Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Learning to Love Simon Magus

I've been preaching through Acts since the first of the year and have been greatly impacted by the power of the Gospel to save people and move them from a life of darkness and sin and into the life of following Christ. The past few weeks have been particularly interesting as we have dealt with the stoning of Stephen which propelled the church out of Jerusalem and now most recently the spreading of the Gospel to Samaria and Simon Magus (the magician). What struck me this week in preparing and preaching about the salvation of the Simon Magus was that it's one thing to read about his life, it's another to actually live and talk in such a way that God could use you and me to minister to someone like Simon.

What would we do if God placed someone in our life who is almost converted or someone who is newly converted who has a lot of past life experience some would call baggage? Baggage like being a long-standing sorcerer in the area, or a well known sinner, or a famous bad guy on the news, or being in the bonds of a powerful addiction? How would we react to them and how would we reach out to love them as a brother/sister in Christ?
That is a question I have been thinking about an awful lot recently, because as I pray for the Lord to save people here in Canton, I also know that when God answers that prayer that the people he will bring us some who have not yet made Christ their Savior who and some will have just received Christ as their Savior but not know what is next. These times are unsettling to some because of a past of sin that they bring with them, questions about all sorts things, a naivety to the Bible, and a host of other things that some people might see as needy. But just stop right there. Is someone who comes into our lives looking for help to know Christ or grow in Him a burden? Is it really baggage? How we answer that question, will determine much of our attitude and effort that we give to those sorts of people.

Painting by: Liberale da Verona (1445-1530)
In Acts 8, Simon Magus is a long standing sorcerer in the area of Samaria. Upon hearing Philip share the Gospel and seeing that he did many miracles, he along with many others were saved and baptized. In the verses that follow, Peter and John come to investigate and affirm the news that the Gospel has reached Samaria. When arriving, they lay hands on the people and give them the Holy Spirit. Simon, was one of these people presumably, since Luke doesn't differentiate him from the rest of the people. But then in strange twist, Simon asks to pay Peter for the ability to give the Holy Spirit to others. Peter then rebukes him and tells him that he is still in bondage to iniquity and that he should pray for forgiveness in the hope that God might forgive him. Many wonder at this point if Simon was ever truly repentant of his sins or if he was just caught up in the moment. There is much speculation, but no hard and fast answers to that question. 

What should we make of all this? What blasphemy to ask to pay to peddle the Holy Spirit! However, I see it as a recently converted sorcerer who saw a new ability that he would like to incorporate into his profession. He has no clue yet that his profession isn't compatible with Christ. He has no clue that what he asks for is to control God. He has no clue about anything other than he saw the Apostles with great power. He was a man so new in Christ, that he was in bondage to his iniquities. Though he had been made new in Christ, he did not yet know what it meant to follow Christ. And these are the kinds of people that God brings to our lives and to our churches. We should never steer away from people like this because as Paul will say later, "So too were some of you."

After church on Sunday, a man in our church came up to me and gave me the perfect illustration to explain this idea. I wish I would have known this before the service! When a orchard grower heads out into his fields to check on the progress of his apples in the beginning of the season, he sees small little apples and calls them perfect. Later in the season, he checks again and finds that they are now half grown and gaining color, so he says that they are perfect. When harvest comes, he returns to the fields to gather his fruit and sees that his apples are perfectly grown and he is well-pleased. As followers of Christ, we too are all at different stages of our growth. Some are still buds, some are half-grown and others are fully mature, yet at each stage we can do well in following Christ. We should not expect buds to be large juicy apples, nor should we be pleased when harvest time comes and some apples are half-grown. You get the picture right?

As those who already follow Christ, we need to look out upon those in our neighborhoods, families, and church congregations and see one another at different stages of our growth in Christ. We need to express love and patience to all people as they strive towards becoming like Christ. We cannot possibly expect new believers to cast off all sin and all of their former ways of thinking just because thy have made confessions of faith. It takes time, prayer, as well as understanding and obedience to the clear commands of Scripture. We need to pray earnestly for them and help them understand the way to know God and follow Christ.

Is there a Simon Magus in your life? Do you need to reach out to them and help with work through their former life of sin and onto Christ-likeness?

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