Kicking off a new series called “The Unknown God” based on Paul’s experience in Athens on Mar’s Hill with the city, leaders, business people, and some philosophers. It’s a great story and example for us today- especially since the cultural and spiritual background is almost exactly the same as ours!!
So, as we look at Acts 17 in this series we will break down some sections and see what we can learn about how to make Jesus known to a culture that really doesn’t know him! For all intents and purposes the Jesus of the Bible, who is full of truth, love, grace, and mercy, who is the “sinner’s friend”, who died and rose from the dead, and is King of kings and Lord of lords, THAT JESUS is UNKNOWN by most today!
WHY? Because the LATEST IDEA both in the church and in the culture is rarely about Jesus!
Acts 17:16-21 16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. 17 He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there. 18 He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, “What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?” Others said, “He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.” 19 Then they took him to the high council of the city. “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said. 20 “You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.” 21 (It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.)
THE LATEST IDEAS: CAN CREATE A CULTURE INDULGED IN IDOLS! (16-17) He was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city…
The Greek word here means “under idols.” Athens was under the influence of idols! What is an “idol?” According to the Bible it is anything that takes the place of God in your life. It is a “false god!” It is whatever you give ultimate worth to.
Whatever we worship we will serve! This has always been our struggle- throughout history, between true faith and idolatry.
Exodus 20:3 “You must not have any other god but me!” Actually the first two commandments deal with idolatry- not serve one or make one!
Idolatry is sin! But how do we engage a culture- people you work with every day for example, who worship and make “idols” that sin isn’t only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily then idolatry.
Instead of telling your coworkers, etc. that they are sinning because of this or that, it’s more effective with a postmodern to tell them that they are sinning because they are looking to their careers and romances to save them, to give them everything that they should be looking for in God. This idolatry leads to drivenness, addictions, severe anxiety, obsessiveness, envy of others, and resentment.
When you describe their lives in terms of idolatry, postmodern people do not offer much resistance. They doubt there is any real alternative, but they admit sheepishly that this is what they are doing. This makes sin more personal. Making an idol out of something means giving it the love you should be giving your Creator and Sustainer.
Fact is, the culture of Athens 2000 years ago and the culture of Denver today is very much the same. We are under the influence of idols, false gods that people give ultimate worth to and it’s sin. It’s primarily the idols of hedonism- the pursuit of pleasure, and humanism- man is god!
Paul was grieved by that and so should we! But we should also know how to speak to it in a way that our postmodern culture can respond by accepting Christ as their ultimate solution and Savior!
THE LATEST IDEAS: CAN BE THE PHILOSOPHIES OF PEOPLE! (18) He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers…
The Bible story in Acts 17 specifically mentions two:
The Epicureans believed that “pleasure” is the greatest good, but the way to attain such pleasure is to live modestly and to gain knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of one’s desires. This leads one to attain a state of tranquility and freedom from fear, as well as absence of bodily pain.
The Stoics taught the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason. A primary aspect of Stoicism involves improving the individual’s ethical and moral well-being: “Virtue consists in a will that is in agreement with Nature.” This principle also applies to the realm of interpersonal relationships; “to be free from anger, envy, and jealousy,” and to accept even slaves as “equals of other men, because all men alike are products of nature.”
The bottom line is these and any other philosophy that people can come up with are just that- philosophies, people’s ideas and opinions!
Because a philosophy is simply someone’s way of thinking about something! That doesn’t mean the way we think about something can be wrong. It only becomes wrong when our way of thinking IS NOT God’s way of thinking!
So, like Paul, we deal with people who just don’t think the way Jesus does and as a result their behavior isn’t much like Jesus either! While we, the church has historically focused way too much on outward or behavioral things- trying to push righteousness and holiness in from the outside in, the WAY people THINK- their “philosophy” of life is the real issue!
That’s why Paul, I’m sure approached the Athenians with a “let’s talk about why you think they way you do” and also said in Rom. 12:2 “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
In your effort and/or opportunities to engage people in conversation, even “debate” when it’s appropriate, don’t focus on the behaviors, instead discuss WHAT people believe and WHY. This is a conversation any postmodern will actually want to have!
Of course, we need to earn the right, have the credibility to have the conversation in the first place. We can, when we don’t come across as better, or holier, or more right-eous than others; but are simply responding to the INVITATION we’ve earned through “thinking” the way Jesus does and therefore “acting” the way Jesus would!
THE LATEST IDEAS: CAN HELP US MAKE THE MESSAGE KNOWN! (19-21) “Come and tell us about this new teaching…”
Along with what we just talked about in the previous point, Paul knew two things about these Athenians that we need to also know today about our postmodern culture:
People are far more spiritual than we give them credit for!
People are seeking to fill a spiritual void that makes them “open!”
YES, to just about every new idea, philosophy, opinion, conventional wisdom, spirituality that comes down the road; BUT ALSO OPEN TO THE GOSPEL!
How do you know if someone is open to the Gospel or at least a discussion about Jesus, or the Bible, or church? THEY WILL INVITE YOU TO TALK ABOUT IT!
The Athenians invited Paul to tell them about this “new teaching” and he jumped all over it. Now it’s a little unnerving when 1) You are invited (makes some of us nervous, and 2) You don’t know what you’re taking about! That’s why reading and studying your Bible, as well as practicing other disciplines of the faith are important.
So HOW DO YOU GET INVITED TO TALK ABOUT TRUE FAITH?
- Don’t be phony
- Don’t be pushy
- Don’t be petty
We must, and have the opportunity, to reintroduce Christ to our culture, to make known the one who is unknown, and to do so in a way that not merely disrupts the way people think about Jesus; but causes them to think about and see him in an entirely NEW and true way!
Let’s make people say, “Wow, this latest idea about Jesus; that the Jesus of the Bible is the Jesus I see in you and your church, let’s talk some more about!”
- Are you troubled by the “idols” of hedonism and humanism you see your city under?
- Are you responding to, reacting to, or retreating from people’s philosophical and spiritual questions?
- Are you making the Gospel message known because you’ve earned the invitations?
(c) 2013, Terry Broadwater, Grace Community Church. For personal use. All other uses contact firstname.lastname@example.org