Simon the Sorceror: Bargaining with God

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INTRODUCTION

This summer, the messages have been focused on a series we’re doing called “the Bible’s Biggest Losers”. Tonight I’d like to take a look at a man named Simon. We learn about him in the New Testament.

Read Acts 8:4-25 (with commentary – emphasizing certain parts [see observations])
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city. 9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. 14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” 24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” 25 When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.
Acts 8:1-25 (NIV)

How many of you like getting good bargains? I know I do. In fact there is a certain feeling of accomplishment that is exhilarating to me after working out a good bargain for something I buy. A few years ago my brother-in-law and sister moved in with Kerryanne and we shared a house together. I remember they wanted to buy a freezer and I went with Chris to buy one and we noticed that there was a small freezer that fit the bill perfectly only it was a bit more than what Chris was willing to spend. But after looking carefully I uncovered a dent in the back. The salesman came along and we managed to get a discount for the dent and then because we said we would be able to take it immediately because we had a truck with us we shaved another $50 off the price. I don’t remember the actual price we paid for that freezer but I remember going home all excited about the “bargain” we had haggled out!!

My friend of my wife’s named Debbie is a terrific bargain hunter. In fact, she is the queen of garage sale hunters. I’m telling you, I’ve seen Debbie in action and I feel sorry for the poor folk wanting to earn a decent living selling off their beloved junk. Deb will never pay the asking price for something in a garage sale and she always manages to shave off at least 25% of the cost. When she begins a sentence, “Guess what I found?” You can be sure that she’s about to launch into a description of some incredible bargains she hunted down in the yard sale market.

But then, some of you probably (as I have!) have been at the wrong end of a bargaining deal. Instead of getting a bargain – you’ve felt ripped off! There are a couple of incidences that I remember in my life and one of them is when I bought my first electronic piano keyboard. It was a well used keyboard but when I played it, I fell in love with it. I thought to myself – I’ve got to have this keyboard! I was young at the time and I didn’t have a lot of income and I was also a little bit na├»ve as to the price of keyboards but the person selling it to me told me that I could pay them in monthly installments without interest. I thought, what a deal. But after making the last payment I happened across a flyer from a music store advertising new keyboards. There was one listed that was equivalent to or even better than the one I had just paid off and yet it was cheaper and brand new. I was ripped off! This and other experiences have made me just a little bit wiser when it came to purchasing what seems to be a bargain.

So, there are a lot of people in the world who like the thought of getting a bargain or even more – the process of bargaining for something. But this morning I’m not going to be talking about bargaining for things of this world. You see, there are also many people in this world who bargain for spiritual things.

Before I go any further I think I need to clarify what I mean about the word bargain. “Bargain” is one of those tricky English words that can be either a noun or a verb. When it is used as a noun, as in “I got a bargain” then it refers to an item or service received by paying less than what it is worth. When it is used as a verb, as in “I bargained for the keyboard” it carries with the meaning of working out terms for the exchanging of items or services. Sometimes this exchange will result in a “bargain” but sometimes it will result in being “ripped off” – you see the difference?

So when I talk about there are many people in this world who bargain for spiritual things I am talking about the word “bargain” as a verb. In other words there are a lot of people in the world seeking to work out terms for the exchange of spiritual gifts or services for something they do or offer in return. Many religions and cults in the world operate to some degree on this premise. For example, there is some Islamic teaching that states if a person offers their life by dying in a “holy war” they are ushered into paradise. With certain new age cults – there is the “bargaining” with things beyond the grave by attending to certain rituals or actions. You can even see commercials on TV for Psychics where you can call a number and “pay” for “spiritual guidance” for your life. Sometimes these services are even offered at a bargain – “5 free minutes!” The point I’m trying to make is that for a lot of people bargaining carries over from their lives in the world to their dealings with the spiritual.

And if you think you’re immune to this, think again. How many of you have ever found yourself in a crisis situation and you’ve found yourself praying – “God if you bless me in this way then I will do this”! I know I have – “Lord if you bless me with enough money to pay off my debts then I’ll start taking the surplus and giving it to missions”.

