But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wife's knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles' feet.
Not all of the women of the Bible are positive role models. Sapphira seems to have had an equal relationship with her husband, in which she shared in decisions making. The couple decides to join the group of early believers. At the time, believers shared everything. Acts 4:32 says, "Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common." Seeking to join this communal group Sapphira and Ananias decide to sell everything. But sometime between selling all their possessions and offering the proceeds to the apostles, they decide to hold back a portion.
Why did they hold back the proceeds? Some have suggested the sale was only to impress others, which may be true. It might also have been that their faith wasn't as strong as they initially thought. The decision to hold back appears to have been made after they took the faith step of giving. Since the Bible doesn't tell us why, we can never say for certain. However, I believe we need to be careful not to merely label Sapphira and Ananias as "bad people" then move on to the next story. Instead we can learn from their experience. This couple stepped out--then hedged their bets by keeping a safety net. Do we also keep a little back when we step out in faith?
In Acts 5:3-6 Peter confronts Ananias about the couple's deceit. Ananias falls dead.
After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter said to her, "Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such price.' And she said, 'Yes, that was the price." Then Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to he test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out." Immediately she fell down at this feet and died. WHen the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
Sapphira comes to the apostles, unaware of Ananias' fate. Peter then questions her, allowing her an opportunity to correct what her husband's false claims. Instead, she maintains the lie. Peter demands to know "how is it that you have agreed to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test?" This confrontation seems to emphasize two points: first, Peter holds Sapphira accountable and second, the couple's actions challenged God, not the group.
Recently, preachers and certain faith groups have suggested that when a wife "submits" to her husband and does what he wants, the husband will bear the accountability for the action. They have suggested that the wife will be "covered" and the man will be called to judgement by God; the wife is merely accountable for "submitting". Of course, this doesn't answer how submission could possibly mean sitting back while another bears the "responsibility" for one's actions, but more obviously Peter very specifically calls Sapphira, the wife, to account for "agreeing". He holds her as accountable as her husband.
Another area of disagreement has been the nature of sin and the "extreme" punishment. The key seems to be that they sinned against God. In verse 4 Peter told Ananias, "You did not lie to us but to God!," while in verse 9 he ask Sapphira how she could agree to test the Spirit. Clearly this was not just failing to give an offering.
Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was Greek.
Timothy's mother is one of the unsung heroines and role models in the Bible. Here we learn that she is a Jewish woman married to a Greek man. We have no other information about Timothy's father, but are told that his mother was a believer. In Paul's terms that means a believer in Christ.
2 Timothy 1:5:
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and now, I am sure, lives in you.
Paul's experience of the faith in question is via Eunice and Lois. He trusts that the faith that lives in Timothy is the faith that lives in Eunice and Lois. Here he holds up their faith as an example to Timothy, and adult male. The only possible interpretation is that Paul expects that Timothy has learned and will continue to learn from their example.
On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the woman who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, 'If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home. And she prevailed upon us.
Here we meet Lydia. I believe Lydia is one of the most misunderstood women of the Bible. As a child in the church, I was taught that Lydia was a rich woman who financially supported the church The basis for this teaching was the designation of "a dealer in purple cloth." This, however, is only one element in the description.
The first piece of information the text provides is the location of the story. Paul encounters this group of women "outside the gate by the river". At the time, there were two types of purple cloth available. One, made from shellfish was a luxury item, legally available only to imperial families. The other was a vegetable based dye which required ready access to fresh water. The malodorous process equated to "knock off" brands of today, and far from making its producers wealthy elites, it forced them outside the city gates. Not incidentally, the area most known for this designer knock off industry was Thyatira. Put simply Lydia worked in a smelly, hot manufacturing job that relegated her to the outer rim of the town.
In fact, Lydia was probably well aware of the consequences of being on the fringe of society. The name "Lydia" was not even person's name. Lydia was a place. The only people who had place names as personal name were slaves. These were people who did not even merit a name, but were instead simply called by the place from which they had been taken.
Despite her economic condition, Lydia was a "worshiper of God". A "worshiper of God", also called "God fearer", was a Gentile who had determined to follow after the Jewish God, yet due to the requirements of Jewish law, were unable to convert. Lydia was looking for a relationship with God as she gathered with others beside the river.
Finally, we have the detail that Lydia had a household. Was she married, single, or widowed? We don't know, but we do know that she had a household which was baptized. More, she was able to invite Paul and his companion to her home.
Lydia may be the one or one of the ones who was "sharing in the gospel from the first day" in Philippians.
because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.
One day, as we were going Israelites the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortunetelling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, 'These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim Israelites you a way of salvation.' She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said Israelites the spirit, 'I order you in the name of Jesus Christ Israelites come out of her.' And it came out that very hour.
But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them in Israelites the marketplace before the authorities.
Paul and Silas encountered his slave girl on the way to the "place of prayer" described in vs 13. Interesting, it is at the place of prayer that they encounter the gathered women and Lydia. This time the story shifts from the acceptance of the gospel to deliverance. Unlike the gathered women, this slave-girl was not simply an outsider on the edge of society, or even a former slave in business. Here, we find a woman caught in physical slavery and spiritual slavery.
She "had a spirit of divination" which her owners used to make money. As Paul and Silas go about, she follows them, shouting that they have "a way of salvation". Of course, not only was this disruptive, it was manipulative. By following long and making herself "the" authority, she leaves open the possibility that she, the authority, has a way of salvation as well. Paul eventually gets irritated and orders the spirit to come out of her. As a result in the owners taking Paul and Silas to be judged.
The contrast between this girl and the women gathered for prayer is glaring. Lydia "listened eagerly" while this girl "would cry out". Lydia was empowered to make a decision for so that "she and her household were baptize", while this girl's deliverance was challenged by her owners.
Both of these stories offer us hope. Wether we have the immediate and free experience of Lydia or the less dramatic experience of this girl, we can be delivered.
"The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A, and are used by permission. All rights reserved."