This is probably the most difficult passage in the New Testament. Some of the difficulty arises from the fact that it is straightforward in its language and its seemingly easy acceptance of Ananias' and Sapphira's fate. It is tempting to read into the passage that their death had nothing to do with the Apostles or the Holy Spirit; they expired because they were overwhelmed with stress and guilt. However, Peter tells Sapphira that the same fate would befell her as her husband: he predicts her immediate demise!
Whatever we with modern sensibilities make of this tale, as it is firmly planted in Scripture, we must seek to learn what we can from it:
1. It demonstrates the atmosphere which prevailed in the Early Church. Not only was there huge growth and a unity probably not experienced since, it was extremely vulnerable to those who sought to exploit it for their own ends. We have just read of the whole hearted generosity of Barnabas and in contrast, we record that Ananias and Sapphira are playing fast and lose with the truth. They could simply have told the apostles that it was part of the proceeds of the sale, but they wanted a full hearted welcome from the leaders and their first instinct was deceit. There is another similar event when Simon the Sorcerer tried to join the Church in Acts 8 v 9-24, but he quickly apologises and is not harmed.
2. In that atmosphere, it might be possible for someone who already feels guilty to die of shame.
3. Some commentators accuse Luke of recording the early life of the Church as perfect and unattainable: however, Luke uses this story partially to demonstrate that even at the start, the Church was a mixture of good and bad.
4. As Peter clearly states, sin is sin against God. Everything we do, we should do as doing it for God. Failure to use our talents is sin against God: we have the Parable from Jesus of the servants being given talents to use.
5. Failure in truth is sin against God. Ananias and Sapphira lied in order to advance their position in the Church. Would you be prepared to do the same?