You Can’t Buy God – June 7, 2020
When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.
Last week, we studied the verses just prior to these. We learned about the Samaritans accepting Christ, being baptized, and receiving the Holy Spirit through Philip, Peter, and John.
We also learned that one of the Samaritans that accepted Christ was a man by the name of Simon. If we think back, we can recall that Simon was thought of by the Samaritans as a “man …rightly called the Great Power of God” (v. 10).
However, when we first met Simon, he was not a man of God, but a sorcerer. He used his magic to gain attention for himself and “boast[ed] that he was someone great” (v. 9). Because of the magic he performed, he had acquired a large following.
Then everything changed when Philip arrived in Samaria. Philip began preaching the Gospel message and the people began following him. The new believers were then baptized. This even included the sorcerer Simon.
After Simon accepted Christ, he began to follow Philip everywhere he went.
One would assume that Simon following Philip was because he wanted to hear the word of God preached. However, if we look closely at the scripture, we will see a different reason.
If we look back at verse 13 from last week, we read, “Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.”
Simon’s attraction to Philip was not based on the message of Jesus Christ. Instead, it was based on his fascination with Philips’s signs and miracles he performed. Knowing what we do about Simon, this is easy to understand.
Remember, Simon was a sorcerer. He was used to performing magic to gain the attention of the people of Samaria. He would have been fascinated with someone else who also performed for the crowds. Simon had encountered a man who could outshine him in what Simon thought were magic acts. For that reason, Simon followed Philip everywhere mesmerized by Philip’s actions.
What Simon was missing was that Philip’s actions were not for his own personal gain, but Philip’s actions were a means of drawing attention to God.
But Simon was not only present to see the works of Philip. He was also present for the laying on of hands by Peter and John.
To say Simon was impressed by what took place when Peter and John laid hands on the people and the Holy Spirit inhabited the believers would be an understatement.
“When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit’” (v. 19).
If we look back at verse 13 again, “[Simon was] ASTONISHED BY THE GREAT SIGNS AND MIRACLES HE SAW,” we can understand why Simon is having this reaction to Peter and John.
Remember, it wasn’t the message of Christ that had grabbed Simon’s attention. It was the signs and miracles that Philip performed that led Simon to say he believed in Christ. Then to put the icing on the cake, Simon witnessed Peter and John laying their hands on people who became filled by the Holy Spirit.
Simon wanted to be able to do the same thing! What a magic trick that was!
Again, unfortunately, Simon was missing the point. Peter and John’s actions were not for personal gain but were a means of drawing attention to God and drawing people closer to Christ through the receipt of the Holy Spirit.
In his ignorance, Simon asked Peter and John to give him the same powers they possessed. And not only did he ask for that power, but he offered to pay them for it.
The ability to lay hands on people for the receipt of the Holy Spirit had been given by God to the apostles. It was NOT a gift that Peter and John had previously purchased. They hadn’t walked into the Dollar General, found the spiritual gifts aisle, and picked out the perfect “laying on of hands” package for the Samaritan people. The Lord had worked through Peter and John’s willingness to serve Him to impart His Spirit in the Samaritan believers.
Simon did not understand this.
His view of the apostles’ powers was from a political or personal gain position. Simon wanted the power the apostles’ held because his concept was that the one that holds the power controls the people. And if Simon could hold the control, he could use the people to pad his pockets. He wanted the power of the apostles in order to manipulate the community.
But Peter had some words of his own for Simon.
“Peter answered: ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!” (v. 20).
Peter saw right through Simon. Peter knew that Simon’s intentions were self-centered, egotistical, and sinful. Simon had no desire to serve God through his actions, but to only serve himself, and Peter knew it immediately!
It has also been said that “Peter regards Simon’s spiritual insolence as degrading of his apostolic rule – the mistaken presumption that membership in the Apostolate can be purchased by someone who is so obviously unqualified.”1 It was a slap to Peter’s face for Simon to think so little of the apostles’ authority in assuming that their power and authority could be purchased.
And part of Peter’s authority was determining the legitimacy of people’s requests. In the case of Simon, it was easy for Peter to see that Simon’s request was far from legit.
So, Peter continues, “You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God” (v. 21).
