Not for Sale (Acts 8:9-24)
“But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.” (Acts 8:20, AV)
A popular way to exchange Christmas gifts is to give people money. So, I have always thought, that it might be best for everyone who exchanges gifts like this to write down on a 3 x5 card the amount that they plan to give and then have an accountant do an analysis. He could then have everyone just settle up accounts. Some people would come up with a net zero, while others might come out ahead. It sounds ridiculous and it is. However, just as silly is the idea that someone might give you a gift and then ask you to reimburse him or her for it’s cost. A gift by definition is something that is given to another free of charge. If you have to pay for a gift, it is not a gift.
In this passage, a man named Simon was one of those in Samaria who believed. After He believed, he tagged along with Philip, and saw “many signs and great miracles” (v13). Later, Peter and John arrived in Samaria and he witnessed them laying hands on the believers to receive the Holy Spirit (v17). Seeing this, he attempted to purchase the same power they had that caused the Holy Spirit to come upon people (v18).
Before we discuss the problem with Simon’s actions, it is necessary to understand what happened when Peter and John laid hands on the Samaritan believers. The New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit indwells every born-again believer (Rom 8:9-11). Moreover, in Acts, we see the Holy Spirit coming upon people as they believed, without the laying on of hands (Acts 10:44-48). Thus, the laying on of hands is not a requirement for salvation and not a requirement for a person to have the Spirit. In this case, this act was to the affirm to the Jewish believers that the Lord had also saved the Samaritans as indicated by the same manifestation of the Spirit as they had.
So, now on to Simon’s problem. Simon was envious of what the Apostles were doing in the laying on of hands. Simon had been a magician who impressed the people of Samaria with his skill. The Samaritans saw his magic and said that he had the power of God. (See Acts 8:9-11). However, now the power of the gospel working through Philip and the Apostles upstaged Simon. Thus, he also wanted the ability to lay on hands so people would receive the Spirit. He sought to purchase this power of God with money.
Peter’s reply presents a universal truth. One cannot purchase a free-gift with money. Everything in the Christian life comes by grace through faith. Our salvation is the “gift of God” (Eph 2:8-9). Our continued growth in Christ also comes by God’s grace manifested in the Spirit by faith (See Gal 3:1-6). Likewise, the Spirit manifests spiritual gifts in believers as He chooses according to God’s grace (See 1 Cor 12:4-11; 1 Pet 4:10). The fact that Simon thought he could purchase a gift, showed that he did not understand grace and the infinite value of the things of God. It pointed to his sin of envy and pride. Simon had a problem of the heart that sought attention for himself.
Unfortunately, in today’s church we often see much of the same heart. Many serve in the church for reasons born out of a heart of pride. Some seek spiritual gifts or even mimic them to be noticed by others. Some are jealous of the success of other ministers. They feel that if they purchase programs or materials they will generate the same success, but not for the sake of the kingdom of God, but their own kingdom. We need to repent from such pridefully motivated actions and trust the God who is sovereign over all.