“It pays good money to be a hypocrite today,” said Pastor Mike Hess of Calvary Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, at the beginning of Wednesday morning’s general session. “It pays a lot of money.” He described the wealth that comes to those who act roles in movies—for nothing more than playing a part. “But there was a couple in the Bible who played a part, and didn’t get to spend any of their profit.”
Hess went on to challenge those in attendance with the bittersweet account of Ananias and Sapphira from Acts 5:1–11. It’s a sad account, but also powerful in its outcome. Under the Spirit’s inspiration, Luke recorded the truth about ministry—the good, the bad and the ugly.
“A church that God is blessing is a church that God is purifying,” Hess emphasized as the main theme. “I think we’d all agree that the purifying process in a church is not fun. It’s difficult . . . But the purifying process is not only necessary, it’s a good process for the church.” That’s because it is God’s church, made up of His people.
Two methods by which God purifies His church are demonstrated in Acts 5:1–11. First, God purifies His church by denouncing underhanded and deceitful ways (5:1–2). Ananias and Sapphira’s deceit was no accident. They planned it together, and they thought nobody else would ever know. They were trying to appear more righteous than they were, so they cheated. “Ananias and Sapphira wanted the accolades, they wanted the praise that Barnabas got, without the genuine sacrifice that he made,” Hess explained.
Second, God purifies His church by exposing the God-ward dimension of sin. This is shown in the four probing questions Peter asked of Ananias in 5:3–4. Ultimately their sin wasn’t just a sin against people or the church; it was a sin against God. As Hess put it, “Peter doesn’t say, ‘Why have you lied to us and now we can’t pay the bills at church?’” Instead, Peter directed Ananias’ attention toward God. As God had said through the prophet Isaiah, “I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images” (Isa. 42:8). We must not try to take part of that glory for ourselves.
A result of God’s purifying work in His church is that His people will walk in sincere truth (5:5–11). God’s judgment came upon Ananias and Sapphira, the young men carried them out; and this was the effect: “Great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things” (5:11). The church didn’t split; instead, it blossomed and grew.
Hess suggested three applications that can be made from the account of Ananias and Sapphira. First, we make a big mistake when we assume that growth in a church means it must be using wrong methods. The truth is that an increase in numbers can result from God’s purging that church. Second, there is a danger in thinking that if we must confront an issue we will destroy the church. Third, there is a common danger in ministry of fearing men more than God.
“Let’s get back to what God says,” Hess challenged those present. Instead of wanting people to think well of us, like Ananias and Sapphira did, we must always seek to bring glory to God. “Let’s fear God alone.”