to the Lord but did not follow through by giving it to Him. As Peter pointed out, before and even after the property was sold it was theirs to do with as they pleased (Acts 5:4). However, once they committed it to the Lord, it was no longer their possession but the Lord's. They pilfered God's money!

What about me? What about you? Have we pilfered God's possessions? As Christians, we have been "bought with a price" (1 Cor. 6:20), "redeemed with... the blood of Christ" (1 Pet. 1:18-19) "for His own possession" (Titus 2:14). When we put on Christ in baptism, we were "crucified with Christ" and gave up charge over our lives so that Christ could live through us (Gal. 2:20; Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:3-4, 11-13). We committed to "deny [ourselves] and take up [our] cross daily and follow Him" (Luke 9:23). Any time we choose to do something the Lord does not want us to do, we are not only guilty of whatever sin we are engaged in but we are also guilty of pilfering the Lord's possession – our lives and bodies.

Have you pilfered your body from the Lord? If you commit sexual immorality (on any level) then you will have pilfered God's possession (1 Cor. 6:18-20). If you dress immodestly and thereby cause others to be more focused on your wealth, fashion sense, or sex appeal than on the fact that you are a Christian then you have pilfered from God (1 Tim. 2:9-10). Men, immodesty is our problem too. If you "get drunk" then you will have pilfered your body (Eph. 5:18). We are to "glorify God in [our bodies]" (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

Have you pilfered your tongue and lips from the Lord? If you have spoken "filthiness" or "coarse jesting" then you have pilfered your mouth from God (Eph. 5:4). When we grumble and complain, we pilfer from God (Phil. 2:14). When we "bite and devour" other Christians, we pilfer from our God (Gal. 5:15). God wants thanksgiving (Eph. 5:4), "peace, patience, kindness" (Gal. 5:22), and "praise" to be the "fruit of [our] lips" (Heb. 13:15).

Have you pilfered your eyes and mind from the Lord? I put eyes and mind together because what we look at directly contributes to what we think about. "I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt. 5:28). Looking with lust is pilfering our eyes and mind from God. Women, lust is not just a male problem (Gen. 39:7). Looking at and dwelling on things that are immoral or violent is pilfering our eyes and mind from God (Phil. 4:8).We should be "taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" by "[looking] intently at the perfect Law," the Word of God (2 Cor. 10:4; James 1:25).

Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead because they pilfered from God and lied about it. "If we go on sinning willfully," we too should have "a terrifying expectation of judgment." For, "there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins" because we will have "trampled underfoot the Son of God... and insulted the Spirit of grace... It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 12:26-31). While we live, we can repent (1 John 1:5-2:2). Let us do so and make good on our commitment to "present [our] bodies a living a holy sacrifice, acceptable to God" (Rom. 12:1).

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