Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” (verses 17-19)
Simon got this absolutely wrong. You can’t buy the power of God with money. Indeed, ever after, the activity of trying to secure spiritual rank or position or power with money has been called “simony”.
But Simon didn’t get everything wrong. Indeed, what he got right was to believe the witness of his eyes. For what he had seen was clear and marked. He’d seen the Spirit of God himself at work, making a marked difference in individual lives.
For Simon and the Apostles and the Samaritans and the rest of the early church community, the Spirit’s presence was not just theory, it was demonstrable fact. Simon’s motivation was all wrong, but what he had seen was powerful and good – so much so, that he (wrongly) wanted to acquire the ability to bestow the Spirit’s presence at will.
I wonder if too often in our own day we fall into the opposite trap. Depending on what quadrant of the church we find ourselves in, some of us accept the “theory” of the Spirit too easily without expecting and embracing his presence and power.
If that’s our experience, this story shows us how far off the mark we’ve moved. We don’t get the details here in Acts 8, but something so tangible took place that Simon sat up and took note. On other occasions in the New Testament the Spirit’s presence is indicated by tongues or prophecy or miracles or flames of fire or rushing wind or deep apprehension of the love of Christ or Christ-like character traits or wisdom or knowledge. But it wasn’t just theory. The Day of Pentecost was a marked experience. The conversion of Cornelius’ household was evidenced by tongues-speaking, as was the Spirit-reception of the 12-man community in Ephesus, once they were baptized into the name of Jesus. When Paul rebukes the Galatian believers by pointedly asking them, “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law?” (Galatians 3:2) he expects they will remember a tangible event. When he prays for the Ephesians to be strengthened with power by the Spirit in their inner person, he expects it will be evidenced by an ability to grasp the ungraspable dimensions of Christ’s love (Ephesians 3:16-19). Similarly, when he prays for Spirit revelation, he expects their eyes will be enlightened to know the hope of their calling, the riches of their inheritance, and the incomparably great power he has given (Ephesians 1:17-19).
All of this is tangible. All of it experienced. Different on different occasions. But real.
Let’s not seek control over the Spirit’s manifestations, as Simon did. But equally, let’s not live in theory apart from experience.
If that’s our position, it’s time to pray, Come Holy Spirit.*
So, in Jesus’ name and for his glory: Come Holy Spirit.
* I hasten (quickly!) to strongly affirm this God-given truth: If you belong to Christ, you do indeed have the Spirit! That’s settled. We have the Lord’s word on it (Romans 8:9). But on the other hand, what I am strongly urging is this: If we have the Spirit, let’s seek to experience his full presence and power. That’s our birthright. It’s a joyous journey.
Pray: Come Holy Spirit. And watch all day for his presence.