Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! (Acts 8:18-20).
Simon–not Peter–we are told in the narrative was a magician. Not only a magician but one held in high repute by the people. Scripture records his “magical exploits thus: “But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.” (Acts 8:9-11).
Here was a magician who has bewildered the people of Samaria with his magic and left them fixated on him for a long time and indeed considered him as somebody from God. But things will change when by the sovereign will of God, the people of Samaria encountered the gospel through the ministry of Philip the evangelist:
But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed (vv.12-13).
The gospel liberates and in the preaching of it lies the power of God to save and liberate from bondage and deception. Now, permit me to consider the activities of Simon and Philip as a clash of powers, though it is not, for the Sovereign Lord and King, ruler of the heavens and earth has no equal and competitor; but for the sake of argument, we see magic and the power of God through the preaching of the gospel coming face to face. And the power of God prevailed, so that “Even Simon himself believed.”
In response to this great move of God, Peter and John were sent to Samaria to reinforce the faith of the Samaritans so to speak (vv. 14-17). Hands were laid by the apostles on these new Samaritan believers and they received the Holy Spirit. That was when the state of the heart of Simon now an ex-magician was revealed. It appears he had not fully overcome the love for power hence he wanted what the apostles had by offering money. Peter rebuked Simon the magician pointing out to him that the gift of God–the Holy Spirit — cannot be bought with money: “you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!”
Sadly, what Peter rebuked has become the model for many so called Christian ministries. Money has become a conduit for God’s blessings and gifts. People are promised all kinds of blessings from God if only they will sow a seed—give money. It is common these days to hear preachers arrogantly speaking blasphemous words about money and the blessings of God: “If you want my anointing, sow a seed.” “If you want your ministry to grow like mine, sow a seed.” Everything you want and desire, you are told “sow a seed.” All around us the word of God and his blessings are up for sale by preachers who merchandise the gospel.
It is crucial for us to come to an understanding that God’s blessings cannot be purchased. Everything we receive from God is a result of his grace and mercies. Whatever spiritual gifts we have has been freely given to us by God (Matt.10:5-8; Jn 3:27; Eph. 2:8-9; Jam. 1:5; 1Cor. 12).
What then must be our attitude towards ministers of the gospel and money? Any minister that ties the blessings of God to money must be avoided. He is a false teacher teaching unsound words (1Tim.6:1-10). Does God bless our generosity at all? One may ask. The answer is yes. However, our generosity must not be transactional in our Christian journey. By all means give to support Christian ministry. Give for the cause of the gospel. Give to the poor and needy. However, don’t engage these in a transactional manner because God’s blessings cannot be bought.
Many people give with the hopes of receiving back. It is true that God loves a cheerful giver. But our giving must be influenced by our love for God and the example of Christ that he loved us and he gave himself for us. Amen.