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How to Live in a Mars Hill World

Posted on January 14, 2018

+How to Live in a Mars Hill World

Acts 17: 16 – 21

Scripture Reading:

Acts 17:16 – 21

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

Introduction: The lightening fast change in our culture

  • Issues before us
    • Artificial Intelligence
    • What constitutes / defines what a human being is and who decides if a human being is still viable?
      • Cognitive thinking
      • Life at conception or at cognitive thinking
      • At stake is euthanasia, physician assisted suicide, infanticide
      • Overpopulation and medical costs – logical if we are just animals
  • Threat of nuclear war
  • Gender issues
  • What constitutes a marriage / family? Whom should we be allowed to marry?
  • Morality / Rule of law is up for grabs if there is no absolute truth

Illustration: White – Informed Civility Privilege – UNI professor

“Their thesis can be a tad hard to follow, unfolding as it does in that dense argot for which academia is universally beloved. But their core contention is twofold: One, that civility, as currently practiced in America, is a white construct. Two, that in a campus setting, the “woke” white student’s endeavor to avoid microaggressions against black peers is itself a microaggression—a form of noblesse oblige whereby white students are in fact patronizing students of color. Not only that, but by treating black students with common courtesy and expecting the same in return, white students elide black grievances, bypassing the “race talk” that is supposed to occur in preamble to all other conversations. Got it?

Something similar is happening in collegiate debate, where historically high standards of decorum are under siege as manifestations of white patriarchal thinking. So are the factual and logical proofs that debaters are normally expected to offer in arguing their case. Some participants are challenging the format, goals and ground rules of debate itself, in some cases refusing even to stick to the topic at hand.”

Increasingly at major competitions, there must be a pre-debate debate on the terms of engagement: whether students are required to cite proof or are free to argue wholly from their feelings and so-called lived experience. Far from being banned or even maligned by debate judges, such antics increasingly win converts and, not coincidentally, matches.

Finally, there’s a recognition in the academic space that the way argument has taken place in the past privileges certain types of people over others,” Joe Leeson Schatz, director of speech and debate at Binghamton University, told the Atlantic. “Arguments don’t necessarily have to be backed up by professors or written papers. They can come from lived experience.” - Steve Salerno – January 2nd, 2018– Wall Street Journal

Our response to life in an amoral, relative truth, illogical society

#1 Become a monk – Isolation – Lock ourselves away from the world

#2 Compromise – Story of Lot and Lot’s wife becoming a pillar of salt

#3 Be in the world but not influenced by the world

  • Engage the world where it is. Stand your ground in a loving manner
  • Understand what you are up against. Become a student of the culture
  • Be a missionary and not a mission’s field. Be a leader and not a follower.
    • For some of us that is against our temperament.
    • Dare to be a Daniel – quiet / or a John the Baptist
  • We are to be there to pick up the pieces because the end game of the secular culture mindset is that there is no hope
  • As Christians, we can share reason for the hope that is in us.

1 Peter 3:15

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect

  • We must develop this attitude as stated by Os Guinness in his book “Impossible People.”

“We must develop a whole generation of Christians who are ticked off enough, upset enough at the culture, but be willing to engage a self-conflicted culture in order to proclaim the truth of the Gospel despite the responses we might receive.” Os Guinness – Impossible People

Purpose: Every Christ follower must be willing to stand in the gap in with the truth of God’s Word in our culture knowing they will face persecution.

Transition: The Apostle Paul on one of his missionary trips found himself in a culture that was self-absorbed, conflicted and ever searching for truth. We turn to one of the greatest engagements of the secular world in the book of Acts, chapter 17, that scripture records. Turn in your Bibles if you are not already there to Acts 17:16

Paul was provoked in his human spirit – Acts 17:16; Hebrews 3:10; Matthew 16:7-9; Ecclesiastes 7:10

