It seems like everywhere you turn these days, there are numerous people trying to self-identify as something they are not, insisting, against all the evidence, that they can be whatever they want to be simply by claiming it to be so. Sadly, such individuals, though they often need help, instead find plenty of enablers willing to pretend right alongside them.
There are those, for instance, who self-identify as preachers of the Gospel and followers of Christ, when all the evidence suggests they are little better than swindlers out to fleece the gullible. One such self-proclaimed pastor recently informed her audience that God wanted them to send her money, large checks preferably, and in exchange she promised God would grant them each the gift of prophecy, revealing His will to them in visions. Those gullible enough to fall for such tactics, and there seem to be plenty, instead of sending her money, would be better served in spending their time and money in the study of God’s word.
If men took the time to study their Bible, one of the things they would read is the account of Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8. Simon had been a magician pretending to have great power, but the preaching of Philip and the work of the Holy Spirit moved Simon to convert away from his old ways. Simon was baptized into Christ and joined the fledgling church in Samaria (cf. Acts 8:13). Afterward, Peter and John visited the young Samarian church and while there, through the laying on of their hands, God imparted true miraculous abilities, such as healings and tongues. When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit’s gifts were given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered Peter money in order to gain the same ability as they (Acts 8:17-19). We should be clear here that what Simon wanted was not the miraculous gifts themselves. Many were freely receiving that. What he wanted was the ability to pass on such gifts, a thing which only the apostles were doing.
But, when offered money, what did Peter say? Did he commend Simon for his “faith gift” or “seed money?” Not a bit. Rather, Peter rebuked Simon strongly, saying, ““May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity. (Acts 8:20-23; ESV)”
The grace of God and the gifts of God are not for sale.
Those who teach otherwise have no part in the true Gospel of Christ. And those who want to be able to simply buy their way God’s favor exhibit, to repeat Peter’s words: “wickedness,” “the gall of bitterness,” and “the bond of iniquity.” Their heart is “not right before God.” Elsewhere, the apostle Paul, describing those who imagine God’s message to be a source of financial gain, said of such they were “depraved in mind and deprived of the truth (1 Timothy 6:5; ESV).” In such a system, God has said, both buyer and seller are engaged in an activity that is far removed from the true message of Christ.
When we encounter such a false teacher, hawking spirituality in exchange for cash or check, we can know, regardless of what else they might say, or how they self-identify, that they are not truly preaching Christ. We can know that the Bible says explicitly of such an attitude, that those partaking of it have “neither part nor lot in this matter,” this “matter” being the grace of God and the Gospel of Christ.
Furthermore, the true disciples of Christ should never encourage nor enable such behavior, no matter how expedient it might seem at the time to do so. Rather we should roundly condemn it.
Consider the courage and moral character of Peter who, being offered money for a thing some might readily have accepted it for, did not accept, nor did he excuse the behavior of the one offering the money. Peter was not a rich man (cf. Acts 3:6) and no doubt there may have been some temptation to receive the offer. Or at least excuse it. It can be hard, in fact, to condemn someone who is generously offering to pay you. Lesser men might have capitulated and accepted the silver. But Peter rightly refused to cheapen the riches of Christ, and instead chastened Simon. May the followers of Christ today have the same courage.
The church of Christ invites you to come freely worship and study with us, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.