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In the eighth chapter of Acts (Acts 8:9-24), there is the story of Simon the sorcerer. He was a powerful spiritual leader, who had a strong influence on the people where he lived. The Bible says that everyone "from the least to the greatest" acknowledged that Simon had the power of God in his life. (verse 10)

Simon's life was changed dramatically when Phillip came to town, preaching the good news about Jesus. Simon could see the truth in what Phillip was saying, and he humbled himself before Phillip, allowing himself to be baptised. He moved from being a great spiritual leader in that region to being a lowly convert to a new religious movement. He was just an observer now.

The Bible says that he just watched and wondered... while Phillip did all the miracles and signs, and while Phillip got all of the attention. (verse 13)

Then Peter and John arrived in the area; and they started laying hands on various individuals. The people they touched were filled with God's Spirit. We are not told exactly what it was that Simon observed as evidence that a dramatic change had taken place in the lives of these people; but we do know that he was impressed at the power that Peter and John had to change people deeply. And he wanted to have the same power himself. (verses 17 and 18)

Up to that point, there really was nothing to complain about with regard to Simon and his conversion to Christianity. He had repented at the truth, humbled himself, and then desired to reach out and influence others. He also appeared to be a man of great discernment. He had not approached Phillip asking for power to do miracles or signs. He had already been there and done that.

But he was drawn to the power of Peter and John to give God's Holy Spirit to people. Simon did not want to dazzle people; he wanted to deeply change them. All of these developments in Simon's life were important and positive steps in his overall spiritual growth.

But the Bible says that Simon offered to pay Peter and John money to be taught the facilitative skills that they had evidenced through laying their hands on people. And this is where Simon went off the rails.

We have long taught that the love of money is the root of all evil; and so it is easy to say that the cause of the problem here was money. And to a certain extent it was. But notice that Simon was not trying to get money; he was trying to use it to get something spiritual. On the surface, that seemed noble. And yet Peter rebuked him harshly. He said, "Your money perish with you, because you have thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. You have neither part nor lot in this matter; for your heart is not right in the sight of God." (verses 20 and 21)

All that Simon wanted was to be able to play a "part" in what he had observed was going on all around him. He had been sitting patiently, waiting for his chance to take the stage. For a performer like himself, that must have been difficult. After all, he knew that he had great potential. He was a man with acute spiritual discernment, and yet he had been left on the bench while others were getting all the glory.

It looked like the disciples were never going to give Simon a chance to play his part, even though deep down he knew that he had much to offer the kingdom of heaven. He had even been willing to pass over the more glamorous and sensational appeal of doing miracles, in order to become something better... an instrument through which God's loving Holy Spirit could flow into people.

But Peter and John and Phillip, in their bumbling egotistical way, seemed to be totally unaware of Simon's gifts. To Simon it seemed that these rough fishermen lacked the finesse that he had to touch hearts and inspire people.

The obvious conclusion (for Simon) was probably that Peter, John, and Phillip were not as spiritual as he himself was. Their vision seemed to be one of organisations and hierarchies. They were so blinded with their own self importance that they had failed to recognise Simon's potential. So why not just appeal to the apostles with the sort of thing that they obviously wanted? Why not offer them money? It seemed like a noble thing for a spiritual giant like Simon to do. He would sacrifice money to gain spiritual power; and the apostles would fall for it, because that was obviously the sort of vision they had... a vision of budgets and structures and power.

But Simon miscalculated. Little did he know that he had judged Phillip, Peter, and John by his own suppressed materialism and his own suppressed desire for power. His bitterness against the three of them, because they were getting all of the glory and he was not, had blinded him to just how much more spiritual than himself they really were. Peter said, "I perceive that you are in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity."

Bitterness was Simon's real problem. He deceived himself into thinking that he was more spiritual than the others, but deep down he had hated them. He had been jealous of their authority. And he had tried to feign superior generosity in an effort to show them up.

But Peter did not fall for it. Peter would not accept his "gift", because Simon was not a "worthy" donor. Peter may have looked rough, and he may have been busy with a lot of administrative duties, but he had humility and a sensitivity to the things of the Spirit that Simon had failed to recognise or appreciate.

Fortunately, the story ends happily. Simon calls on those toward whom he had been so bitter to pray for him, that he may be delivered from his bitterness. And that is what it will take for each of us who has become deceived by our own perceived spiritual superiority. It is only when we stop competing and when we humble ourselves before one another that we will be able to contribute anything worthwhile to the kingdom of heaven. Until then, we are building nothing but our own house, and we will be labouring in vain because of it.

Please, if you have let bitterness creep into your relationship with your brothers and sisters in Christ, do not let it continue for one day longer. Do not excuse it by arguing that others are bitter too. Deal with your bitterness, and let God deal with the others. As Peter said to Simon, "Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee." (verse 22)

(See also From Bitter to Better.)

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