The church in Jerusalem has grown and has already been experiencing both internal and external problems. Even in revival conditions things do not run smoothly. Internal squabbles that threatened to sidetrack the apostles from their specific calling to pray and preach were solved by selecting faithful men to become deacons in the church. Interestingly, two we know more about were also evangelists. External persecution by Saul was forcing the church to spread out across Judea and eventually into Samaria – a place that good Jews tended to go around because of deep historical bitterness.
In this passage, a number of key figures in the early church are seen in action; two very significant converts are discussed, and the work of the Holy Spirit is revealed in some amazing and varied ways.
Out of his deep devotion to God, Saul became a zealous persecutor of the church. He used every form of power and influence available to him to get rid of the Christians. He may have known his scriptures and been a Pharisee among Pharisees, but it was deep anger and hatred that was driving him. He had a religious spirit that hated dissent and was willing to do whatever it took to stop the spread of the church. But, God used him to scatter the church which was mainly Jews. The story of his conversion comes in the Acts 9
He was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. He was selected to be a deacon in Acts 6, and he went to Samaria as an evangelist and healer in Acts 8 – making a clear link between evangelism and social action. Philip was equally comfortable as the miracle-working preacher, and the table server for the needy, because he saw everything he did as unto the Lord. He freed people’s bodies for a time as he brought them the eternal freedom of the gospel – he was obedient to his calling, wherever it took him.
When Peter and John came and took charge, laying hands on the converts to receive the Holy Spirit, he humbly stood back (no territorial spirit here). He knew how to begin a work and also when it was time to move on. He was ready for an angel to give him new instructions, which he immediately obeyed and met an Ethiopian eunuch. Philip had the heart of a servant who had no desire to own or control the people he had influenced. He did not get offended when Peter and John took over, happily submitting to their authority. He was a man of the scriptures who was able to help the eunuch understand Isaiah and then introduce him to Jesus.
Simon the Magician
He had a controlling spirit, and had clearly enjoyed the fruits of his power to influence and manipulate people. He was the local celebrity, even ‘the Great Power of God’, until Philip came and stole his fans. He became a believer himself and became constantly amazed by the things he observed as Philip and later the two apostles did. But, Simon had a serious flaw in his deeper life that would soon be revealed and which had to be dealt with by the Lord if he was to be someone who could truly serve the Kingdom.
When Peter and John came, Simon saw that people received the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, so he tried to buy the power. He was rebuked and told he had a “gall (or root) of bitterness” in his heart that could potentially unravel his faith and hold him in “bondage to iniquity”. Simon's old desire for power – to control, impress and manipulate people – was being expressed in a Christian form but it was still worldly. He wanted to get the people to need and revere and support him like the days before Philip came. When Peter rebuked him and warned him, Simon cried out for them to pray for him. He was beginning to see that the Spirit behind the gospel contradicts everything that worldly power represents. It is motivated by sacrificial love – the purest form of love there is – not a desire to be in control and getting all the attention.
Bitterness is at the heart of all our desires for control and significance because we have all been hurt, betrayed, manipulated, abused, offended and let down at some level. When it goes really deep and gets fueled by fear, it can become very ugly like with Saul. There is no place for it in a Christian, so we need to weed out all trace of it, through repentance and forgiveness. Just as hurt comes in layers, so healing does the same. God will show us just as He showed Saul and Simon where the roots are.
The Ethiopian Eunuch
He was a Jew who loved the scriptures, but did not always understand them. He had discovered the prophecies of Isaiah about the suffering Messiah, but there was no one to explain things. So, God sent Philip and he was soon heading home with the gospel in his heart. I identify most with the eunuch because the Lord has spoken most to me through the scriptures, and used them to relate to very specific parts of my life. The scriptures give a special advantage to those who know and understand them because God can speak and lead us and make us wise through them. Most of what we call God’s will is a matter for study not more pray. But, like letters between pen-pals, there is no substitute for a personal encounter and a personal walk with God. There are two Greek words translated “Word” in the New Testament – Logos and Rhema. The Logos refers both to God Himself as the one who is behind the Words (Jesus is called the Logos), and to the revealed written words (Scriptures) that have been tested and preserved for our benefit. Hebrews 4:12 talks of the Logos being alive and active. Rhema speaks of God’s personal word to us. It too must be tested and will not contradict the written word. The Holy Spirit makes the Logos real for us and enables us to know Him and do His will. In John 15:7, Jesus said,”If you abide in Me (I am the Logos), and My Words (Rhema) abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it shall be done for you.” Rhema enables us to live by the spirit of the word, not by the mere letter.
The Holy Spirit
Acts tells us about the church and the amazing work of the Holy Spirit. He is always working behind the scenes and through circumstances, using them to bring about the purposes of God – which included using Saul to scatter the Christians so they would fulfill the Great Commission. But, He also works more directly through those filled with the Spirit and with faith. Philip and Peter are both sensitive to the voice of the Spirit, and so able to discern His leading and to receive specific instructions. Both were men who knew the scriptures, just as Jesus did. Amazing things can be done through believers when we trust Him, and serve Him according to the gifts and callings and opportunities we have. But, in a world of many voices (world, the flesh and the devil); it is not always easy to discern which is which without a guide. We could avoid a lot of foolish choices and sometimes quite serious consequences, if we would just give more time to knowing the Scriptures and the Lord who gave them – for the Holy Spirit will not lead us to contradict either.
Saul and Philip were both men who believed in God and wanted His name to be lifted up on the earth. But, Saul did not truly know God and being full of anger and bitterness, he found himself persecuting the very Lord he thought he was serving. It took a personal revelation for him to see the truth. Philip was a humble man of faith who was open to the Spirits leading. He had a heart for people but his service was motivated and informed by his love for God,
1. Simon didn’t realize his own bitterness until confronted with it. How was he expressing it, and why would it be such a serious problem for him as a Christian. Because hurt and offense are part our fallen world, we need to pray for each other not only concerning old and hidden roots, but also against new ones developing. See Act8:20-23, Heb12:14-17
2. Philip and Peter were sensitive to the Spirits leading and were greatly used to make a difference in two individual’s lives at a very specific level. What are some helpful principles to follow when it comes to discerning the leading of the Holy Spirit from the many other voices in the world?
See 1John5:13-15, 2Peter3:1-17, Heb4:12,13, 2Timothy3:13-17, Gal5:16-25, Rom:10:13-17,
3. Will the Spirit lead us to contradict the scriptures? Is the Spirit obligated to give us special revelations when we choose to neglect the study of the Word?
See John14:15-18, 15:7-11, 16:7-15.