Losing the context is a dangerous thing, as is making a text of Scripture say something it was never intended to say. Uzzah falling dead after attempting to stabilize the Ark of the Covenant comes to mind. All the guy did was attempt to steady it as it was being carted across some difficult terrain. Seems a bit harsh. But given the broader Biblical context of the holiness of God and His instructions regarding the transportation of the ark (it was to be carried by poles on the shoulders of priests, not wheeled around on a cart out of mere convenience), Uzzah’s death stands as God’s judgment on David’s casual parade.
This brings us to a similar passage in the Book of Acts, where Ananias and Sapphira fall dead after laying an offering at the feet of the apostles. Context is crucial here. The church at Jerusalem was filled with common poor people. Some members of the church were of some standing and holding some property. The conviction among the church was that those who were of means should give up their means to ameliorate the poverty and hunger of their poorer brothers, in keeping with what John would later write: “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in Him (1 John 3:17)?”
An interesting aspect of this passage to me is that it stands as a New Testament parallel to an Old Testament story. Barnabas gives a gift, and Ananias and Sapphira give a gift. The difference in their gifts is that while Barnabas sold a piece of land and presented the entire sum to the church, Ananias (“with his wife’s full knowledge”) brought a portion of the sale price to offer to the church. What made it particularly wrong is that he misrepresented his offering before the apostles. It’s not necessarily that bringing a portion of the proceeds from a sale as a contribution toward the church is wrong; it is certainly wrong to sell a piece of land, bring in a portion of the proceeds, and present that offering as the whole receipt on the sale of land. With this in mind, think back to Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. Each brother brought something of his produce to offer to the Lord, Cain from his crops and Abel from his flocks. The difference in their offerings was that Abel brought “from the firstlings of his flock and their fat portions (i.e. the good stuff).” An equivalent offering from Cain would have been the firstfruits of his harvest. It’s very clear that this is not what Cain brought; rather than bringing his best, he brought what he was willing to spare. Ananias is Cain; Barnabas is Abel. One set laid the leftovers at the feet of God and found their offerings rejected; the other brought the very best they had to offer and found their offerings acceptable before God.
These accounts ought to inform us in the way they we present our offerings (money, time, commitments, energy, passions, etc.). Perhaps inform is too flippant a verb. These stories ought to instill in an awestruck humility toward God’s holiness, leading us to take a more calculated, wholehearted, worshipful mindset toward our offerings to God. That’s really what it comes down to: Do I write a check to my church each month because I know I’m supposed to, and maybe I can fudge the numbers a little, or Do I come each month with my offering in hand in hope of presenting an acceptable and pleasing offering to God? Do I approach my work that way? Do I approach the rest of my life this way?
Some goals to strive for: Wholeheartedness; single-mindedness; an all-encompassing, holistic approach to the concept of worship; an earnest desire for the glory of God.