But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. – Acts 5:1-11
A colleague served as a missionary in New Guinea. He told a group of pastors about a man who had served as treasurer for their small and fledgling church there. The treasurer had embezzled money from the church funds. The president of the congregation was deeply distressed upon hearing the news. When he confronted the treasurer about it, he said, “Don’t you fear God!?!” He could never imagine doing such a thing – for fear of God.
The fear of God is a secondary motivation for Christian obedience. Our primary motivation should be the love of God and the love that is in our hearts because of God’s love for us. Love is the primary motive for Christian obedience. But sometimes fear must do its work in us as well. It might be that I love God, but in a misguided reliance on God’s love and grace think that I may do as I please. Fear will often correct such false belief.
I may restrain myself from giving in to temptation because I fear the consequences of doing wrong and getting caught. I might also be legitimately afraid of the judgment of God if I willfully sin. No sin is beyond the redemption of God. But willful sin can lead us farther away from a repentant heart and put us in grave danger of God’s judgment and even condemnation.
Notice how fear grips all who see this dramatic visitation of judgment upon Ananias and Sapphira. Twice in these 12 verses Luke tells us that fear gripped all who heard of this event. When love wears thin, we can be thankful for the fear of God that rightly corrects us and restrains us from gross outbursts of evil.
“We should fear and love God above all things,” wrote Martin Luther. The Psalmist says, “There is forgiveness with you that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:4). I don’t want to live in fear of God, paralyzed in anxiety about whether or not he loves me, or desires my prayers. But I do not wish to live without a due sense of God’s holiness, which engenders a godly fear that adorns the love that he inspires by his great love for me and all people.