As I read the story of Simon, the question that immediately came to mind was “Why is His story included?” I think this is an important question to ask when studying the Bible! Look at the passage, Luke could have left out Simon’s story and we still would have got an interesting look into the work of the Holy Spirit through Philip and the apostles in the region of Samaria. We still would have learned the important lessons being communicated through this account. Lessons such as how the message of the kingdom of God and of Christ is for everyone not just the privileged (the Samaritans were outcasts to the Jew’s “traitors” – The city of Samaria (in the region of Samaria) had been the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel in the days of the divided kingdom, before it was conquered by Assyria in 722 BC. During that war, the Assyrian king took many captives, leaving only the poorest people in the land and resettling it with foreigners. These foreigners intermarried with the Jews who were left, and the mixed race became known as Samaritans. The Samaritans were considered half-breeds by the “pure” Jews in the southern kingdom of Judah, and there was intense hatred between the two groups. But Jesus Himself went into Samaria (John 4), and he commanded his followers to spread the gospel there (Acts 1:8));

Or of the importance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. But Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, chose to include this story of a man named Simon and today I want to focus on one aspect of this particular event in Simon’s life that communicates an important lesson to us and why his story was included here. That lesson is, “THE THINGS OF THE SPIRIT ARE NOT THINGS THAT CAN BE BARGAINED FOR!” That is, the things of the Spirit are not things that we can earn, work towards, or buy! The things of the Spirit are the gift of God and come by simple faith, belief, and willingness to receive His gift!

This lesson is one that springs out of Simon’s offer to Peter to buy what he perceived to be the ability of imparting the Holy Spirit upon others. As we look closely at Simon’s offer there are a few things that can be said about it that highlight why Peter would have such a strong rebuke for Simon. What was wrong with Simon’s request?

he overvalued the wealth of the world

In thinking that the gift of God could be purchased with money Simon was communicating the idea that the wealth of this world is sufficient for anything. That if you have enough of it you can get what ever you want, and because it is the way to obtain all things on this world (in this life) then it is the way to obtain all things relating to the other life.

This folly is one that is perpetuated far too often, I believe among people of the church today. How many times do people overvalue the wealth of the world or shall I say the resources of the world when compared with the things of God? Do you want some examples?

How about the person who stops tithing because they didn’t see the blessings of God unfold in their life the way they were told it would happen? Is that why you “gave your money” so that God would pour His blessing into your life? Did you think that His blessing could be bought? The principle of tithing is one that I believe is one that is vaguely understood by many people in the church. Yes, I know it’s been taught and I have said myself that when you tithe faithfully God will pour out His blessing upon you. But perhaps that aspect of tithing, of giving to the Lord, has been emphasized a bit too much. You see, we don’t give a tenth or more to the Lord in order to receive His blessing – we give to the Lord out of joy for what He has already blessed us with!

But that is just one example. What about some of the promises made to God – like the one I mentioned earlier? Or what about some of our actions? There are many people who think that by going to church and by reading the Bible regularly and by praying on a daily basis and by volunteering in ministry God is more pleased with them and he’ll do more for them. Friend’s if you are in that mindset – you are overvaluing the wealth of this world – you are overvaluing what you are doing for God. Again, we don’t do these things to please God – we do them because of our joyous understanding that He is already pleased with those who follow Him! One man has said,

The error at the root of all false ideas of perfection is this: it is rating our behavior “before” God higher than our relation “to” God – putting conduct before faith, deeds before trust, work before worship. That is the root of all pharisaism, …paganism, and natural and worldly morality.
(quoted in Autoillustrator.com, FAITH)

