Humility and Pride in Acts 8

A few times I’ve read through the whole Bible in a year. This requires a particular daily discipline that I didn’t feel prepared to undertake this year. I have several writing goals on the docket that demand that I drill down deeper into some texts rather than taking a survey approach.

I’ve found that whatever Bible-reading plan I commit to at the year’s beginning, the book of Acts is always on the agenda early in the year. I’m drawn back to it time after time. It recharges my faith to again witness the boldness of the first Christians, the active participation of the Holy Spirit, and the miraculous signs that followed the early disciples’ proclamations of Jesus the Messiah. It inspires me to endeavor to be more like them.

This book of the Bible teaches us the supremacy of the name of Christ. The early Christians demonstrated the humble practice of keeping Jesus Christ first, bringing glory to him rather than to themselves. This is a relevant issue to address in our self-obsessed culture, and these people and their stories are worth emulating.

One of the most dramatic illustrations occurs in Acts 8. It involves the character of Philip, followed by a contrasting story about Simon the Sorcerer.

There isn’t a lot of information about Philip in the text. In Chapter 6 we learn that he was one of the seven men chosen to minister to the material needs of the Gentile Christians. The qualifications to serve on this team were: holding a good reputation in the community and being filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom. By this standard, Philip was well known among them as a Spirit-filled, wise man of God.

When persecution arose in Jerusalem, most of the disciples were scattered to other locations. Saul (later converted and called Paul the Apostle) was wreaking havoc, chasing after Christians to stop the spread of the gospel. Philip went to Samaria,

and proclaimed the Messiah there.When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said.For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.So, there was great joy in that city. (Acts 8:5-8).

Can you picture this? The story doesn’t mention any traveling companions, so it appears that Philip made this tremendous impact singlehandedly. Notice that his first act was proclamation of the gospel, the good news that Messiah had come. Accompanying the message were supernatural signs—demons fleeing hysterically, and crippled people healed. Mark’s gospel foreshadows scenarios like this:

Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. (Mark 16:20).

The word was confirmed by works of power, and the outcome was the abundant fruit of joy!

Now we turn to Simon, a famous magician in Samaria, who

for some time…had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people…He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. (Acts 8:9-11).

Simon had become what we might call an “influencer.” He understandably became concerned when Philip came to town and performed miraculous signs through the power of the Holy Spirit. Competition!

But the word and works of Philip were compelling, the Spirit broke through, and Simon himself believed and was baptized. The one that had amazed the public through demonic tricks was now overcome by the power of the true God.

Unfortunately, Simon’s conversion, like most of ours if we’re honest, didn’t instantly correct all of his character defects and pre-existing mindsets. He quickly twisted his blessing into a curse.

As a parenthesis following these two accounts, the narrator reports that Peter and John came to Samaria to lay hands on the new converts and impart the gift of the Holy Spirit. Simon witnessed this impartation and got it in his head that he’d like to purchase this same ministry with money and operate it for himself. Like a Holy Spirit franchise for Samaria, perhaps.  Peter discerned Simon’s wicked heart and motives and admonished him,

“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.” (Acts 8:22-23).

Simon received Peter’s chastisement and seemed genuinely frightened and repentant. The story doesn’t say what happened next to him. I’d like to assume that he found some humility that day.

We do learn of Philip’s next assignment, which is to pop down to the road to Gaza, where he will meet an Ethiopian eunuch and lead him to the Lord. I love this Philip. He knows how to walk humbly and joyfully as an obedient servant of the Lord. He knows that his life is not his own, and that’s just fine with him.

My point here in spelling out the contrast between these two individuals is to encourage all of us to watch our step. In our ministries and spheres of influence, whether large or small, pride can easily creep in, and we can begin to think of ourselves as something great. This is the beginning of a downfall.

No one is great but one. According to Jesus, no one is even good but one. And we know who that is. It is him.

Lord, help us to learn from Philip and Simon…about the dangers of spiritual pride and the joys of humble obedience. Amen.

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