Lust for Power

“And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power also …’ ” (Acts 8:18–19a).

- Acts 8:18–25

Luke does not tell us what manifestations accompanied the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Samaritans. However, it is clear that something happened, for Simon saw it and noticed that it occurred in conjunction with the laying on of the apostles’ hands. But he did not see divinely anointed apostles conveying the power of God for the glory of God; instead, he perceived magicians exercising their latent powers at their own pleasure and for their own magnification. Then his old lust for power revived and he offered the apostles money if they would give him the ability to produce such manifestations. Like Ananias and Sapphira, he revealed that his heart was not right in his lust for a god other than the Lord he had publicly owned. (Incidentally, Simon presumably was among those upon whom the apostles laid hands, but his actions strongly suggest he was not truly saved.)

Simon’s request was offensive to God, for it put the Holy Spirit on the same level as his magic arts. It also offended Peter, who in righteous anger pronounced a curse on Simon. With spiritual discernment, he declared that Simon’s heart was not right before God and he had neither part (partnership) nor lot (ownership) in “this matter,” the work of teaching and preaching the Gospel. Peter bluntly stated that Simon was not regenerate. Though Luke had used the same verb to say the Samaritans and Simon “believed,” Simon’s deeds revealed his lack of faith. Yet Peter was merciful because Simon was sinning in ignorance—he possibly had purchased magical formulas from other magicians. So he advised Simon to repent and pray to God, for if he was willing, his sinful intentions could be forgiven.

Simon’s response is unclear. He seemed fearful, but he did not follow Peter’s advice; rather, he asked the apostles to pray for him. Some, including John Calvin, believe Simon did repent. Others disagree, noting that his response is very like that of Pharaoh, who numerous times asked Moses to pray for him but never truly repented.

After a time of preaching and teaching, the apostles made their way back to Jerusalem, preaching in many Samaritan villages along the way. The new church in Samaria was left in the hands of others in the Jerusalem and Judean churches, and Philip was released from duties there for his next assignment.

Coram Deo

Simon wanted spiritual powers for his own exaltation. We are told to “earnestly desire the best [spiritual] gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31), but only for the edification of the church. Furthermore, any gift the Holy Spirit gives us must be used in love. Praise God for the gifts He has given you—and others. Ask Him to help you use them properly.

Passages for Further Study

Rom. 12:3–8
1 Cor. 12–14
Eph. 4:7–8
1 Peter 4:10–11

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.