Our motives matter. Why we do something is sometimes as important as what we do. In seminary, as I read and studied, I began to formulate an entire theological framework around the idea of motives rather than behaviors. Unfortunately, that kind of thinking leads to horrendous acts perpetrated with good motives. For example, in the recent Avengers: Infinity War movie, Thanos would be considered the hero rather than the villain, for his motives were frankly heroic – to save the universe from overpopulation and self-destruction. The fact that the means to this end was to kill half the population of the universe wouldn’t matter. So, my Motive Theology falls short, but nonetheless, motives still matter.
Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8 faces the opposite dilemma. He wants to do the right thing – giving people the Holy Spirit – but for the wrong motives – self aggrandizement. We can’t believe that someone would consider paying the apostles for the ability to bestow the Holy Spirit on others. And yet, how often do we fall into this same trap? Not with the giving of the Holy Spirit, but in other more subtle ways.
Have you ever wanted to serve the poor to help your resume become more attractive? Ever stood for the downtrodden so that you could feel like you were taking a stand for a cause rather than to help them? Ever come to worship so others would see you there rather than giving God your attention? In these and so many other ways, our discipleship can so quickly become self-serving.
For Simon, trying to buy the Holy Spirit led to a condemnation of his wickedness by Peter. Who loves you enough to point out the selfishness of your faith, not so they might feel better about themselves but because they love you enough to risk your friendship in order to see you grow more like Christ.