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

It’s not saying that good deeds, or doing things for God is wrong. But we need to get it in the right order. We don’t do those things for God’s favor but we do them BECAUSE of God’s favor.
Suppose your best friend came by one day with a special gift for you. How would you respond? Would you immediately pull out your purse or wallet for some money to help pay for the gift? Of course not. To do so would be a great insult! A gift must be accepted for what it is – something freely given and unmerited. If you have to pay for a gift or do something to deserve or earn it, it is not a gift. True gifts are freely given and freely received. To attempt to give or receive a gift in any other manner makes it not a gift. So it is with our salvation. God offers us salvation as a free gift. He does not attach strings to it, because to do so makes it something other than a gift. In addition, any attempt on our part, no matter how small, to pay for our salvation by doing something or giving up something is an insult to God. No one in heaven will ever be able to say, “Look at me! I made it! With a little help from God. I made it!” Salvation is all by God. Not even the smallest part of it is the result of what we do or do not do.

John 6:28-29 (NIV)
28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is also a gift of God, in fact I believe very much that it is an experience that can be expected as a result of the gift of salvation. Yet Simon thought he could purchase it with worldly wealth. In fact, he went one step further in insulting God in thinking that he could purchase the ability to give God’s gift!! In doing so, Simon grossly overvalued his resources.

We also overvalue our resources when we think we can do the things of God with our own resources. The truth is…you can’t do anything FOR God WITHOUT God.

he undervalued the gift of God

Of course the reciprocal to Simon’s overvaluing the wealth of the world is that in doing so he undervalued the gift of God. He thought he could buy the Holy Spirit for a good fee in the same way as he could buy the advice of a physician or a lawyer!

Simon thought that God’s gift – indeed God himself – is at the beck and call of man. You see, Simon perceived Peter, John, and Philip being the ones in control of the power that was flowing through them when really it was they who were submitted to the control of the Holy Spirit at work through them.

When you look at this story of Simon, you can’t help but wondering why he wanted to become a Christian. Why all of a sudden did he give up “the good life” as a sorcerer to become a Christian with no advantages…none like he was used to anyway? He traded his wand for a cross. He traded incantations for prayers. He traded being the object of everyone’s affections and awe and wonder for being a servant. Why would he do that? What did he want from Christianity? What did he want from God? Perhaps, his was a genuine desire for forgiveness for his past life. Perhaps he recognized his need for salvation as the others in Samaria did. But when you read the whole story you see something possibly very different.

I think Simon wanted power. Simon was a man who wanted to trade one power for another. He wanted to trade his Great Power for God’s power under his control. He looked and saw Philip healing and teaching and doing all sorts of wonderful things through the power of the Holy Spirit. That was what he wanted. He wanted the ability to impart the Holy Spirit and use the power of the Spirit for his gain. And how was he going to get it? How was he going to get this Holy Spirit? Money! Money buys everything. I will just walk up to that fellow Peter and offer him $2000 for the Holy Spirit. I’ll actually go as high as $5000, but I won’t let him know that. Ok ok, $3000 you drive a hard bargain. Hey, if you guarantee that I’ll be able to do any miracle that I’ve seen, I’ll go $3500 and that’s my final offer.

People barter and haggle with God in the same way Simon did. They do it to get what they want from God. What, other than money, do we usually want from God? The right job. Health. Good relationships. Promotions, good grades… Think of what you have bargained for with God. Why do we do this? We do it because we want God to fit into our little picture of Him. We take God out of our pocket, ask Him to perform, and when He’s done we stick Him right back in our pocket. Too often for some people God is like a pet. “Good God, thanks.”

Please don’t misunderstand me, it’s okay to make requests of God BUT it is the attitude with which we approach God that matters. Especially when it relates to things that are spiritual in nature. Friend’s we devalue or undervalue the things of God and the gift of God when we try to bargain with Him!!

CONCLUSION

So in making this insulting request of Peter Simon overvalued the things of the world and undervalued the gift of God. In response to Simon’s brashness Peter gave a stinging rebuke,

Acts 8:20-21 (NIV)
20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.

In this rebuke Peter foretells of two things that will happen because of Simon’s disastrous view of God’s gift.

