Simon was plying his trade as a religious conman in Samaria where he found immense success. The superstitious folks flocked to him, mesmerized by his feats of magic and claim to be someone great.
He was achieving fame and almost certainly raking in the cash. The Samaritans in this city loved him! They hung on everything he said and did. They all gave heed to him and called him the ‘great power of God’ (cf. Acts 8:9-11).
Then one day, a stranger came to the city and turned the world upside down for Simon. “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them (Acts 8:5).”
Phillip preached Christ and the kingdom mightily, proving by miraculous signs the veracity of his message. The Samaritans heard and saw, and many of them believed (Acts 8:5-9, 12). They abandoned the trickery of Simon for Jesus Christ and the gospel. This was terrible for Simon’s business.
But Simon, of all people, would know a magic trick from the real deal. He acknowledged that Phillip’s mighty acts were real, and in time he, too, obeyed the gospel. “Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done (Acts 8:13).”
Very soon word reached the apostles in Jerusalem. Peter, along with John, came over to check out the situation and pray for the Samaritans, ‘that they might receive the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:15).’
Simon, even though he was now a Christian, had not quite been transformed by the renewing of his mind (cf. Rom 12:2). The lust for power and fame again reared its ugly head in his heart.
“And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:18-19).”
To his shock, Peter turned to him with a fierce rebuke.
“Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity (Acts 8:20-23).”
The gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity. This is the reality of sin. Sin and its consequences are bitter to the soul. Sin holds one in bondage, although the sinner is rarely aware that he is in fact a slave.
Simon was washed by the blood of Jesus when he was baptised yet how easy it was for him to turn back to the bondage of sin. The same can be true of Christians today. We are washed by the blood of Lamb, it is true, but we may find ourselves ensnared again in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.
Take pride for instance. When a Christian allows pride to rule him, he is back again in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.
“Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness (Rom 6:16)?”
Remember the two different responses when hearers were pricked in the heart by the preaching of the word? In Acts 2:37-41, three thousand souls responded by humbling themselves in obeying the commands to repent and be baptised. In the other instance, found in Acts 7:54ff, the Jews gnashed on Stephen with their teeth in anger and stoned him to death.
The sin of pride prevented the Jews from responding rightly to the word of God. How do we hear the preaching of the word today? When the preacher expounds from the word and we hear something which our conscience convicts us of, what is our response?
Are we like the Jews, taking offense at Stephen’s rebuke? Do we get angry at the preacher and accuse him—whether publicly or privately, it doesn’t matter—of victimizing us and trying to make us look bad?
Do we throw a hissy fit and drop out of worship services, Bible classes and fellowship activities as a reaction? Do we go about speaking evil of the one who preached against our sins—sins which, if we are honest, we know we ought to acknowledge and repent of?
If we do, then clearly we are still in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.
Let’s come back to Simon. After the stern rebuke from Peter, how did he respond?
“Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me (Acts 8:24).”
This is the correct response when our heart is pricked by the word. Our response exposes the condition of our heart, whether we are humble and willing to submit to God or proud and stubborn, persisting in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.
May God help us to take full responsibility for keeping our hearts with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life (Pro 4:23).