Before we get into Acts chapter 5, I think it is appropriate for us to revisit my favorite part of chapter 4 because of how it, in some ways, provides us with context for what we are about to read.
"The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, 'This is mine!' about any of their possessions, but held everything in common." (Acts 4:32)
From this verse through the end of chapter 4 we read about how those with property or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds to the apostles to share with those in need. As a result, "there were no needy persons among them." It was community, koinonia, at its very best. This is the picture painted for us as we enter chapter 5, a picture which stands in stark contrast with the chilling story of Ananias and Sapphira.
Like Barnabas at the end of chapter 4, Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property. Unlike Barnabas, they withheld some of the proceeds from the sale for themselves. Making matters worse, this withholding was veiled with deceit. Their actions, quite literally, broke the "circle of trust" with their fellow believers. Ananias and Sapphira's deception placed them outside the heart of the community...they could no longer be "one in heart and mind." For their disobedience to God, they paid the ultimate price.
As Eugene Peterson paraphrased in verse 11, "everyone who heard of these things had a healthy respect for God. They knew God was not to be trifled with."
Throughout chapter 5, from the story of Ananias and Sapphira to more healing in the name of Jesus (God-signs and wonders leading to the growth of their community) and yet another run-in with the High Council, there is a theme - obedience to God.
When Peter is challenged by the High Council for disregarding their "strict orders not to teach in Jesus' name," he famously responded, "It's necessary to obey God rather than men." This, of course, infuriated the council. However, there was one council member who wisely advised caution:
"'Here's my recommendation in this case: Distance yourselves from these men. Let them go! If their plan or activity is of human origin, it will end in ruin. If it originates with God, you won't be able to stop them. Instead, you would actually find yourselves fighting God!' The council was convinced by his reasoning." (Acts 5:38-39)
Of course, the life and work of the apostles totally originated with God and as Eugene Peterson paraphrased the final words of the chapter, "every day they were in the Temple and homes, teaching and preaching Christ Jesus, not letting up for a minute." They were unstoppable and God's work of changing hearts and lives, in and through the apostles, reached the far ends of the world.
Thanks be to God for the apostles' faithful obedience...and may it be so for the church today.