Enlarging the Circle

MEMORY SELECTION: “They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word.” —Acts 8:4

SELECTED SCRIPTURE: Acts 8:4-8, 14-25

THE ever widening influence of the Early Church and its preaching activities drew the hatred and opposition of those whose religious authority among the Jews was being threatened. That hatred ripened into bitter persecution, in which Stephen became the first Christian martyr —the charges being that he spoke blasphemously against the Holy Place (the temple) and that he sought to change the laws of Moses.

Having noted the faithfulness and zeal of Stephen in last week’s lesson, we now turn our attention to the Christian walk of Philip, another of the seven deacons who were chosen to assist the apostles in the Early Church. Philip, realizing the seriousness of the situation in Jerusalem following the murder of Stephen, fled to Samaria, where he had new opportunities to preach Christ and the great hope of the coming kingdom which had so inspired him. In Samaria he attested to the great power of God by proclaiming the truth, healing the sick, and casting out devils.

It had been but a few short years since our Lord Jesus, having arranged the preaching work of the apostles, “commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt. 10:5,6) A change in dispensation had taken place, however, and Philip’s preaching received the blessing of God. The acceptance of Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, was an accomplished fact, and Gentiles were given the opportunity to become fellow heirs with Christ.

Philip’s ministry was well received by many in Samaria. “But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.” (Acts 8:9,10) Simon had practiced witchcraft among the people for a long time, and the Samaritans were greatly impressed by his displays of wisdom—actually the power of fallen demons who exercised their wills through him.

The power of God, however, as manifested through Philip’s preaching, was in sharp contrast to the power of demons working through the magician; and many responded by being baptized into Christ. News concerning the Gentile converts in Samaria was received by the apostles in Jerusalem, at which time Peter and John were sent to lay hands upon the people and to extend to them the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The fellowship of the apostles was enhanced by the strength of their enlightenment as special servants of God, which served to uplift the newly found brethren with hope and encouragement.

Among those who were baptized at that time was Simon the sorcerer. “Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.” (vs. 13) When he witnessed the power of God working through the apostles, he very much desired the same and offered the apostles money so that he too could possess that special gift of the laying on of hands. He said (vs. 19), “Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost [Holy Spirit].”

Simon did not have the proper heart condition to be acceptable to God, and the Apostle Peter was quick to recognize this. “Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.”—vss. 20-23

Those who would serve God must do so in spirit and in truth, and there seems to be a lesson for all the Lord’s people in Peter’s admonition to Simon. Let us always strive to serve God with a clean heart and a pure conscience.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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