A Spirit of Reconciliation

By Dr. Walter Kim

Photo courtesy of Loci Lenar via C. C. License at FlickrActs 8:14-25: 

14When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.  

18When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money 19and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit."  

20Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin."  

24Then Simon answered, "Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me."  

25When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.

The Spirit Delayed (8:14-17)

This account presents a theological puzzle. In Acts 2:38, Peter clearly preached that repentance and belief in Jesus will be accompanied by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul inextricably associated salvation in Christ with the work and indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:1-17). So, why didn't the Holy Spirit come when the Samaritans believed and were baptized in the name of Jesus? Given the great hatred that had existed between the Jews and the Samaritans (John 4:9; 8:48), an important lesson awaited the fledgling church. God delayed the gift of the Holy Spirit until the leading Jewish apostles from Jerusalem could participate in the laying on of hands - an act of blessing - upon the Samaritan believers (8:17). Thus, the Holy Spirit came in the context of a spirit of reconciliation and blessing between Samaritan and Jew. In Christ and through the Spirit, all are one.

The Spirit Denied (8:18-25)

As a practicing magician whose livelihood depended upon the ability to manipulate spiritual forces and human crowds, Simon saw an opportunity for advancement. His crass ambition led him to request the ability to dispense God's power for personal gain. Yet, he lacked the indispensable requirement for a true share in the ministry of the Spirit: namely, a heart right with God.

Here is a truly convicting account that pierces to the very heart of human wickedness. We all can see a bit of Simon in us. It is a profound temptation to find, even in God's service, a satisfaction for our ego. Success given by God can easily stoke our pride, and we gradually begin to care more for our own gain than for God's glory, only to discover that we have become "captive to sin" (8:23).

Application

God puts an extraordinary emphasis on love among believers. There is no place for dissension. If you have a relationship that requires reconciliation, however minor, take time today to bless that person. There is also no place for manipulation. Sir Walter Scott once penned, "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." Confess any way in which you have entangled yourself in the deception of seeking personal gain at the expense of God's glory.

Prayer

Holy and loving Father, we heartily confess our pettiness and ambition. Send your Spirit to purify our hearts that we may live in peace with you and may pursue the peace of our fellow believers. Forgive us of any false spirit by which we have sought our personal gain and have diminished the glory that is rightly Yours alone. Amen.

 

Dr. Walter Kim is the Minister of Adult Education at Park Street Church in Boston.  He received his M.Div. from Regent University's School of Divinity and his Ph.D. in Near-Eastern Languages and Cultures from Harvard University. 

Dr. Kim's Bible devotionals appear at the Evangelical Portal every Friday.  He previously shared the story of his faith with us.