Acts, Chapter 17
Once again in a new city, Paul heads straight for the synagogue, where he knew he would find an audience of Jews familiar with Scripture. Using Old Testament prophecy, he convinced some Jews and even more Greeks that Jesus is the Messiah.
Some Jews felt threatened by what Paul was teaching, and so stirred up a controversy that resulted in Paul and Silas leaving the city by night. Next, at Berea, Paul went to the synagogue again and found an audience receptive to what he had to say.
The author, Luke, compliments the Bereans for being both receptive (or we might say "open-minded") to Paul's words, while also using Scripture to verify what he taught. In the same way, we should be open to hearing and processing new ideas, even if they conflict with our own. Isolating ourselves from new ideas will stunt our growth in both character and knowledge. However, like the Bereans, we need to compare any concepts or philosophies we learn to Scripture. Any idea that conflicts with something in the Bible is not an idea from God and should not be applied to our lives or become part of our personal philosphy.
Soon, the Jews from Thessalonica heard that Paul and his companions were in Berea. They couldn't resist following him and causing more trouble, and so Paul soon found himself in Athens.
Like our world today, Athens had a wide variety of religious beliefs. But this concerned Paul because he knew that none of them would lead to the restored relationship we need with God that only Jesus can provide. Paul began to reason with people in both religious and non-religious environments. The philosophers and thinkers of Athens found Paul interesting and so brought him before the Areopagus, a council considered to have authority in the realm of morality and consideration of new religions or gods.
In Athens, there were at least two major philosophies. The first mentioned is Epicurean philosophy. They believed that God was uninvolved in the universe and irrelevant. Their life goal was pleasure and the avoidance of pain or emotional disturbance. The second philosophical group mentioned is the Stoics. They opposed pleasure and believed that God is contained in nature, rather than being truly omni-present.
With this in mind, take another look at verses 22-23. In Athens, we see a reflection of modern day America in several respects. Or at least an America that people seem to hope for. There is a common desire to be "open to all religions", without recognition of their irreconcilable differences. In response, Paul first compliments their spirituality, and then highlights the aspects of Christ's character that differ from the religions and philosophies the Athenians currently followed.
One of these characteristics is God's absolute independence from humans.(Verse 25) God doesn't need us to worship him in order to exist or thrive. Our belief in him does not make him, our lack of belief does not unmake him.
In verse 28, Paul uses an interesting tactic. He quotes poetry from Greek and Cretan poets that his audience would have been familiar with. These poets undoubtedly had spiritual views that contradicted Biblical truth, but Paul isolated ideas from their work that lined up with the truth and used them to make a connection with his listeners.
While we shouldn't use this as an excuse to watch or do whatever we want, we can follow Paul's example and be aware of truth when it appears, however briefly, in movies, music, video games, comics, books and other forms of entertainmant. You never know when a conversation about something you and a buddy love might turn into something more meaningful.
Likewise, using pop-culture comparisons to describe Biblical truth can be a great way to help someone visualize a concept. It's important to know when the comparison has to end, but popular media can be a great tool for discussing the real issues of life and the nature of God.
Lastly, take a look at verses 29-31. God is not willing to share credit with fictional gods and dreamed-up philosophies. God is not willing to be one god among many, so "openness to all religions" is not something he values. Regardless of upbringing or culture, God wants everyone everywhere to drop everything that pulls them away from him. And the time will come when God will hold everyone accountable for their actions and their relationship (or lack of one) with Jesus.
"But how can I know that the Bible is telling the truth?" God actually presents his case by raising Jesus from the dead. A radical claim unmatched by any other religious founder. In verse 31, God says, through Paul, that this is the proof for everyone that Jesus is the real deal. Christianity hangs on whether or not Jesus really did come back from death. For a stimulating look at this issue, we'd recommend:
The Case For Christ, by Lee Strobel
Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Vol.1, by Josh McDowell
Both of these books take a hard, logical look at the historical evidence for Christ's resurrection, extensively citing their sources along the way. Either one is a great place to start an examination of this controversial event.
Next Week: Searching For Truth In "Spirit Blade: Chapter 4"! Coffee House Question What movie, comic, tv show, game, or book can you think of that has elements of Biblical truth or contains ideas or events that are paralleled in the Bible? What are they?
Next Week: Searching For Truth In "Spirit Blade: Chapter 4"!
Coffee House Question
What movie, comic, tv show, game, or book can you think of that has elements of Biblical truth or contains ideas or events that are paralleled in the Bible? What are they?