Self-help is No-help

The central story of the Bible is one of reconciliation.  Through the fall of mankind, we are alienated from ourselves, our fellow humans, and from God.  through Jesus we can live in relationship with God, other people, and ourselves in the way that God meant for it to be.  The problem is that many self-help gurus and psychologists solve our small problems whilst creating a bigger one. 

The problems that we feel are called our ‘felt needs.’  When we seek help we may feel no self-confidence, we may feel lonely, or we may feel other longings of various kinds.  We know that biblically these longings and other feelings are indicators that all is not right in God’s world.  Dealing with God’s world and our place in it should lead us to God.  However, so often we find tools that solve the short-term problems and lead us further from God.  We develop self-confidence to solve our lack of confidence.  In a crisis I then turn to … myself.  We undergo counseling that gives us a technique to deal with anxiety.  When our anxiety is taken away we give no thanks to the God of all truth who has revealed this technique to mankind.

Read the passage below and see how Simon would have been a guru to solve people’s problems, but that his condition and the condition that he left people in was desperate.  Who are such people today?

Acts 8:5-25

5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.

 9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. 12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

 14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

 18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

 20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

 24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

 25 After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.


  1. Where did Philip go and what did he do there?
  2. What was Simon’s desire?
  3. How does Simon’s story tell us that powerfully helping people with their problems can be quite dangerous?
  4. What warning does this passage give to a tolerant pluralistic society?
  5. What is ‘simony’ and how is it still a problem in churches?

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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