Hot tempered Peter was livid! He had lost his cool and blown his top. He turned on Simon and said, “Your money perish with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought. You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right before God. Turn from this great wickedness and pray. Perhaps God will yet forgive your evil thoughts, for I can see that there is jealousy and sin in your heart” (Acts 8:20-23).
I don’t think too many clergy are preaching on this text today when they preach their stewardship sermons, for this text really says to some people that they can take their money and go to hell. Actually that is how the Today’s English Version translates this verse. “Peter answered him, ‘May you and your money go to hell, for thinking that you can buy God’s gift with money’!”
The Phillips translation says much the same thing, for it has Peter saying, “To hell with you and your money.” Phillips feels a little embarrassed that Peter used such strong language, and with an asterisk, he adds this on the bottom of the page, “This is really what the Greek says. It is a pity that modern English usage obscures the literal meaning.”
Simon was a magician who was well known throughout Samaria, and who had quite a following. Our Scripture lesson says that “He was a very influential, proud man because of the amazing things he could do — in fact, the Samaritan people often spoke of him as the Messiah.” That’s how well known and highly respected he was. The Messiah!
Philip came preaching that Jesus was the Messiah and Simon and many others believed and were baptized. Simon not only believed but became something of a “camp follower,” for the Bible says he then followed Philip wherever he went, and “was amazed at the miracles that he did.”
John and Peter heard that Philip was having great success in Samaria. Since this was the first time the gospel had spread outside of Jerusalem, they decided to come and have a closer look. As soon as they arrived, they prayed for the new disciples, and the Holy Spirit came upon the new Christians. Nothing here extraordinary in the life of the church, but the former magician, Simon, was watching all of this very closely. These two people from Jerusalem had some kind of power that he never had, and he wanted it, so “He offered money to buy this power.” Peter was so indignant to think that the Holy Spirit was for sale that he told Simon where to go. He told him what he could do with his money. The gift of the Holy Spirit was not for sale for any amount of money.
While Simon claimed to believe in Christ, he only believed half-heartedly. His was not a full conversion. He was still more interested in what he wanted than in what God wanted. He was still seeking to use God rather than to have God use him. He thought he would use the power of the Holy Spirit to become a better magician, not a better person.
Simon’s name has gone down in the history of the English language, for today we call the purchasing of an ecclesiastical office “simony.” The very word is a word of contempt. Simon was one of those who approached life with the belief that everything can be bought. Everybody has his price, he thought. So he offered to buy the power of God, for then he would use it in his magic show.
Billy Graham began preaching many decades ago on a cold night before 36 Baptists in Bostwick, Florida. Since then he has preached to over one hundred million people. The man who converted Billy was Mordecai Ham, who dedicated his whole ministry to reaching what he called “halfway Christians.” Ham said these halfway folks “hold onto the church with one hand while they play with the toys of the world with the other.”
Simon was a “halfway Christian.” Simon was in, but in reality he was out. He wanted to use the Church in order to make himself a better magician. He was never fully converted to Christ. He never fully gave his life to Christ. He still felt that the bottom line was “If it’s good for Simon, it’s good” — not if it’s good for Christ and His Church, it’s good for me. Any kind of a commitment less than a full commitment means trouble for the individual, and trouble for the church if too many people like that are in the church.
What Simon did not realize is that salvation is a free gift of God. It cannot be bought, it can only be received. It was not for sale, but for the taking. There is another passage in the Book of Acts which illustrates the same point. Peter and John were approached at the gate of the Temple by a crippled beggar, who asked for a handout. The two apostles were without funds. In effect they said, “We are broke, but we can give you something.” Recognizing this as an artful dodge, the panhandler started hobbling away toward some more likely prospect. But he stopped short when Peter said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” So he did! That was God’s gift to this man; it could not be bought, yet it was free for the taking. Simon didn’t realize grace is free to human beings, even though it was costly to God.
Many of us are abusing the gift that God has given us. We are misusing it, and therefore breaking it. Not taking care to use the gifts of God for the purposes for which He gave them to us, is breaking them. A mind is a wonderful thing, but we confuse it with drugs. God has given us a colorful rainbow of people, and we discriminate against those not like us. God has given us a beautiful world, and we pollute it. God has given us a garden, and we have made it a wasteland. God gives us the Holy Spirit in order to make us more loving and kind, and we try to use this gift for our glory.
Somehow the Simons in this world never seem to understand that loving relationships are given by loving people. They are freely given. The significant thing about having money is that it can be either a means whereby a person can lay up treasures in heaven or, if abused, prepare the way to hell. It is a very volatile commodity because it means so much to most of us. It has a great potential for good, or evil. Even as I preach on money, many of you are uncomfortable.
Jesus never condemns those who have money. How can you condemn someone who was born into money? It wasn’t his fault. How can you condemn someone who has worked hard and honestly and gained money? Having money is not evil. Not using it for the glory of God is evil.
It is the inordinate love of money that is wrong. The hoarding of it! Saving it only for your children is wrong. It is the assumption that money can buy anything that is wrong. Money is given to each of us to glorify God; if we use it for another purpose, then we misuse that gift. How we handle our money is a spiritual test.
Simon’s real problem was a spiritual one. He had not fully given himself to God, so he misused what God had given him — his money — and Peter told him what to do with it. The Church is not for sale to the largest giver. The Christian faith is available to those who believe.
Across Northern Africa stretches the largest desert in the world — the Sahara, almost as large as the United States. From east to west, it measures 3,200 miles, farther than the distance from New York City to San Francisco.
Mile after mile of scorching, shifting sand dunes make up the Sahara, where temperatures reach 130 degrees fahrenheit during the summer — so hot that breathing is nearly impossible. Yet at the eastern edge of this mammoth oven lies one of the richest, most fertile valleys known to humankind — the beautiful Nile Valley. Flowing through the valley is the great Nile River, its 4,160 miles making it the longest river in the world. It’s not the river alone that makes the valley so abundantly fertile. It’s the fact that the river overflows each year, generously depositing all over the valley layer upon layer of rich tropical soil, washed down from the jungles of Central Africa.
Like the River Nile, the mere flow of your life is meaningless in this desert world of today. It’s when your heart generously overflows that you provide rich fertile soil for growth in the Lord’s work.
There is nothing for sale here — everything is free. Yet one effect of accepting God’s gift of salvation is that our lives turn to giving. We know we must give to live. All true living is giving. It is God’s gift to us that frees us to give ourselves to others.