Before I wrap up this conversation on hypocrisy, I want to make one more observation. Astute Bible readers have learned that first occurrences in any story line are important. That’s what makes Genesis, for example, an important book in the Old Testament. In the story of the emerging church in Acts, this passage about the first instance of God’s discipline should get our attention. What is God trying to say to the congregation then? What is God trying to say to us today?
As for then, I think God was making a statement to the people about character and integrity. Were Ananias and Sapphira the only sinners there? Were they the first to commit a sin? My answer would be no and again, no. So what’s the deal? God was teaching them that the goal of faith is character development that reflects the image of God. This is more important than their (or our, for that matter) attempts to attain some form of sinless perfection. Life is to be lived from the inside out. Hypocrisy attempts to live from the outside in, which is an approach to faith that must be soundly rejected.
The passage concludes in verse 5:11 with the first use of the word ekklesia, which is rendered “church” in our English translations. So what does it mean when we see the first instance of church discipline and the first use of the word church in this narrative account? I recall reading a book on small group ministry where Bill Hybels wrote, “The value of community lies in the possibility of exclusion.” God was trying to take this crowd of passionate believers and shape them into a new society, an alternative community of faith that would pursue the Kingdom of God with every fiber of its being. Authenticity is one of God’s values and should be one of ours as well. Don’t get me wrong, sin is not good and God is holy. But you can’t genuinely possess clean hands without a pure heart, unless you have a thing for legalism.
Participation in God’s new community comes with some stiff demands, and he sets the standard high. Jesus said we must love one another as we love ourselves. Paul’s epistles flesh that principle out even further. We should be discerning about this in our churches today. Not in ways that prescribe litmus tests to our morality and ethics. But in ways that insist on authenticity, character, and integrity that reach beyond whether our baptism is in order and we adhere to doctrinal statements and confessions.