9 Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; 10 and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, “This man is what is called the Great Power of God.” 11 And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts. 12 But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. 13 Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed. 14 Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 “For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.” 24 But Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” 25 So, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
Today’s passage is a bit long but I think it is important for us to read the entire message to best understand the points within it.
People don’t understand the power of God.
We see in the beginning that Simon was performing miracles and people said that he was the Great Power of God. We know from reading, however, that the Holy Spirit Himself is the Great Power of God. Sometimes we see unexplainable things and attribute them to God. Other times we see the work of God and explain it away not recognizing God at all. How can we tell the difference? If we look at verse 12, we see that Philip was doing similar things AND he was preaching the good news about the Kingdom of God. The purpose of miracles and wonders performed by people who are empowered by the Holy Spirit is to draw people closer to the Kingdom of God. It is to reveal God’s power and majesty in order to teach His truth. Simon was just standing on a corner showing off; Philip was teaching God’s word. If miracles or magic aren’t accompanied by God’s truth, then you’re just seeing magic tricks.
Receiving the Holy Spirit.
This is a topic that has intrigued me for over a year now. Notice in verse 16 how Luke explains baptism? He isn’t saying that baptism isn’t important, rather he is pointing out that baptism doesn’t incite the pouring out of the Spirit. Our baptism is our outward display of how our hearts have been changed. (Notice Simon doesn’t get baptized in this story). Now does this mean that the Spirit is poured out only by the laying on of hands? At the very least we can say no because nobody laid hands on the original disciples on the Day of Pentecost. But throughout the scriptures we see different examples of the Spirit being poured out among the people without the laying on of hands. It is just a way it happens, not the way it happens. Let us not get caught up in a definitive formula to explain how God works and how we can manipulate the Holy Spirit.
It’s about your heart condition.
This is a theme threaded throughout the scriptures. The blatant issue we see is that while Simon believed in God and the Holy Spirit through what he was seeing, he was still missing the point of it all. He might have believed but his spiritual vision was still blinded by his love of money and showing off for others. Peter rebuked him to inform him what he lacked (remember the young ruler who was obedient to all the commandments but ran away crying when Jesus told him to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor?). What is Simon’s response, though? He asks the apostles to do the work for him! This might seem like a strange request but we do this all the time. We ask for spiritual guidance but then we also ask for our spiritual guides to do the work! Maybe we feel unworthy or as if we are not able to do what is required of us. The truth is, however, nobody can repent on our behalf. Only we can make the decision to do this. Notice how the apostles just left him where he was because he was resistant to repent. It isn’t until Simon was ready to repent of his selfish thinking that he would be able to grow spiritually.
Too often we get in our own way and prevent our growth because of fear. We are afraid to let go of what we have in order to obtain what we could have. Like the dog looking at his reflection with a bone in his mouth, we want the best of both worlds and when we try to obtain it, we lose it all. Sometimes that is where we need to wind up in order to realize where we fell short. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Simon was amazed at the power of the Holy Spirit but disappointed when the apostles left him behind because of his selfish heart. We see what the Holy Spirit does and we want to possess this power of God in our own lives, but why? What is our motivation to receive God’s spiritual power? In 1 Corinthians 13, “The Love Chapter,” we read Paul’s exhortation that the powers of the Holy Spirit are pointless if we don’t wield them with love for others. We can’t love others if we are being selfish.
1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
So then, let us focus on the love of others and learn how to develop the fruit of the spirit before we concern ourselves with receiving the power of the Spirit. We can see what these are by reading Galatians 5:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
We must increase our relationship with God in order to live and walk in the Spirit before we can receive His power. In Luke 12, Jesus uses the parable of the unrighteous steward to make this point. Why would He empower us with the great power of the Holy Spirit if we cannot even love those around us with the love and forgiveness He has given us already?
10 "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. 11 "Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? 12 "And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? 13 "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
Let us then not be like Simon, seeking great power and recognition but instead seek to better understand God’s love for us so we can pass it on to others. Let us learn how to take care of that which we have already have been given instead of worrying about when we will get more. Let us not look at the Kingdom of God in a worldly way, but instead understand the gift we have been given to live in the Kingdom and share it with others. “The Great Power of God” is not seen in miracles nor wondrous signs, but the power of His love. If we are not communicating this to the masses, then we too are missing the point.