Acts 17:16

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols

Background

  • The glory of Greece in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. was fading in Paul’s day and even Athens, the proud center of Hellenism, was past its bloom. Even so, it was still a vital cultural center with a world-famous university. Many of its famous buildings were built during the days of its leader Pericles (461–429 B.C.). Beautiful as were the architecture and art forms, Paul could not enjoy them because he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. The art of Athens was a reflection of its worship. The intellectual capital of the world was producing idolatry. - Toussaint, S. D. (1985). Acts. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 402). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  • They loved studying different philosophies trying and vying for something “new” to follow
  • “The Greek religion was a mere deification of human attributes and the powers of nature,” wrote Conybeare and Howson in their classic Life and Epistles of St. Paul. “It was a religion which ministered to art and amusement, and was entirely destitute of moral power” (pp. 280–281). The Greek myths spoke of gods and goddesses that, in their own rivalries and ambitions, acted more like humans than gods; and there were plenty of deities to choose from! One wit jested that in Athens it was easier to find a god than a man. Paul saw that the city was “wholly given to idolatry,” and it broke his heart.[1]
  • With all of their culture and wisdom, the Greeks did not know the true God [2]
  • As for novelty, it was the chief pursuit of both the citizens and the visitors (Acts 17:21). Their leisure time was spent telling or hearing “some new thing.” Eric Hoffer wrote that “the fear of becoming a ‘has been’ keeps some people from becoming anything.”[3]
  • It was into this culture that Paul entered in Acts 17:16-34
    • Paul knew this culture. He was aware as he looked around and studied their society and philosophies.
    • He was provoked in His Spirit. The word literally means that Paul was incensed with anger as he looked around. This culture was what the Corinthian church was born out of and he was seeing the root of the worldly influences that had infiltrated that church.
    • We are not going back in time. Here in America, we have been unusually blessed for 241 years, unlike any other country in the world but now it is all changing.

Ecclesiastes 7:10

Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.

Application: How concerned are we of the cultural shifts in our society?

Transition: We need to be aware of the culture shifts and not stick our heads in the sand but have biblical answers to these moral challenging dilemmas. One example is that we as Christians need to have someone or a group of people preparing Christian ethics as artificial intelligence rolls out. How can we control our kids screens from bad things, etc. You see the problem? Someone defines these things and if Christians do not prepare and respond, the world will beat us at our game. Second, Paul responds by being;

Paul was willing to engage the culture – Acts 17:17; John 17: 8-11

Acts 17:17

17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.

  • Paul did what he always did when he went to a new town or village, he reached out to the Jewish people first at their synagogue. He used the OT scriptures to build His case for Christ being the Messiah
  • He reached out to the devout or “God fearers” as the secular culture called these people
  • But then Paul goes to the marketplace out into the secular and idolatrous culture to engage them, attempting to find common ground in order to use their terminology to share the Gospel.
    • Jesus did this so well in the Gospels when He used common everyday things to give those He was teaching a picture of the kingdom of God.
    • Paul is intentionally relating to all phases of their culture
      • Religious
      • Political
      • Marketplace
  • Alistair McGrath, preacher – use of Apologetics
    • One, to counter the objections of the culture
    • Two, to show the attractiveness of the Gospel even in the midst of divergent ideas
    • Notice a very important thing underlying this part of the story, Paul went to where the people were to engage them with the Gospel.
    • You and I have to go out to where people live, work and do their leisure activities.
    • The days of opening the church doors and trying to draw people in with great speakers and singers is long over.

Application: Are we willing to take the Gospel out to those who will never come to our church?

Transition: At first Paul is provoked in his spirit at what he sees, how bad the culture is, and then he begins to engage the culture of people around him, then;

Paul assessed his audience and found a culture in conflict – Acts 17:18-21; Matthew 23:37

Acts 17:18-21

18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?”

  • Paul had to confront two opposing philosophies as he witnessed in Athens, those of the Epicureans and the Stoics. We today associate the word Epicurean with the pursuit of pleasure and the love of “fine living,” especially fine food. But the Epicurean philosophy involved much more than that. In one sense, the founder Epicurus was an “existentialist” in that he sought truth by means of personal experience and not through reasoning. The Epicureans were materialists and atheists, and their goal in life was pleasure. To some, “pleasure” meant that which was grossly physical; but to others, it meant a life of refined serenity, free from pain and anxiety. The true Epicurean avoided extremes and sought to enjoy life by keeping things in balance, but pleasure was still his number one goal.
  • The Stoics rejected the idolatry of pagan worship and taught that there was one “World God.” They were pantheists, and their emphasis was on personal discipline and self-control. Pleasure was not good and pain was not evil. The most important thing in life was to follow one’s reason and be self-sufficient, unmoved by inner feelings or outward circumstances. Of course, such a philosophy only fanned the flames of pride and taught men that they did not need the help of God. It is interesting that the first two leaders of the Stoic school committed suicide.
  • The Epicureans said “Enjoy life!” (Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die), and the Stoics said “Endure life!” but it remained for Paul to explain how they could enter into life through faith in God’s risen Son.[4]
  • America has been called by someone “the belief bread basket of the world.”

