The unfulfilled promise of money

Published 10:19 am Saturday, May 28, 2016

by Andrew Book

The Bible is filled with an incredible variety of stories. Some of them inspire us, some cause us to rub our heads in confusion, and some of them paint a powerful picture of how God works in a broken world. I have found that the bizarre ones are often my favorite because what begins as simply strange often becomes a powerful word from God as I pray and reflect on it.

Courtland United Methodist Church is in the middle of a series called “Burning” on how God’s Spirit helps us live passionately for God, and we are using the Biblical book of Acts as our guide. As a result, I have spent a lot of time reading Acts recently and have enjoyed wrestling with the words of Scripture whether they be strange, inspiring or revealing.

The Book of Acts, like much of Scripture, is filled with stories. Sometimes the ways God is working are clear and straightforward in those stories. Other times, we read through the story (usually quickly, because we are in a hurry) and don’t understand it. We often just move on because we don’t think we have time to wrestle with the meaning of a passage in Scripture. We lose a lot when we are not willing to wrestle with Scripture.

This time as I have been reading through the book of Acts, I have been drawn to one of the confusing, strange and powerful passages. The story is in Acts chapter 8 and it tells about a man named Simon. Simon was a local “sorcerer” who claimed greatness for himself — until an early Christian named Philip arrived. Phillip came bearing the news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and many of the people in that community were touched by God and were baptized as followers of Jesus Christ — including Simon the Sorcerer!

Soon, other leaders in the early church arrived and prayed for the new followers of Jesus Christ to be filled with God’s Spirit — and God’s Spirit showed up in a powerful way. Simon’s next move is a bit surprising: He approaches those leaders and asks to buy the power to be able lay his hands on people to have the Holy Spirit come on them. I always pause at this point in the story, scratch my head and think “this guy doesn’t get it!” Peter agrees with me and gives him a strong rebuke. That is pretty much the end of the story.

The idea that he could buy the Spirit’s power has always been laughable to me — clearly we can’t pay off God. Yet, the more I have reflected on Simon’s story, the more I have realized that his “laughable” mistake is one that we continue to make day-in and day-out today. Simon saw God at work and thought he could throw money at God in order to be a part of what God was doing. In the same way we today think money is the solution to all that ails us. Whether in the church or in everyday life, we expect money to buy us the power to gain those things which can only come from God.

Elsewhere in the Bible, we read that the “fruit of the Spirit” (the attitudes and blessings which come from God’s Spirit) are love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Most people long for these things in our lives and we are willing to spent exorbitantly to gain love, joy, peace and the rest, but God’s word to us, and to Simon, is “you can’t buy this.”

We cannot buy God’s presence. Nor can we buy the love, joy and peace that God offers us as we truly follow Jesus. We can’t buy God’s Spirit or deep relationships with each other. We cannot buy the power of God which comes through the Holy Spirit. We cannot purchase a transformed life. There are many things that we cannot buy — and yet most of us continue to live like Simon — thinking that money can get us everything. We pursue money like it will grant us our deepest wishes, but the promise of money will ultimately leave us unfulfilled. Like Simon, we don’t “get it.” But we need to!

I was thinking about Simon the Sorcerer this morning, and wondering if he ever “got it.” The Book of Acts actually doesn’t tell us. The stories of Scripture are often left open-ended like this one to challenge us to finish the story in our own life. We don’t know if Simon ever really understood the gift of God and the limits of money, but we do get to finish writing our own stories.

Will we continue to think that money will buy us anything, or will we recognize that the promise of money will always remain unfulfilled and then step away from living for money?

I hope you will all live well, using the money you have for good and investing yourself in following after God, because at the end of the day, God is worth it!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or