Scripture reference: Acts 5:1–11 Bible Search Tool
Date: a.d. 35
Name: Sapphira [suh-FIGH-ruh: “beautiful”]
Main contribution: Her death for lying to the Holy Spirit inspired awe of God in believers and unbelievers alike.
Sapphira and her husband Ananias were among the first in Jerusalem to become Christians. In those first exciting days they were part of that fellowship Luke described in Acts 2:44–47.
Like others in the little community of faith, Ananias and Sapphira sold property and brought money to the apostle Peter. The two had talked it over and decided to keep part of the proceeds while pretending to give all.
When Ananias brought the money, Peter asked him the price for which the property was sold, and Ananias lied. He was immediately struck dead, and his body was carried out. When Sapphira came in later Peter asked her the same question. She too lied, and she too dropped dead. The text tells us, “So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things” (5:11).
She and her husband were looked good on the surface; they were active members of a vital and exciting Jerusalem church that emphasized teaching, prayer, worship, and a deep caring for others. Outwardly everything was going well in the couple’s spiritual life.
But inwardly there were doubts and divided loyalties. While the couple seems to have wanted a reputation for selfless generosity, they did not trust God enough to be honest about their resources. They wanted to love both God and money.
It’s ironic, but in some ways this pair had an “ideal” marriage. Ananias and Sapphira “agreed together” on the course of action they would take (5:9). Ananias didn’t demand or command. They talked over what they intended to do, and agreed. In modern terms we’d say their relationship was marked by open and honest communication. We would also say that theirs was a fifty-fifty relationship: they were partners in life and shared in the decision making. They were in fact “one” in the course they chose—and one in experiencing its consequences!
Sapphira, like her husband, wanted to be well thought of by others. When Barnabas sold a piece of property and gave the money to the apostles to use for the needy, she and her husband apparently felt a pang of jealousy. They wanted for themselves the reputation for generosity that Barnabas merited. They wanted to be thought of as generous and selfless—even though they were not selfless at all. The approval of their own crowd was so important to them that they did not even consider what God might think of their actions. They cared only for what others might think.
Ananias and Sapphira could have resisted the worldly thoughts that entered their minds, and refused to let Satan fill their hearts. Sapphira was even given a second chance to turn from the road she’d chosen. Peter specifically asked her the amount received from the sale, but Sapphira was faithful to the end. She was not faithful to God, but she was faithful to Satan’s ways. And so she died.
Peter was at the time the unquestioned leader of the Jerusalem church. Peter was the one who had preached the first gospel message. Peter participated in every important event recorded in early Acts. He was the one to whom large contributions were brought for distribution to the poor. It’s possible that Sapphira and her husband were as eager to be well thought of by Peter as by others in the Christian community. But Peter’s leadership was rooted in his relationship with God. Both Sapphira and Ananias had overlooked this. When they brought their gift to Peter, God’s Spirit revealed the fraud. Peter asked the amount received from the sale, and when the two lied–not to him, but to the Holy Spirit–each was struck dead.
Sapphira reminds us that pretending is never acceptable to the Holy Spirit. We reveal Christ to others by living with them openly, letting them see the changes that the Spirit works in us over time (see 2 Cor. 3:18). Pretense is still hypocrisy, and we lie not just to others but to the Holy Spirit.
Some have felt that the sentence passed on this pair was too severe. But their fate is a reminder that our loving Father usually allows His children to experience the consequences of wrong actions. Thankfully, this doesn’t diminish His love for us or the grace and forgiveness He’s promised.
Scripture references: Acts 9:36–43 Bible Search Tool
Date: a.d. 35
Name: Dorcas [Tabitha] [DOR-cuss: “gazelle”]
Main contribution: Beloved for her concern for the poor, Dorcas was brought back to life by Peter.
Dorcas was dearly loved in her church. She was a woman full of good works and charitable deeds. The people loved Dorcas because she cared for others and demonstrated her care in practical ways.
When she became sick, her fellow believers were deeply concerned and sent for Peter, who was then in Joppa. When Peter arrived he found that Dorcas had died. Even in their grief, her friends wanted Peter to know what a wonderful woman Dorcas had been. Acts says “all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them” (9:39).
Peter was moved enough to pray for her restoration. When he rose from prayer, he called to her; she opened here eyes, and sat up. The miracle was widely reported, and many who heard about it came to faith in Christ.
When we are introduced to Dorcas she was a woman who had lost her husband. We don’t know how long ago this had happened, but from the number of people for whom Dorcas had made clothing, we can perhaps assume he had died some years before. Dorcas had not stopped living because her husband was gone. Instead she reached out to other believers and found a meaningful and happy life in serving them.
Dorcas is the only named woman in Scripture who is specifically called a “disciple” (9:36). Those Dorcas served truly loved her. She must have been so caring, so involved in the lives of those she helped, that her giving was never perceived as demeaning or as charity. Dorcas had the gift of giving herself even as she gave the clothing she made for others.
Her simple concern for others rather than powerful speaking or a great singing voice won Dorcas the love of her friends and neighbors. Sometimes in our desire for a more public ministry we forget that the greatest in God’s kingdom are called to be servants, and servants are called to care for those they serve.
Serving others wins a great reward here as well as hereafter. Look how those Dorcas cared for loved her. We get so caught up in accumulating things that we seem to have no time to love one another. Yet loving relationships fill the heart as no possessions can.
MARY, THE MOTHER OF JOHN MARK
Scripture reference: Acts 12:12 Bible Search Tool
Date: a.d. 35
Main contribution: She opened her home to leaders of the early church for prayer.
Mary’s home was a gathering place for one of the many smaller groups that made up the Jerusalem church. We know that Mary must have been well to do, for her home must have been relatively large to hold the “many” who gathered there when Peter was imprisoned. The fact that Peter went immediately to her home when an angel released him from prison indicates that she was close to the leaders of the church and an important member of the local body.
Mary is identified in the text as “the mother of John Mark,” a young man who traveled briefly with Paul and later with Barnabas on missionary journeys.
In the early church, believers met in homes, not church buildings. Most homes in Jerusalem were small and could hold only a small group of worshipers. Acts tells us that Mary’s house held “many” (12:12). A relatively large group of believers, possibly a hundred or more, would meet there regularly for prayer and worship. Mary graciously opened her home for this purpose.
We hardly know enough to gain an accurate picture of Mary as a person. We do know that she was well to do, yet willing to link herself to a movement led by poor and “uneducated” men. Mary chose to become totally involved in the Christian community. She opened her home for worship and prayer. She encouraged her son to join older men in sharing the gospel of Christ. Perhaps this is enough to know about Mary to see her as a woman who was fully dedicated to Jesus and His cause.
How thrilled Mary must have been when Barnabas showed himself willing to give her son a second chance; a chance which proved to be her son’s making and the doorway to a ministry of lasting significance to all Christ’s church. Mary’s joy reminds us that we should never give up on wayward children; God doesn’t.