The Self- Conflicted Culture of Today

 

 
   

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Welcome to the first century!!
  • Jesus Christ was birthed and Christianity began to flourish in the first century
  • Jesus Christ was birthed and Christianity can flourish in the 21st century
  • The cultures are identical!!
  • Look now at verse 18 of Acts 17
    • Paul set up talks or classes in the marketplace and the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers came to hear him.
    • Conversed / to toss ideas back and forth. This is different than what Paul did in the synagogues when he reasoned or preached a sermon or taught.
    • Aristotle style of debate – Q & A – deduce to a concluding idea
    • In this verse they accused Paul of being a babbler or a “nitpicker”. He was too narrow in his thoughts.
    • It described someone who, like a bird picking up seeds, took some learning here and some there and then passed it off as his own.
    • This was a derogatory comment. They did not think much of Paul’s reasoning.

Acts 17:18

Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.

  • The word “preaching” here means literally he preached the Gospel. He did not water down the message in the secular marketplace. He preached it just like he did in Berea and in Corinth.
  • They were unable to grasp Paul’s teaching because it was so new and different for them.

Acts 17:19 – 21

19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

  • Literally, “Hill of Ares,” was the meeting place of the Council of the Areopagus, the supreme body for judicial and legislative matters in Athens. In the Apostolic Age its power had been reduced to oversight over religion and education. They were interested in what Paul had been saying in the public marketplace and now they were inviting him to the high seat of where the philosophers gathered- Toussaint, S. D. (1985). Acts. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 403). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  • The fact that in Athens, the philosophers loved to come and debate new ideas gave Paul an open door to find common ground and share the Gospel. Paul prayed for and longed-for God to open doors so he could preach Christ crucified and resurrected from the dead

I Corinthians 16:8-9

But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

  • We can be proud of Paul because he took time in verse 18 to study the culture around him and then with God’s grace and Spirit devised ways to engage the culture among some who were curious and others who would oppose him without compromise.
  • How do you and I do that?? Come back next week as we finish out this text and see how God used the Word of God, their common philosophies of the day and their reasoning to show them that the Gospel and resurrected Christ are so far superior to the teachings and philosophies they study and live by in the present.
  • The question we close with today is this

Application: Are you a student of the culture and do you have compassion for those who are following false gods and ideas?

Key Thought: The Gospel is a viable truth in the common ground of ideas

Romans 1:16

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

  • Paul was sharing the certainty of the Gospel with a group of people who were searching for absolute truth but had been looking in all the wrong places. They did not have the certainty of Christ as their Savior.

Illustration: Fleming Rutledge writes: “Sin is a category without meaning except in reference to God.”

A Calvin and Hobbes comic strip illustrates this in an endearing way. Calvin, a little boy, is hurtling down a snowy slope on a sled with his friend Hobbes, a tiger, conducting a discussion about sin (the wildly improbable nature of this scene is part of its charm). Here is the dialogue:

Calvin: I'm getting nervous about Christmas.

Hobbes: You're worried you haven't been good?

Calvin: That's just the question. It's all relative. What's Santa's definition? How good do you have to be to qualify as good? I haven't killed anybody. That's good, right? I haven't committed any felonies. I didn't start any wars. … Wouldn't you say that's pretty good? Wouldn't you say I should get lots of presents?

Hobbes: But maybe good is more than the absence of bad.

Calvin: See, that's what worries me.

Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (Eerdmans, 2017), page 179

May you and I help people to understand their sin and their need for a Savior in a culture that is lacking purpose and hope in so many ways.

Let’s Pray

Three Questions to Ponder this Week

  1.     How are doing being in the world but not compromising and becoming like the world?
  2.    Are you willing to engage the culture with the truth of the Gospel and God’s Word?
  3.    Are you discerning of the culture around you to avoid being polluted by it and preventing your family from being polluted from it?


[1] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 471). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 472). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 472). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[4] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 472). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.