Acts 8:4–25 (ESV) — 4Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 5Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.8So there was much joy in that city. 9But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. 14Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” 25Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
Simon was a man who made his living by practicing divination. He used magic (sacrifices, incantations, special ceremonies, etc.) to curse or protect, prosper or impoverish people. He would cast spells or break spells, and what he did had an observable effect. When he cursed someone, trouble came. When he protected someone, things got better. That’s why people gladly paid him to do the spiritual work they needed. And he was good at it. He had a national reputation in Samaria. He boasted that he was someone “great.” Young and old, rich and poor, called him the “power of god” (v10). He was full of pride and self-promotion. To allow himself to be called the “power of god” shows he had no fear of the true God, because the people of Samaria did know about the true God.
In this passage it was said, that even Simon believed and was baptized. But, there are at least several hints in the text that regardless of what one may conclude about the Samaritans, Simon was never converted at all.
These hints include:
- The way Simon is introduced in the narrative in pejorative terms (vv. 9–11);
- Simon claimed that he was someone great and drew attention to himself and his work by practicing magic. He portrayed himself as being divine
- The fact that while it is said that Simon believed, we are not told what he believed, unlike the case with the Samaritans (see vv. 12–13). Luke means that Simon affirmed the reality of the miracles and the power that accomplished them and sought to have such power himself;
- Verses 18–19 suggest one who wishes to buy the power of bestowing the Holy Spirit and then dispense it himself. As verse 20ff. make clear, Simon’s heart is not right before God, and he is in danger of going to destruction or hell. This is why Peter’s message to him is that he must repent;
- Acts 8:20 “But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!”
- Verse 23 is as telling a description of an unregenerate person as one could want—trapped in the chains of wickedness;
- Acts 8:23 “For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.”
- At the end Simon is not said to pray or be remorseful, he is only frightened of the negative consequences forewarned by Peter. In short, Luke portrays Simon as not converted, only strongly impressed with the apparent miracle-working power of Philip and Peter.
Some 1st and 2nd commenters believe that Simon went on to establish a cult mixing Christianity with mystical and magical beliefs that he practiced in Samaria. One commentator coined Simon as the “Father of Gnosticism”. Gnosticism was one of the false religions that many of the New Testament writers had warned about when they spoke of false prophesy or false teachers.
Regardless of what Simon ended up teaching after his encounter with Peter, it is pretty clear that he never repented. The Lord showed Peter Simon’s unrepentant heart and Peter told him that he could not join them if he did not repent.
21You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you (Acts 8:21,22)
I for one, am thankful that the Lord gave Peter this insight into Simon’s life so that he could make this judgment and determine that Simon could not join the Christian movement unless he repented. If Simon would have been allowed to have influence in the early stages of the Christian movement it would have wreaked havoc on the clarity of the gospel message being preached to Christ-followers.
This is not the first time Peter gets prophetic insight into another person’s heart. If we look back at the account of Annaias and Sapphira in Acts 5, the Lord shows Peter, Ananias allowed Satan to fill his heart to lie to the Holy Spirit. Annaias and Sapphira sold property and held back some for themselves and claimed they had given all of it.
Acts 5:3 (ESV) — 3But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?
This was another portion in scripture, like in the case of Simon the magician, where the Lord used a Christ-follower to expose lies being perpetuated by individuals. He knew the heart of Ananias and Sapphira and they could not continue to influence or have a voice into the Christian movement.
It is clear in the early church that judging was an important ministry. Jesus taught His disciples how to judge and new testament scripture gives us more clarity on how to partner with Jesus
There are few passages I’ve heard taken out of context more than the teaching given by Jesus in Matthew chapter 7 about judging.
Matthew 7:1–5 (ESV) — 1“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
I’ve heard Christians and non-Christians alike use this to banish any sort of judgement from their midst. I understand where they are typically coming from and I don’t think they are usually off in sensing something that is off. But it’s not judging that Jesus has a problem with. Judgement or judging is a Christ-like characteristic that Christians are called, in proper context, to partner with Jesus in doing.We see Paul describing this beautiful partnership we have with Jesus in the ministry of judging.
1 Corinthians 6:1–6 (ESV) — 1When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?
Jesus teaching about Judging in Matthew 7 is actually an instruction on HOW to judge properly and conversely HOW NOT to judge. This passage is rebuking the hypocrite—the self-righteous Christian who has not submitted to Jesus as the ultimate judge of their own hearts and thus has no place or authority to make judgements about others. Jesus is warning against being a fault-finder who judges harshly, self-righteously, or mercilessly
If you notice in Matthew 7:5 Jesus summarizes this point by telling us who he is talking to—the hypocrite—The one who is acting like they are Christ-like but in their heart, they have not changed. He then instructs this person, the hypocrite, on how to judge properly. The key is, Jesus says, “Take the log out of your eye”. In other words, stop being a poser, stop pretending like you care about other people when you haven’t even changed yourself.
Therefore, if you repent from your own sin, allow your own heart to be submitted to the ultimate judge—That is Jesus Christ—then you will regain the ability and credibility to help others out of their own sin. If you remove the hypocrisy from your life by repenting and having your mind and actions transformed by the Holy Spirit, you will again be able to “see clearly” in order to “take the speck out of your brother’s eye”. The focus of this passage is about repenting and restoring your ability to see clearly and judge your brother well to help them out of their sin.
Tips to judging well.
- Acknowledge Jesus Christ is the ultimate Judge.
- "I can do nothing on My own initiative As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. (John 5:30)
- Hold yourself to a higher standard than you hold others.
- Focus on being genuinely transformed by the renewing of your mind.
- Put on the mind of Christ.
- A fault finder will be ineffective and often cause more wreckage than reconciliation.
- Use wisdom in confronting sin in other’s lives.
- First, inspect that sin in your own life and repent of that sin.
- Second, pray for that person to encounter Jesus.
- Third pray for wisdom if you are to confront that person or if you are to leave it to prayer.
- If the Lord puts it on your heart that you are to confront that person, pray for wisdom of words, a gentle heart, and timing. It may not be the right time to confront that person.
- Do not hold those who do not profess Christ to the same standard as a professing Christian.
- Settle disputes inside the church first inside the church.