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God’s Word for You

Acts 8:20-23 The bonds of unrighteousness

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, January 14, 2020

20 But Peter said to him, “May your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, for your heart is not right in the eyes of God. 22 Repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that this intention in your heart may be forgiven.  23 For I see that you are within the gall of bitterness and the bonds of unrighteousness.”

Peter’s words were stunning. Simon had asked for a small thing, a request of little or no consequence, or so he thought. But then Peter showered him with a torrent of words that rained down like blows from the fists of a prizefighter. “May your money (literally “silver”) go into destruction with you!” It is the closest anyone in Scripture ever comes to cursing another person directly to go to hell, and Peter means it in its most literal way. Simon had turned away from whatever faith he had into blasphemy by asking to purchase a share in the Holy Spirit. What share was he going to get? None at all. “You have no part or share in this matter,” Peter says, and he adds that all Simon has anymore is a moment in which to repent. It is not just Simon’s words and actions that are at fault and sinful, it is his intention, his desire, and therefore his very thoughts, that are shameful and sinful.

The last words of Peter here are necessary. Peter needs to show Simon just how fallen and mistaken he was. Peter needed to force Simon to understand that he was so close to being eternally damned that he should already be able to smell the smoke. “You are within the gall of bitterness and the bonds of unrighteousness.” The “gall of bitterness” is the drink Simon has provided for himself. Simon’s life is not one of faith and freedom; he is a prisoner to money and to the kind of comforts that have no place in eternity. The “bonds (shackles) of unrighteousness” explain Peter’s earlier words more clearly. Simon is chained to his sinful ways; he cannot get out or escape on his own. This is how the preacher needs to handle the law of God when he is with someone who denies that they have any sin in them. That is a heart that must be crushed by the law, terrified of everlasting punishment, and stripped of all its defenses and excuses. The law must be preached in all its sternness, or else the gospel that follows will not be sweet, will not be appreciated, and will not be applied. What good is a bandage that is kept in the pocket when the wound is bleeding now? Unless the wound is pointed out, the bandage will be ignored, and only through the bandage and medicine of the gospel do we receive salvation. Without it, the gall of bitterness and the bonds of unrighteousness remain forever.

Praise God and bless his holy wisdom for giving to sinful man both the sweet gospel and the useful law. We need them both. For although the Christian is forgiven through Christ, he remains at the same time both saint and sinner, and he must hear the law and be wounded in his heart or he might never realize that, having a fallen human nature, he is easy prey to the devil’s sinister intentions. May God preserve us and keep us safe always in his care, with both the boundaries of the law and the liberty of the gospel at work in our hearts for our eternal good.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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