Peter knew that Simon’s outward actions demonstrated what was deep in Simon’s heart. And even though Simon had accepted Christ under the teachings of Philip, Peter knew that Simon’s heart had not been consumed by Christ. Simon was out to serve Simon. Peter knew it and quickly called Simon out for it.
But Peter didn’t stop there. He continued, “Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin” (vv. 22-23).
Peter could have easily stopped speaking to Simon after the beginning of his rebuke. After telling Simon that he would have not any part of the ministry of Christ, Peter could have walked away from Simon. No one would have thought twice if he had.
But Peter was an apostle. And he was following in the feet of Jesus.
After his initial rebuke, Peter told Simon one of the most important things that can be said to any sinner. “Repent…and pray…that [God] may forgive you” (v. 22).
Peter knew that Simon’s heart was filled with sinful desires, but Peter also knew the One who could fix that.
Think back to last week, when we were talking about the ABCs of becoming a Christian and we said that the ABCs were still relevant to those who had previously accepted Christ. And that we have to constantly repeat the process. We would need to admit over and over again that we had sinned.
This is the spot in which Simon found himself in this moment with Peter. Simon had accepted Christ under the leadership of Philip. He had admitted his sin, professed his belief in Jesus as God’s Son, and had confessed his faith in Christ.
But already, Simon had fallen to the temptation of sin. “The root of Simon’s spiritual failure [was] a temptation every new believer must resist. From his conversion, he [was] attracted to the spectacular.”2 Simon was not a mature enough believer to catch it himself, but Peter saw it plainly and pointed it out to Simon. Now it was up to Simon to follow Peter’s instructions.
Fortunately, Simon listened to Peter and his response was, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me” (v. 24).
Peter had not lost all hope in Simon being able to turn his life around. Peter knew that Simon was immature in his walk with Christ and extended the olive branch of repentance and forgiveness to Simon. And Simon was accepting of that branch.
Then, after a bit more preaching “about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages” (v. 25).
As quickly as they had arrived on the scene, Peter and John left to return home.
Their visit had had a huge impact on the believers in Samaria. They had certainly had a huge impact on Simon.
Simon had learned of Jesus Christ…his death and resurrection and his saving power of Grace.
Simon had learned about the true purpose of miracles…to lead people to Christ.
Simon had learned that you can’t buy God or the power instilled within people by God.
As believers, we know these things as well.
I would dare say that if any of us were asked, “Can you buy God?” our answer would be a resounding “No!”
But do our actions say something else?
Each week, we take up an offering here at church. We have many ways for people to give – especially since the Coronavirus started. We can give physically here in the sanctuary, we can mail in our offerings, or we can give our tithes through the church app and online.
And while we know we can’t buy God, how many times, before we give our tithes and offerings, do we ask God for something in exchange for our giving? Or how many times do we feel proud of how often we are giving and think that God will surely reward us for being a faithful giver? Or how many times do we feel certain that God is going to show us favor because we have given a large amount to the church?
While in these moments, we aren’t asking an apostle how much it will cost us to receive the spiritual gifts they possess, we are still wanting something in exchange for our money. We are looking for a way to receive power from the Holy Spirit in exchange for money. We are still, in effect, trying to buy God.
That is not how it works.
We cannot buy gifts from God. Our giving to the Lord is to have no strings attached. And our giving does not give us power…it doesn’t give us power with Christ and shouldn’t give us power within the church.
2 Corinthians 9:6-8 says, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
When we read this, we often misinterpret it. We read it to affirm Simon’s actions of wanting to buy the power to give the Holy Spirit. We read it more like, “Whoever sows sparingly isn’t going to get much, but whoever sows generously is going to get a lot of money in return” and “God is about to bless you abundantly, so that we can have everything we have ever wanted, including power, prestige, and influence.”
That is not what these verses say, and if we read them this way, we should expect the same rebuke that Simon received from Peter: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart” (vv. 20-22).
No more can we buy God than Simon could.
You can’t buy God.
- The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume X, Acts, Introduction to the Epistolary Literature, Romans, 1 Corinthians. “Acts.” 139-140.
- Ibid. “Reflections.” 140.