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The Enslaving Grip Of Bitterness

Acts 8:18-24
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.' Peter answered: 'May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.' Then Simon answered, 'Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.' (NIVUK)

Philip the Evangelist was preaching the gospel in Samaria, when Simon the Sorcerer was attracted to hear what he had to say. As people believed, they were baptised; Simon among them. But there was something wrong in the heart of this man who craved public recognition, presumably making money from his 'magic powers' (Acts 8:4-11). It came to light when Peter and John came from Jerusalem, teaching that all who believed in Jesus should also welcome His Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17). As they laid hands on the new believers, Simon saw manifestations of God's power, and he wanted to have that sort of influence over people.

Simon claimed to believe in Jesus, but really wanted to be a spiritual celebrity. His motive was exposed when he offered payment to the apostles so that he could buy their power (Acts 8:18-19). Peter rebuked Simon strongly for his self-centred desire and for insulting God who gives His Spirit freely to those who repent (John 3:34). Although Simon wanted to be part of the apostolic team, Peter bluntly told him that he could have no part in their ministry because his heart was not right before the Lord: and both Simon and his money would perish.

Simon's desire to control people was not described as 'enthusiasm', 'misunderstanding' or 'immaturity'; but 'wickedness'. Peter discerned its source as the enslaving grip of bitterness, which is a spiritually contagious disease which is able to destroy fellowship and hinder the gospel (Deuteronomy 29:18; Hebrews 12:15). Whatever relationships or events in his background may have fomented bitterness, the only remedy for wickedness is repentance and God's mercy. When Simon realised that the possibility of God's judgement was real (Acts 5:1-11) Simon asked the apostles to intercede with God on his behalf. We do not know whether or not he repented.

Wrong desires cannot build ministries. And yet self-motivated spiritual celebrities need to hear Peter's rebuke. Bitterness lurks beneath the surface of so many people who go to church: it is a bad disease which spreads. Where such wickedness lies in us, we need to take this passage to heart. Repent and plead for God's mercy before it is too late. If you see it in others, gently seek to restore them to the humility of Christ (Galatians 6:1-2). Above all, do not let bitterness gain a foothold in your life; it will corrupt you and others.

Gracious God. Thank You for those who have had the courage to rebuke me and urge me to repent. Forgive me for any degree of spiritual pride or desire to control others. I repent and plead for Your mercy. May I be restored and be able to share in serving You. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams