In Acts 8 we meet two interesting characters. Philip the apostle and Simon the magician. Philip is preaching and healing through the power of the Holy Spirit. Simon is someone in touch with the spiritual realm to also do incredible things. Likely he’s doing many of the same things Philip is doing through the power of the Holy Spirit. But Luke shows us that there’s a great difference between the two. Simon’s magic results in his own personal glory. But what the Holy Spirit does through Philip results in baptism, repentance and discipleship. That’s not to say that Simon makes himself an opponent of Philip. Simon listens and is baptized along with the others in Samaria. He’s no villain. He sees (probably better than most) that something special and powerful is working through Philip and he wants to be a part of it. He’s trying to open himself up to Jesus and the Spirit. But as we see when we keep reading, he’s still got a lot to learn.
Peter and John, after hearing all that God is doing through Philip, arrive on the scene. They will lay their hands on these new believers in order that these might receive the Holy Spirit, which is where Simon leaps back into the story. He’s willing to pay the apostles in order to gain this power of laying-on-hands for himself. Peter’s answer is not gentle. “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money!”
I’m willing to give Simon some benefit of the doubt here. I don’t think he’s evil. After all, in spite of all the miraculous things he’s seen Philip do, it’s not until now that he whips out the checkbook. He’s not trying to purchase every spiritual gift under the sun and gain a monopoly on the Spirit. His big mistake seems to be that there’s still a lot of ego and consumerism that hasn’t been de-programmed out of him by the Spirit yet. Let’s call this “un-discipled good intentions.” Simon wants to bless people with the Spirit. But that good intention has yet to be discipled and transformed by Jesus.
Our world runs on an engine of consumerism. Everything is a commodity. Everything can be bought and sold, even God. God can become just one more product promising happiness and wholeness (rather than God being the reality that transforms the very way in which we desire in the first place). Simon is only guilty of believing what this world programs into all of us – that everything has its price. Peter calls the Holy Spirit exactly what it is: a gift, that which is not purchased or earned based on performance, but simply that which is given for generosity’s sake.
That’s the irony here. Simon is trying to purchase and possess the very thing that will de-program out of him the need to purchase and possess.
The Holy Spirit is not magic, and it’s not for sale. To receive the Spirit in the first place is to completely relinquish all need to possess and all need to consume. Peter is harsh with Simon because he knows consumerism cannot be allowed to get a foothold in the church. This world programs us to filter everything we hear and see through the unreality of consumerism. But to be the church is to do something else, to filter everything we see and hear through the reality of gift. That’s what the Spirit is, the gift by which we lose the need to possess and consume. This gift of the Spirit is swallowing us up and transforming us to have no other way of being human.