Keeping Up Appearances in Church

It is often wise for us to consider what lies behind an action that we or others take. Quite often, the things we do, the right or wrong things we do, are symptoms of something much deeper in our hearts. Like the fruit on the branches of a tree, our behaviors come from deep down, at the roots of our hearts.


What has my attention as I write this is our behavior in the church. How often do we, if we are not careful, try to shape our actions in the local church to make ourselves look good? Because of the nature of the local church, the community structure, we can sometimes look at the church as a place to get ahead. Some like being a big fish in the small pond of the local body, and we try to get there by acting more spiritual than we really are.


Think of the different tactics we might use. We might pretend to sacrifice more than we are really sacrificing. We might pretend to be more spiritually rich than we really are. We might pretend to be doing well when we are really hurting deeply. We will put on all sorts of masks to try to get others to think we are stronger than we are, more disciplined than we are, or more sanctified than we are.


Sometimes the deception is active, intentionally pretending something you are not. Sometimes the deception is more passive, simply holding back from telling others the truth. But either way, deceiving others in the body, putting on airs, is not wise.


Back in the early church, as growth was taking place in Jerusalem, there was a couple who decided to take an active role in making themselves look spiritual. Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property and lied to the church about how much money they got from it. They wanted to pretend that they were giving to the church all of the profits of the sale, when in fact, they were holding back some funds for themselves. If you know the story, you also know that this led to the death of the couple, God striking them down for their actions.


Acts 5: 4-5 – 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 men but to God.


Here is what is fascinating. In Peter’s words to Ananias, we see the problem. God was not upset that the couple did not want to give 100% of the profits. It would have been fine for them not to sell their land. It would have been fine for them to sell and say, “Here is 75% of what we got.” But what was not fine was for them to pretend they were giving more than they really were. The couple wanted to make themselves look good in the sight of others in the church, and they were dishonest in the process. They lied in their actions, being dishonest before God, and it cost them their lives.


And this all makes me wonder, how close do we come to being like Ananias and Sapphira? When we put on a false face of spiritual maturity when we lack it, are we not lying in much the same way? When we pretend to have given our all in some spiritual activity, but we really barely limped through, are we not lying like this couple? When we pretend to be different than we really are so that others in the church will think we are stronger than we really are, how different is that from Ananias and Sapphira?


Maybe it would be wise for us to consider the dangerous life of honesty, even in the local church. No, I’m not suggesting that every person in the body has to know every detail of your emotions. But, I wonder how much different we would be if being true to the Lord was our first priority instead of being seen by others as good, strong, or as having it together. May we tell the truth. When we are doing well, be honest. When we are doing well, do not exaggerate it. When we are struggling, be honest without exaggeration. When we need someone to pray for us because we hurt, why not say so instead of keeping it quiet? When we present a false face because we want to look better in the eyes of other people, we walk a dangerous line, one that I would bet Ananias and Sapphira would prefer not to have walked.