Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” What the writer is saying is that all life issues from the heart. Jesus teaches the same thing in Matthew 12:34, “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” The writer of the Proverbs says, in light of this, that we ought to “keep” or protect or guard our hearts because the heart affects everything we do. If the heart is right and pure, so will our thoughts and actions be. If the heart is corrupt, our thoughts and actions will be corrupt as well. This is the meat of Acts 8:13-24. Simon’s heart wasn’t, and his crooked heart corrupted his desires, opening him to bitterness and bondage from which it would be hard to escape.
The condition of Simon’s heart is revealed in his request (v.17-19). Think about it – He watches Philip do what he did, and is amazed. As a matter of fact, just as the Samaritans were bewitched by the supposed power of Simon, now Simon is captivated (again, the same word translated as ‘bewitched’ in vv.9,11, is translated ‘wonder’ in v.13) by the real power of Philip. So, this Philip has something that is incredible and genuine and Simon is watching him. Now, all of the sudden Peter and John show up and it seems Philip fades into the background. Wait a minute, if Philip, possessing the kind of power he did, gives place to these two men, what kind of power do they possess?
So, he begins to watch them, and it says in v.17 that they laid their hands (and Luke speaks specifically of ‘the apostle’s hands’ referencing their position) on the converted Samaritans, and they received the Holy Ghost. Now remember that much of what is taking place right now in the book of Acts is still transitional. The comforter had been sent to the Jews in fulfillment to Jesus’ teaching in John 14, 15, and 16 and in fulfillment to Joel’s prophecy as well. The signs that accompanied the fulfillment of that prophecy were incredible and unique, only to be shared, as recorded, in two other places in the New Testament. The next is in chapter 10 of the book of Acts. The last is in Chapter 19. In Acts 10 the gentiles receive the Spirit upon salvation and the signs, similar to chapter 2, take place and Peter points to the signs as proof that salvation had come to the Gentiles. In Acts 19 the same thing takes place, only this time it is with the Apostle Paul. This time everything takes place, but instead of being a sign that salvation has come to the gentiles, it is a sign that Paul is on the same level – he is equal – with the rest of the Apostles (my opinion). So, the Comforter – the Holy Spirit comes to the Jews, and the signs follow to verify. The Spirit comes to the Gentiles and the signs follow to verify. The only group left is the Samaritans who we have here in chapter 8. They were next after the Jews to receive the Holy Spirit of God. Well, if the incredible signs accompanied the Jews initial reception of the Spirit of God, and the Gentiles initial reception of God, or to put it another way, if the signs accompanied the first outpouring of God’s Spirit, and the last outpouring of God’s Spirit, don’t you think the signs accompanied the second outpouring of God’s Spirit, even though Luke doesn’t mention it? Of course.
It stands to reason that the same signs accompanied the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon the Samaritans for the first time that accompanied the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon the Jews and the Gentiles for the first time.
So, Simon sees this incredible event take place and as God’s Spirit is poured out upon these Samaritan believers (and certainly he would have experienced this himself) he is thoroughly impressed. He has seen the power of Philip, and now he has seen this greater power displayed by Peter and John, and he wants it (v.17-19).
Now, the ability to convey the Holy Spirit was unique to the apostles. Peter and John here, Peter in Acts 10, and, for the sake of demonstrating that he was equal with the other apostles, Paul in Acts 19. It was unique to their office. It was part of their gift (as Paul refers to the apostolic position in Ephesians 4:11 and as Peter refers to it here in v.20). It was their place. Simon recognized this. So, when he asked for their ‘power,’ he wasn’t just asking for their ability (dynamis – ability), he was asking for their status; their position; their authority (the word ‘power’ is the same Greek word that is translated ‘power’ in Matthew 28:18 and there speaks specifically of authority – the word is exousia). He wanted to be in their place – to be an apostle!
Now, why would someone want to be in someone else’s place? Because they are not satisfied with their own place. I know – we are delving into the depths of profundity, right? He wasn’t satisfied with just being Simon the servant of the Lord, he wanted more. So much so that he offered Peter and John money. By the way, this is where the term ‘Simony’ comes from. ‘Simony’ is the purchasing of a religious office.
