God’s Word for You
Acts 8:18-19 He offered them money
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, January 13, 2020
18 When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power, too, so that whoever I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Simon was impressed by what he thought was the apostles’ ability to perform a miracle. Note that Luke doesn’t even tell us what this miracle was; it may have been the same one that happened at Pentecost, but it would be saying too much to insist that it was the very same. Whatever it was, Simon saw that it came through the laying on of hands, and he decided that he wanted this power for his own. He wanted a way to make a name for himself. Before he had become a Christian, he tried to do anything he could to make people believe that he was a very powerful magician or sorcerer, that he possessed the Great Power. Now, even after his baptism and conversion, he was still affected by this desire for personal greatness. We can’t say that he wanted to do an evil thing; it seems that he wanted other people to become Christian as well. But he wanted to get the credit for this. He wanted people to pay him for the gift of the Holy Spirit; he wanted to have power over God.
He had a selfish desire for personal greatness even within the church, and he stepped into a sin by offering to pay for this ability. By doing so, he finally made a name for himself, but not the way he had hoped. The sin of paying for a position in the church (an ecclesiastical office) is now known as Simony. Simony also extends to those who wish, as Simon does in this passage, to buy or sell spiritual gifts of any kind.
Simon was another example of what Jesus described in the Parable of the Sower. Before he heard the gospel, Simon was held in awe by people; they were afraid of him and respected him. When he heard the gospel, he began to live a new life in which he would have set all of that aside in favor of Christ. But like the seed along the path devoured by birds (Mark 4:4), Simon fell right back into an old sin with the powerful temptation to buy more power. “Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them” (Mark 4:15). Simon was a man with no protection at all against the devil.
Our protection is our faith. Luther writes about a woman, a nun, “who said no more than ‘I am a Christian’ when assailed by the devil. And with these words she protected herself against the devil, who was forced to leave her. I am inclined to believe this story, for many a pious soul is kept wonderfully in the faith through God’s grace… It is true that whoever could sing such words against the terrors of the devil and against the evil world would never be duped by the devil. It [‘Christ’] is a small word, but it is pregnant with meaning and power. Wherever it is spoken in faith, the devil cannot abide. But in the mouth of an adulterer, a whoremonger, or a miser the word profits nothing” (LW 22:108).
This is a passage that might possibly confuse a young person who is thinking about studying for service in the ministry of the church as a pastor or teacher. The devil can torment such a tender soul with accusations: “You were living in poverty, and now you think that the ministry will give you a good income for yourself. You’re just like Simon.” But the devil is nothing but a liar and a cheat. He wants to snatch those young souls away from service to Christ. They have the defense that they need, sealed with a double seal: the seal of their baptism and the seal of their confirmation. They have belonged to Christ their whole lives since their baptism, and they have made a public profession of their faith already in their confirmation. They trust in Jesus, and his name will drive away the old cheat and show what kind of a liar he is. A cynic might want to say, “No one will ever get rich in the ministry or as a teacher,” but that’s neither important nor the point. The motive for serving Christ is faith, faith that wants to show itself by service, “faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6). And as for wealth, God takes care of his servants. He will look after them, even if their congregations are not able to do so.
So a young or not-so-young person who wants to devote him- or herself to the service of Christ and is willing to study for long years in a college and perhaps also in a seminary to present himself as eligible for service, is hardly trying to buy a position like Simon was. Pray for our students who study for the ministry. Pray that they would be preserved through temptations and doubts, that God would forgive their sins, and that he would set them apart for special service to him as messengers of his words; tools for useful work in his garden. There is so very much work to be done! Let the Lord give the Holy Spirit when and where he will.
Pastor Timothy Smith