Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
How Do You Receive the Word Part 2
What did you collect as a child? I collected a number of things, pennies, model trains, marbles, and Matchbox? cars. I would wait anxiously until my mother would drive me down to the toy store so I could drool over the latest and greatest tiny little car or truck. I used to show off my more elaborate cars to my friends and we?d compare and argue over who had the best.
In a way, the people we meet in the final section of Acts 17 are like kids collecting Matchbox cars; instead, they collect new ideas. They don?t do anything with the ideas, except put them on a shelf and admire them. For them, the gospel of Jesus Christ is just another shiny Matchbox car. This practice is pretty common, even today. Our post-Christian society is very spiritual, but spirituality has become like a collection to admire, argue over, but ultimately put back on the shelf. The idea of ultimate truth is becoming more foreign all the time. . It?s a dangerous place to be in.
We?ve been talking about how you receive the Word of God. There are three we see in this chapter. The first is when an external force or internal carnality poisons the Word. The second is eager, but discerning, acceptance, and the final is the inoculation against the word by philosophy.
Are you ever in ?off? mode as a Christian? Like a taxi driver who switches off the ?available? light on the top of his cab, sometimes we feel like we are ?off the clock? as Christians. For pastors, it?s often after church on Sunday. For you it could be when you are at work or perhaps waiting for some event or ministry to take place.
Paul has one of those ?downtimes? here in the middle of chapter 17. He is waiting in Athens for two of his partners to show up, but something happens that makes Paul spring into action?and he ends up confronting a third group of listeners to the gospel. Last time we saw those that reacted with a cultural filter and with jealousy, and then those that listened with an open ear, an eager heart, and a discerning spirit. Now he talks to the philosophers of the day, the big thinkers, and how he brings the gospel to them, and how they react, gives us information about how many people today, who think they are so intelligent, actually inoculate themselves against the gospel.
Paul didn?t seem to have any intention on sharing the gospel in Athens but when he looked around he saw and was troubled. The word means a sudden, violent emotion. He didn?t need the Spirit to speak miraculously to him here, he was becoming like God and so reacted like God would in that situation?seeing the worship of gods that are not God and people in desperate need of real salvation, not the faux salvation that comes through philosophy without God. Athens was impressive, but just having fancy buildings and fancy systems of thought doesn?t make you correct. Oddly, Athens of Paul?s day was a relatively small town of 10,000 or so, living in the past days of glory with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
17 ? 18
It?s almost like, Paul was unsettled in spirit, but didn?t really know why, so he did what he normally did, shared the gospel in the synagogue there in Athens. When that didn?t seem to satisfy the unsettledness, he just went down to the mall during the week and started discussions with anyone who happened to come along.
Some of those belonged to two groups of philosophers, the epicureans and the stoics, which represented the two major philosophical ideas of the day.
Epicureanism held that pleasure is the chief goal of life, focusing on ?tranquility free from pain, disturbing passions, superstitious fears, and anxiety about death.? They believed in ?gods? but thought they took no interest in man. You might say that the Epicureans of today would be those who say ?you only go around once in life so you?ve got to grab all the gusto you can.? Materialism and hedonism would be modern day equivalents.
Stoicism focused on living harmoniously with nature and emphasized a person?s rational abilities and individual self sufficiency. The stoic was pantheistic and thought of God as ?World-soul.? The Stoics felt that there was a great purpose in life and their job was to become part of it. Because of that they were mainly self-sufficient, ?I am the master of my fate, captain of my destiny? sort of thing. Today?s New Age followers would fall under this category.
It says in verse 18 they ?conversed? with him. The Greek used there means ?seed picker? and basically infers that Paul?s ideas were more like a bird flitting from seed to seed than their highly organized systems of philosophy.
19 ? 21
The Areopagus (means ?council of Ares?) could be thought of as a ruling council over religious and educational affairs for Athens. Their job was to decide whether to allow Paul freedom to preach in the city, or silence him.
People may seem anxious to hear the gospel, but it may only be to add one more notch to their intellectual belt, and not take it seriously at all. Their focus was on competing philosophies, not finding the truth. These people loved to discuss new ideas but did they ever do anything about them?
22 ? 23
Paul started with something familiar to them and preached the gospel from there. He didn?t use Hebrew Scriptures but talked of a creator, then a savior, and finally a judge. You can actually preach the gospel without the Bible, at least as a starting point. Paul starts with ?I perceive that in every way you are religious.? This could have been seen as a slant, but it is starting from where they agree, rather than where they disagree. Often times if we can start a conversation about the Lord on common ground we will get further.
The idea of ?the unknown god? is corroborated in archeological finds in Athens. They didn?t want to miss blessing and wanted to avoid punishment so this was sort of a ?catch all? idea.
24 ? 28
Paul?s argument, essentially, involves the nature of God and the responsibility of man to God. God is one, not many, he is Lord of heaven and earth, and does not live in man-made structures or objects. Rather, he is the source of life.
Paul deftly suggests that the search for God is actually normal and God-designed. He says their search is like ?groping? in the dark without the revelation of God?s word. They probably thought their search for God was done rationally and intelligently. Each of us does have a God-shaped hole in our hearts, a broken relationship that needs to be filled but cannot be satisfied with philosophy apart from the one true God.
Paul then quotes two poets. Verse 28 comes from Epimenides of Crete (also quoted in Titus 1:2), and the latter half comes from Arasus?s poem ?Phainomena.?
Paul was exposing three false Greek ideas, that God is unknowable, that God lived in man-made temples, and that God was not involved in human affairs.
29 ? 31
An idol doesn?t have to made of stone, wood, or gold to be in idol. An idol is anything we rely on other than God. Paul asserts the concept of a progress unfolding of redemption, and that the climax of that is Jesus Christ, whom he does not name by name in the speech.
We are God?s ?offspring? but that shouldn?t lead us to make ?images? of stone, wood, or gold. All that, done in ignorance, should be put away now that Jesus has come. People have many ideas about God, they fashion God in their own image. God was patient with human?s silly attempts to describe, relate, and even control God in the past. He is more interested in redemption than judgment. Now that Jesus has come there are no more excuses. The truth is Jesus.
The Greeks had no concept of judgment, nor of resurrection. The resurrection, in fact, was folly to Epicurians.
32 ? 34
The reaction came in three ways: 1) outright rejection 2) string along 3) acceptance. As a testament to how much competing philosophies had inoculated them against the gospel, only a few receive Paul?s words. He also apparently failed to gain approval to teach the gospel in Athens. Was it a failure? Preaching the gospel is never a failure.
1)????? We preach, God determines the fruit 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 I planted, Apollos watered,? but God gave the growth.
2)????? We declare the Word, God determines where it goes and what happens
Isaiah 55:11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but? it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
The main problems with philosophy:
All truths are equal
Any pursuit of truth will lead to God
How do you reach a spiritual person who has been inoculated against the gospel?
Find them where they are, what hasn?t been inoculated, and start from there.
You can morph the style and the medium, but the gospel message stays the same.
Just because a system of thought seems logical, rational, and intelligent to you doesn?t make it right. Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but? its end is the way to death. What matters is efficacy?something that works. The true reality is God is real, He has made Himself known to us through the Hebrew scriptures. He appointed Jesus to make a way to bring us back into fellowship with God and when we refuse that way we refuse the only way.