The first, is that he will sink with his money. In other words – because Simon overvalued the wealth of the world he will fall with it. It is so true that when people try to bargain with God in some way they are really saying that they don’t want God to be in control. They are really saying that they believe what they have to offer is greater than what God has to offer but hoping that they’ll get something better in return!! Sounds crazy? It is! But when this takes place in a person’s life it is often the very thing that people are bargaining with that drags them down and away from God.

For example, a person may say – “Lord it would mean everything to me if I could have this job – if you help me get this job I promise to volunteer to be a Sunday School teacher for this next year” The problem with this is if you don’t get the job then you’ll start to think – maybe I didn’t offer enough, maybe I’ve displeased God, maybe…Notice what’s happening? This person becomes more and more consumed with getting this particular job and pays less attention to God Himself! Or worse, they get the job and then don’t follow through with their promise and then feel guilty about that. OR EVEN WORSE, they get the job and then follow through with their promise EVEN THOUGHT THEY DON’T REALLY WANT TO BE A SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHER…and the kids suffer because of it!

The second thing that Peter proclaims to Simon is that he would have no part or share in the ministry, because his heart is not right before God. What was not right about Simons heart? He overvalued the wealth of the world and undervalued the gift of God. If you read further we find out that Simon has bitterness in his heart and is still captive to sin. I believe that the sin Simon was still captive to was the sin of pride. He had enjoyed great prosperity and power among the Samaritans before Philip came along and disrupted everything. But when Simon paid attention to Philip and what he was doing he saw the reality that this “power” that Philip had was greater than anything Simon had ever encountered and used.

It was in his pride and bitterness that Simon approached the apostles with his offer. It was in his pride that he thought that the Holy Spirit was under the control of the apostles and that he should be able to purchase this control for a price. It was what was in Simon’s heart that blinded him to the reality of the gift of God. And that is why Simon would have no part of the ministry of the disciples – for it is a ministry of the humble and of the meek and of the surrendered. It belongs to those who have given up control over their lives and destiny and exchanged it for the life of Christ and His destiny for them.

Anytime a person bargains with God they are really doing so out of a heart filled with pride. Why do I say this? Because they are thinking that they can influence anything that God can do by what they will do in return. That, friend’s is the ugly head of pride. For God is God – do you really think that you have anything to offer that He needs?

Now again, I want to emphasize I am not saying that we shouldn’t ask God for things – that we shouldn’t communicate our needs to Him, that we shouldn’t intercede in prayer for others. But what I am saying is don’t bargain with God. Simply present your request before Him and leave the rest up to God and then LEAVE THE REST UP TO GOD! I repeated myself intentionally. God has His own timing for things.

Now Peter had a great rebuke for Simon and indeed it speaks to all those who recognize Simons’ folly in their own lives. But Peter also holds out a hope. He says first, repent of your wicked heart and pray to God. Simon’s heart was that of a hypocrite one who proclaimed to be saved and baptized but nevertheless one that wasn’t filled with belief. It was important therefore, that Simon be willing to repent of his heart – for his actions flowed out of his heart. Secondly, Peter said PERHAPS, the Lord will forgive you. I believe Peter tagged the PERHAPS on it was because of his doubt about the sincerity of Simon’s repentance, not of GOD’S pardon if his repentance is sincere.

Simon’s response was, “Pray to the Lord for me, so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” And that is the last we hear of him. The sad thing is that no matter how much any of the apostles or the disciples prayed for Simon, the only one who could pray the deciding prayer is Simon himself. He had to come before the Lord in repentance. He had to surrender his life before the Lord. He had to take that step of belief. He had to receive God’s forgiveness. No one else could.

There may be some of you here today who recognize that you are bargaining for things of the spirit in your life. I hope that you have been warned by the life of Simon. Maybe you’ve overvalued the wealth of the world. Maybe you’ve undervalued the gift of God. If you find yourself in this position then you need to repent and pray to God this morning for his forgiveness. And He will forgive the truly repentant heart.

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