But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?Acts 5:3(NASB)
One of the hallmarks of the fledgling Christian Church, was that they moved in the power of the Spirit and great grace was upon them all. Now, although the Holy Spirit was already indwelling those that were saved, the full canon of Scripture had yet to be written and certain elements of their practice, including communal living, were a hallmark of these early believers.
Times were hard during these opening days of the church. Believers relied heavily on the teachings of the apostles and... although it was not commanded by God, many chose to sell their goods and property and adopt a communal style of living out of love for their brethren and as a thanksgiving to God. Such communal living helped to provide for the needs of everyone in those difficult days of the early church.
One person who sold a piece of land was a man named Barnabas, which means 'son of encouragement', and many others chose to follow his gracious example. Some, like Barnabas, did this with loving and charitable motives, while others were tempted to do it out of duty, or to make themselves appear to be generous and philanthropic in front of their fellow believers, whilst retaining a hidden heart of selfishness.
A man named Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, also followed Barnabas' example and sold a property for this purpose. However, they conspired together to only give a portion of the money they received whilst giving the impression that they had offered the full amount to the apostles.
Ananias and Sapphira had every right to retain some, or all, of the proceeds from the sale of their property - but by pretending that they were offering the entire amount, they were telling an outright lie. They were not only trying to deceive the apostles, but they were also lying to God, Himself. Peter, being prompted by the Holy Spirit, challenged Ananias with the question, "why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?"
The outward action of Ananias and Sapphira, may have appeared to other church members to have been benevolent and generous, but God is omniscient and reads the intents of the heart and inner motives of the mind. The secrets of the heart are wide open to the Lord. He can read the inner motivating force behind the outward actions of every man and woman, no matter how deceptive their behaviour may be and irrespective of their smooth-sounding words.
Sin is unacceptable to God and is prompted by the world, the flesh, or the devil. Peter was led by the Spirit to expose their inner deceitfulness, and identified Satan as the one who filled their hearts and prompted them to lie to the Holy Spirit... by keeping back some of the price of the land while pretending to give it all. God loves a cheerful giver and knows when we give an offering with a mean, reluctant, or dishonest motive.
Some use this passage to insist that Christians should sell all that they have and give everything to the church or to the poor... and although certain individuals may be called upon to do so... it is not what this passage is about. This passage teaches the importance of truth and truthfulness and the evils of lying and deceitfulness. As believers, our hearts and motives should be pure before God... for although we may be able to deceive others with deceptive words and deceitful actions... we can never deceive the indwelling Holy Spirit!
However, it should not be out of fear of reprisal that we live an honest, honourable, and truthful life, but out of love for our Heavenly Father Who loved us so much, that He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes on Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the Word of God and the truths that it contains. Thank You for this example which contrasts the pure motive of one man with the deceptive actions of others, reminding us that God knows the thoughts and intents of the heart. I pray that the words of my mouth, the actions I do, and the inner motives of my mind, would always be acceptable to You, my God and my Redeemer. In Jesus' name I pray, AMEN.