Acts 8:18-24 - Avoid Wrong Motivation

In Acts chapter 8 Luke tells the story of the spread of the gospel to Samaria. Philip went to Samaria and proclaimed Christ to the people. They responded and received the Word. Even the well-known Simon the sorcerer believed. However, as Luke says, the Spirit had not yet fallen upon them. So James and John came from Jerusalem to Samaria to pray for the believers that they might receive the Spirit. When James and John prayed, the believers were receiving the Spirit.

The title of my message today is "Avoid Wrong Motivation!" In Acts 8:18-24, which is our text today, the story focuses on the interaction between Simon and Peter. When Simon saw that through the laying on of hands the Spirit was bestowed, old motivations stirred in his heart. He offered Peter money to obtain this gift of bestowing the Spirit through the laying on of hands. This brought on a stern rebuke from Peter and then Simon's response to that rebuke. We can learn several truths from this story.

One, the Spirit will come upon us in an observable way.

In Acts 8:16 Luke says that the Spirit had not yet fallen upon the believers. This does not contradict other Scriptures that say that those who have faith in Christ immediately receive the Spirit. It simply means that the Spirit had not come upon them in empowering fullness.

When the Spirit came upon them, Simon "saw" the result. Luke does not tell us exactly what he saw. However, it is likely that Simon saw some sort of speech. A vocal expression would be observable, and it could happen right away. Many commentators believe that the people spoke in tongues. This would be consistent with the result of the empowering presence of the Spirit in other passages in Acts.

When the Spirit's presence is powerfully in evidence, this is a great witness to all who are present. We can expect the Spirit to manifest Himself through us today.
The Book of Acts repeatedly records the manifest presence of the Spirit. We can enjoy that presence today.

Two, we must avoid being filled with old unholy motivations.

Simon had been a big man in Samaria and had the attention of the people. Philip turned their attention to Christ. Even Simon believed, but when the apostles laid hands on the Samaritans to receive the Spirit, old motivations were stirred within him. It is not unusual for some people to become wrongly motivated in times of spiritual awakening.

Simon asked for the "authority" to bestow the Spirit. He thought that he needed apostolic authority to bestow the Spirit and that the method would be through the laying on of hands. Actually neither apostolic authority nor the laying on of hands are necessary. Although God uses instruments, the believers themselves must exercise faith. Ultimately, it is as a result of faith that they receive the Spirit.

Sometimes we may think that our methods are the key to evangelism and revival. Then, we become wrongly motivated in the use of these methods. We must avoid this twin danger at all costs. God is not locked in to our methods, and we must constantly let the Spirit imbue us with proper motivation.

Three, when we are wrongly motivated, we are subject to strong rebuke.

Peter (vv. 20-23) sharply rebukes Simon. Peter tells him that his heart is not right with God and that he is in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity. Peter exhorts him to "repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you." His error was not beyond repair or else Peter would not have made this exhortation.

Our motivation in ministry is important. The right motivations are to lift up Christ, reach people out of love for God and them, and build the kingdom of God. When other motivations enter, we weaken our outreach and our effectiveness. When we get this wrong, we are subject to strong rebuke. The Lord will discipline us. Very often leaders in the church will address the problem.

Four, we must repent and commit our lives and ministries to God.

Luke concludes the story with this comment: "But Simon answered and said, "Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me." NASU Many commentators think that Simon was forever lost because of his sin. Others, such as Lenski, hold that he did repent. Although the result is not certain, Simon's request at least holds open the possibility that he repented.

Whether Simon truly repented or not, we must do so. If we have acted out of wrong motivation, we need to repent and bow again at the foot of the cross. It is there, that we will be reminded of our true service to the Lord. When we are truly committed to Christ, He will bless our efforts.


The story of the spread of the gospel to Samaria is a powerful missionary story. It is filled with the drama of great revival and powerful results. Luke does not avoid telling of Simon's failure. This, too, often happens in the expansion of the church. One of the main lessons, however, is that we must take "not yet" seriously. The Christian life is one of constant progress. No one has arrived at a fully mature position. Our progress should include praying for the Spirit to fall upon us in power.

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