But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. (Acts 8:20-21)
Have we taken a wrong attitude to the gifts of God and to God, the giver of good gifts?
In this story, Simon the Magician, who had previously amazed the Samaritans with his magic, was so amazed by Philip’s signs and miraculous wonders that he believed in Philip’s gospel about Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Peter and John came from Jerusalem to Samaria to pray for the Samaritan believers to receive the Holy Spirit.
When they laid hands on them, the Spirit must have come so visibly on the Samaritans. When Simon saw this, he desired this ability the apostles had. So he offered money for the apostles to give him this ability.
Now, isn’t this a good desire? If he could have this ability, he could go around praying for people to receive the Holy Spirit, and more people would enter the Kingdom of God, wouldn’t it?
The problem was that Simon’s heart was in the wrong place. This manifested in two problems: (1) Simon desired the ability because he was jealous and thus bitter about the apostles, (2) Simon desired to pay for the gift as a bargain with the apostles and God.
Peter must have seen through Simon’s heart. He proclaimed that Simon was steeped in bitterness and iniquity. Simon previously marketed himself as the “Great” or “Great Power.” But when Philip came, the Samaritans turned to Philip. Simon lost his status, his clients and his fame.
Since the Samaritans were so impressed by the Christians, Simon must have wanted to have the same power as the apostles to impress people and regain his status. It could well be that even Simon did not realise his corrupt intentions. When Peter rebuked Simon, Simon asked Peter to pray for him.
Our hearts are deceitful, even to ourselves. We can be so enslaved in bonds of iniquity that we do not see ourselves and our own hearts. What is the true intention of our hearts when we desire God’s gifts or desire God?
I have sought God for direction not to obey Him but in hope that my life will be smooth and prosperous. I have sought His gifts with the mindset that I need to pay for them with my giving of time, service or money to His purposes.
The second problem with Simon was that he tried to enter into a bargain with God by offering to pay for a gift.
A gift by nature is free. It would be an insult to the gift giver to offer to pay for the gift. It implies that the gift is but a commodity in a transaction. It implies that the gift giver is not sincere in giving a gift, but is merely cynically and underhandedly demanding payment.
What’s more, the gifts of God are invaluable. What price would one ascribe to the gift of praying for the Spirit to come? Would $1,000 be enough? Would $1,000,000 be enough? Can the gifts of God ever be purchased?
These two problems Simon the Magician had must confront us to look into our heart: Are we seeking God or His gifts with a wrongful heart? Are we seeking God or His gifts with selfish intentions? Are we seeking God or His gifts with a transactional or bargain mindset?
I’ve been guilty of this. I have sought God for direction not to obey Him but in hope that my life will be smooth and prosperous. I have sought His gifts with the mindset that I need to pay for them with my giving of time, service or money to His purposes.
What is the true intention of our hearts when we desire God’s gifts or desire God?
Imagine a child who keeps doing all sorts of things to please her father in the hope that he would continue to provide her with nice food and presents. The child would not be loving the father or in a relationship with him – but with his gifts.
Our God is a Father who desires to give us good gifts freely. He does not need or want us to pay for these gifts. Yet, these good gifts do not always take the form we please. We must not go to Him with our selfish narrow-minded desires.
We were meant to please and enjoy Him.
This story was first published on Ronald’s blog, and is republished with permission.