So, Peter addresses the faulty thinking of Simon (v.20). “Thy money perish with thee…” You need to understand that we have good reason to believe that Simon was a saved man (v.13). Consider that, Luke doesn’t say that Simon supposedly believed or that Simon claimed to believe. Luke says plainly in his narration of the account – understand that Luke is recording what actually happened – “Then Simon himself believed also…” This is the same word used in v.12 of Acts 8 in reference to the other Samaritans that just trusted Christ. Luke’s commentary regarding Simon’s belief isn’t recorded dialogue of what Simon said happened. It is a declaration by Luke of what did happen. Luke, in his narration, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God says plainly that Simon believed. If Simon didn’t believe then Luke has some explaining to do… We have good reason to believe that Simon was a saved man. So, it doesn’t make sense for Peter, in v.20, to be speaking of eternal judgment. So, what is he referring to then? Peter is referring to the ruinous effects that bitterness will have on Simon if he doesn’t get his crooked heart straightened out.
The word ‘perish’ means ‘to waste or ruin’. Simon’s bitterness will eat him up and he and his money will both waste away. It’s like Peter is saying, “You want this so bad you are willing to offer me money for it, but you will never have it, and if you don’t get your heart right, if you can’t be okay with that, you are going to fall apart over this thing.” Again, when Peter refers to the gift of God he is referring to the gift of apostleship (Eph. 4:11), his position, and not salvation.
So, after Peter addresses Simon’s faulty thinking, he then gets to the root of Simon’s problem (v.21). “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter.” He is saying you have no part, nothing to offer and nothing to expect regarding this matter or issue (regarding gifts). Simon, you don’t get to choose the gifts God gives you anyway, but even if you did you don’t have any ground to stand on here! Simon might be inclined to ask why to which Peter would reply, “because your heart isn’t right in the sight of God!”
Simon had no business even addressing the issue of spiritual gifts because of the state of his heart! – It’s like Peter is saying, “first things first… You want an elevated status and position Simon, but you have proven by your desires and by your actions that your heart is not right before God.”
Okay, so before we move on, what does a right heart look like? Consider this list of biblical examples. I Timothy 1:12 – “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry…” Psalm 27:4 – “One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.” These quotes are from two of the most prominent men in Scripture, neither of which asked for, nor sought after any position or status whatsoever, and both of which were just happy to serve God…
The six men listed in Acts 6 chosen as deacons were full of faith and full of the Holy Ghost before they were ever chosen for a prominent position of service! Moses was hanging out in Pharaoh’s house and then happily tending sheep for his father-in-law when God chose him. Adam was dressing and keeping the garden. Noah was serving God and raising his family. Saul was searching for his dad’s donkeys. Peter, James, and John were fishing. Joseph was running errands for his dad… The list goes on and on!
These people were content to serve God as they were and God found them! God elevated them! God used them! It is clear in the Word of God that when man humbles himself God exalts him. When man is happy to be small, he proves he is ready to be big.
Simon’s problem was his heart! At the center of it, where God belonged, Simon sat still! He was self-centered in his thinking. He wasn’t content. He wasn’t happy to serve. He wasn’t at the Father’s disposal. He had his own selfish ambition driven by covetousness and envy. He wanted what the apostles had. He wanted their status, their position, their power, and he would not be satisfied with his own or anything less. His heart wasn’t right before God. The word ‘right’ means ‘straight’ or ‘level.’ His heart wasn’t as it should have been. It wasn’t straight. It wasn’t level. It was crooked!
So, what does Peter tell him to do? How does Simon fix this? “Repent…” – Peter tells Simon to repent (v.22). He tells him to take this before the Lord and seek forgiveness. The word ‘thought’ means to ‘plan’ or ‘contrive’ and implies that this didn’t happen overnight. No, Simon had been stewing on this and working this out for a while before he made his move. So, Peter tells Simon to repent.
Understand that real repentance for a bitter person is a tall order! That is where the ‘if’ comes in to play in v22. David tells us that God will not despise (disdain – turn away) a broken and a contrite heart – Psalm 51:1-17 ***v.17. So, then if Peter implies that God may be unwilling to forgive, that must mean that Peter perceives something within Simon other than a broken and contrite heart. And indeed, he does…
Peter tells Simon to repent but is doubtful whether Simon is actually in a position to genuinely do so because of the bitterness that is there. Repentance depends upon a change of thinking. Bitterness and bondage accompany hardened sinful resolve, not brokenness and contrition. Simon was, on the inside, convinced that he deserved something more and was bitter, and wasn’t ready to give that up yet.
It is unclear as to what actually happened with Simon, but it doesn’t seem that he got it. Instead of going before the Lord broken over his crooked heart and his sin, mourning and weeping, he is still only concerned with himself. He seeks protection from the possible consequences, but seems to care none for offending God. Simon needs to be dethroned, and he needs to allow God his rightful place.
