Only God Knows the Heart of Man
“And even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized…” Acts 8:13a
Soon after the spawning of Christ’s Church on the day of Pentecost1 (Acts 2:1-4), when the fledgling church was quickly ameliorating, a complaint arose against the native Hebrews by the Hellenists. They charged that their widows were being overlooked in the daily food allocations. The Apostles needing to address the issue at once, selected seven men of “good reputation”, “filled with the Holy Spirit”, and full of “wisdom”– hence, they were the first church deacons (Acts 6:1-3). It was vitally important that the early church laid a firm foundation, so men with virtuous characters were chosen to help lead. Philip was one of the seven men chosen, who undoubtably fit the above qualifications. However, even though he was Spirit filled and teeming with wisdom, he was a created being and incapable of knowing the hearts of men. Such omniscience is only accomplished by the power of the eternal Creator God, as Scripture states: “for You alone know the hearts of the sons of men.” (2 Chr. 6:30).
When great persecution arose against the church and many Christians were scattered from Jerusalem, Philip went down to Samaria (a city of intermarried Jews and Gentiles) to preach the Gospel. Upon arriving he heralded the kingdom of God and Jesus Christ, while performing numerous miracles, healings, and exorcisms; drawing many Samaritans to salvation (Acts 8:3-8). While in Samaria he met a sorcerer named Simon Magus, who astonished and captivated the people with great displays of magic (Acts 8:9-11). However, many were believing the Gospel, being baptized and began following Philip, forsaking Simon’s magnetic sorcery (Acts 8:12). Scripture states Simon also believed, was baptized, and followed Philip; he was amazed at the great miracles Philip performed (Acts 8:13).
Having heard the Word was being accepted by the Samaritans, the Jerusalem church sent Apostles Peter and John to lay hands on them, that they would receive the Holy Spirit. (vv.15-16):
“Then they [Peter and John] began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 8:17-19—brackets added).
Overcome with both awe and envy, Simon was unable to contain himself when he witnessed Peter and John [through God’s power] disseminate the Holy Spirit in a spectacular way.2 Simon’s internal sinfulness shattered his false facade of holiness and exposed his malignant heart. He foolishly attempted to purchase the authority to impart the Holy Spirit, as if it were mere merchandise. Up until that point, the deceit dwelling within Simon’s heart remained unseen by Philip, for he had baptized him and allowed him to continue in ministry. However, when the Apostle Peter heard Simon’s blasphemous request (“Give this authority to me…”), he sharply rebuked Simon’s wicked behavior, ousted him from the fellowship, and exhorted him to repent (vv. 20-22). Joseph A. Alexander comments:
“As Simon had already been baptized (v. 13), the exhortation to repent might have seemed to have respect to this particular transgression, as a single act of disobedience. But the words of the Apostle show that the whole work of repentance and conversion was yet to be performed.”3
Simon’s act of simony4 initially may have deceived Philip into thinking he was a believer,5 but his impetuosity revealed a corrupt heart exposing his unbelief.
The travesty of Simon’s false front of holiness sets as an example, that no matter how “Spirit-filled” a believer may be, he or she cannot know the heart: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). Even the godly prophet Samuel, who virtually spent his entire life ministering to God, for God had spoken to him when he was just a child [1 Sam. 3]; and yet he was unable to discern man’s heart:
“Then it came about when they entered, that he looked at Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him. But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’” (1 Sam. 16:6-7).
As the above verses indicates only God knows the heart of man. Only He can see what man is incapable of seeing. On a sobering note, it was because God knew the depraved hearts of men that He destroyed all life on earth, with a Great Flood in judgment:
“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually… And the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.’” (Gen. 6:5, 7).
The writer of Hebrews depicts the omniscience of God comparable to that of the Genesis passage:
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Heb. 4:12-13).
Furthermore, the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ knew the heart and even was able to see genuine faith.6 For example, Jesus granted salvation toa bedridden paralytic, when He saw the faith of him and his four companions toil to get an audience with Him (Matt. 9:2, Mark 2:4-5, Luke 5:18-20). In the very next verses, He rebuked the religious leaders for seeing evil in their hearts: “And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This fellow blasphemes.’ And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, ‘Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?’” (Matt. 9:3-4).
In God’s omniscience He not only knows the heart of man but possesses perfect anthropology. Knowing that truth, King David wrote: “You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.” (Ps. 139:1-4). Therefore, knowing this incommunicable attribute of God, let us refrain from putting Him to the test, as unbelieving Simon the sorcerer had done. We must realize that although we can cloak what we wish not seen by men, our hearts remain transparent to God’s ever-penetrating eyes: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps. 139:23-24).
1 Pentecost, ‘“Pentecost’ means ‘fiftieth’ and refers to the feast of weeks (Ex. 34:22, 23) or Harvest (Lev. 23:16), which was celebrated 50 days after Passover in May/June (Lev. 23:15-22). It was one of three annual feasts which the nation was to come to Jerusalem…At Pentecost, an offering of first fruits was made (Lev. 23:20).” The MacArthur Study Bible, Word Publishing, 1997, pg. 1634: footnote on Acts 2:1; Day of Pentecost.
2 John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Acts 1-12, (Moody Publishers: Chicago, 1994), p. 245. “When they arrived, Peter and John began laying their hands on the Samaritan believers, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. That was too much for Simon. When he saw that the Spirit was being showed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money. Evidently, the believers were speaking in tongues as on the Day of Pentecost so that there was a perceivable of great reality sufficient to arouse Simon’s interest. Philip had impressed him, but Peter and John overwhelmed him.”
3 Joseph A. Alexander, The Acts of the Apostles, (Banner of Truth Trust: London, 1963), p. 337
4 The New American Commentary, Acts, John B. Polhill, (Broadman Press: Nashville, 1992), p. 220: “The term ‘simony’ has come into our vocabulary from this incident; however, it is too restrictive, referring primarily to the attempt to secure ecclesiastical office or privilege through monetary means. Were the term fully based on Simon’s behavior, it would be extended to cover any attempt to manipulate God for personal gain.”
5 John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Acts 1-12, (Moody Publishers: Chicago, 1994), p. 239. “Simon appeared to be a genuine believer, even one discerning as Philip accepted him as such and baptized him. Simon even ‘continued on with Philip’ (v. 13). He thus manifested three marks of a genuine believer: he believed, he was obedient in baptism, and he continued with Philip…It was not until he attempted to buy the authority to confer the Holy Spirit that he was unmasked.” 6 John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 8-15, (Moody Publishers: Chicago, 1987), p. 50. “Jesus only saw this outward evidence [their extreme effort to reach Jesus] but He also saw their hearts. And seeing their faith by their aggressively approaching Him, the omniscient Lord also read th