“I am happy to serve the Lord! I’ll scrape gum off people’s shoes if that is what you would like because I am yours, and you are God. Please forgive me for forgetting that. I am sorry.”
What is ironic is that if Simon had simply embraced his place and focused on preaching the Gospel he would have witnessed the power he sought after at work over and over again in the hearts of those that put their faith in Christ, but his heart was crooked, Simon was at the center of it. Envy had set in along with selfish ambition.
Simon’s crooked heart corrupted his desires, opening him to bitterness and bondage from which it would be hard to escape, and the same can happen to you today. A crooked heart will corrupt your desires opening you to bitterness and bondage from which you may not escape.
Peter said that Simon’s heart wasn’t right before God. The problem with Simon’s heart was that the throne at the center of it was occupied by Simon. So, Simon’s desires were self-centered. Because he didn’t have what he wanted, what he felt he deserved, he became bitter. So much so that Peter wondered if Simon was even capable of truly being repentant – acknowledging wrong and getting right – that is real bondage.
If you think that you are immune to a crooked and selfish heart in Bible College or in ministry think again. You are going to graduate someday (Lord willing). Hopefully, for those of you that feel vocational ministry is your lot in life, a pastor will hire you. When you get there, hopefully you won’t be made to feel like a hero – that will only make this harder. It would be good to get it in your head now – you are no hero.
This pastor will likely be older than you. He will likely not be up to speed with the latest and greatest ministry resources and trends. You will be full of ideas. He will likely not appreciate your ideas as much as you do. He will likely shoot down or disregard many of your ideas, and he probably won’t be as convinced of the need for new ideas as you are. In fact, he really probably will be more interested in you embracing his ideas and his vision and his direction than he will be of you sharing yours.
He will likely not move as fast or with as much urgency as you feel the situation calls for. He will likely not do things that you deem essential to success in ministry – whatever that even means. You won’t think he knows the Bible as well as you. You will begin to think that you could handle things better than him. You will begin to think that your ideas deserve more attention. You will begin to think that you deserve more attention. You will begin to think that you deserve more pulpit time. You will begin to think that his authority is all you are lacking.
If you go to a church with a large staff it won’t be the pastor you are gunning for – it will be the guy above you and then the next, but eventually it will become apparent, at least to you, that you are the one that really needs to be in charge. Otherwise the thing will never move forward like it could, and really you will never get the opportunity or recognition you deserve any other way, and you will feel justified because after all you just want to see the church succeed…
Eventually it will come down to a desire for more power – more authority. Does this sound like anyone else – it sounds like Simon – it also sounds like another more prominent figure in the Word of God…
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High.” Isaiah 14:12-14
If you go somewhere, or even operate where you are, with a crooked heart – you on the throne – you are going to have and you are going to cause problems (this applies to any situation in life, but I want to address this in particular).
Can I let you in on a little secret? You will never have enough authority, even as the pastor. Your ideas will never get enough acceptance, even at the “top.” Others will always have more favor than you. You will never occupy a high enough position, even in the “highest position.”
It is a great thing to be zealous for the Lord and to have vision, but if you can’t be happy just knowing that you are serving God regardless of your position or authority, or recognition then your heart isn’t right, and you are in for trouble and you are going to cause trouble for others. If your heart isn’t right, eventually envy and covetousness will set in, and discontentment and ambition will begin to drive you, and you will become a slave to your own selfishness. Bitterness will follow because you will find that nothing really will give you what you are looking for, and the irony is you will begin to resent God and those around you for your miserable state.
If you find that this is you, there is really only one answer… Repent! Humble yourself! Go before God and repent, not because you are concerned about the consequences – that indicates that you are still at the center of your thinking. Repent for being at the center of your thinking. Give God His place on the throne of your heart, tell Him you are sorry for usurping Him, and bow before Him once again begging Him to help you be content with the lot he has given you in life!
A heart that is centered on self, will rob you of the joy and the peace that God desires for you to have in serving Him. Self is a relentless task master, for it can never be satisfied. Eventually bitterness will set in and bondage as well.
Regarding your lot in life, trust God. Give that over to Him. Focus on Him – serving Him, knowing Him, pleasing Him, loving Him, and let Him worry about your station. That is a life filled with a joy and a peace that isn’t at the mercy of circumstances! Straighten out the crooked heart by giving God His place.