IBS Seminar 14: Acts 16-17: Interfaith Dialogue

Objective: To show how the Gospel reached Europe and how the Church witnessed to those of other faiths.

1. A New Helper : Acts 16:1-5
Paul and Silas approached their destination from the east, so they came first to Derbe and then to Lystra, just the reverse of the first journey (Acts 14:6-20). The preachers went from church to church, delivering the decrees and helping establish the believers in the faith. The result was fruit from the witness of the believers so that the churches increased in number daily (see Acts 2:47). It was certainly a most successful tour, but I wonder if any of the believers asked about Barnabas? And what did Paul tell them?

Perhaps the best thing that happened at Lystra was the enlistment of Timothy to replace John Mark as Paul's special assistant. Timothy was probably converted through Paul's ministry when the apostle first visited Lystra, for Paul called him "my beloved son" (1 Cor. 4:17) and "my own son in the faith" (1 Tim. 1:2). Timothy's mother and grandmother had prepared the way for his decision by being the first in the family to trust Christ (2 Tim. 1:5). Young Timothy undoubtedly witnessed Paul's sufferings in Lystra (Acts 14:19-20; 2 Tim. 3:10-11) and was drawn by the Lord to the apostle. Timothy was Paul's favourite companion and co-worker (Phil. 2:19-23), perhaps the son Paul never had. Because he had a good report from the churches (1 Tim. 3:7), Timothy was ordained by Paul and added to his "team" (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6). Paul's next step was to have Timothy circumcised, an action that seems to contradict the decision of the Jerusalem Conference. However, there was an important spiritual principle behind Paul's decision. The decision at the Jerusalem Conference was that it was not necessary to be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul did not allow Titus to be circumcised lest the enemy think he was promoting their cause (Gal. 2:1-5). The battle in Jerusalem was over the truth of the Gospel, not over the fitness of a man to serve. Paul's concern with Timothy was not his salvation but his fitness for service.

Timothy would be working with both Jews and Gentiles in the churches, and it was essential that he not offend them. That was why Paul had Timothy circumcised (see 1 Cor. 9:19-23). Again, it was not a matter of Timothy's salvation or personal character, but rather of avoiding serious problems that would surely become stumbling blocks as the men sought to serve the Lord (Rom. 14:13-15). It is a wise spiritual leader who knows how and when to apply the principles of the Word of God, when to stand firm and when to yield.

In the years that followed, Timothy played an important part in the expansion and strengthening of the churches. He traveled with Paul and was often his special ambassador to the "trouble spots" in the work, such as Corinth. He became shepherd of the church in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3) and probably joined Paul in Rome shortly before the apostle was martyred (2 Tim. 4:21). A New helper.

2. A New Vision : Acts 16:6-40
In this section, we see three wonderful "openings."

2.1 God opened the way Acts 16:6-12
After visiting the churches he had founded, Paul tried to enter new territory for the Lord by traveling east into Asia Minor and Bythinia, but the Lord closed the door. We don't know how God revealed His will in this matter, but we can well imagine that Paul was disappointed and perhaps a bit discouraged. Everything had been going so smoothly on this second journey that these closed doors must have come as a great surprise. However, it is comforting to know that even apostles were not always clear as to God's will for their ministries! God planned for the message to get there another time (Acts 18:19-19:41; see 1 Peter 1:1).
In His sovereign grace, God led Paul west into Europe, not east into Asia. It is interesting to speculate how world history might have been changed had Paul been sent to Asia instead of to Europe. At Troas, Paul was called to Macedonia by a man whom he saw in a night vision. "Nothing makes a man strong like a call for help," wrote George MacDonald, and Paul was quick to respond to the vision (compare Acts 26:19).
Note the pronoun we in Acts 16:10, for Dr. Luke, who wrote the Book of Acts, joined Paul and his party at Troas. There are three "we sections" in Acts: 16:10-17; 20:5-15; and 27:1-28:16. Luke changed from "we" to "they" in Acts 17:1, which suggests that he may have remained in Philippi to pastor the church after Paul left. The next "we section" begins in Acts 20:5 in connection with Paul's trip from Macedonia. Luke devoted a good deal of space to Paul's ministry in Philippi, so perhaps he was a resident of that city. Some students think Luke may have been the man Paul saw in the vision.
From Troas to Neapolis, the port of Philippi was a distance of about 150 miles, and it took them two days to make the journey. Later, the trip in the opposite direction would take five days, apparently because of contrary winds (Acts 20:6). Philippi lay ten miles inland from Neapolis, and the way Luke described the city would suggest that he was indeed one of its proudest citizens.

Philippi was a Roman colony, which meant that it was a "Rome away from Rome." The emperor organized "colonies" by ordering Roman citizens, especially retired military people, to live in selected places so there would be strong pro-Roman cities in these strategic areas. Though living on foreign soil, the citizens were expected to be loyal to Rome, to obey the laws of Rome, and to give honor to the Roman emperor. In return, they were given certain political privileges, not the least of which was exemption from taxes. This was their reward for leaving their homes in Italy and relocating elsewhere.

2.2 God opened Lydia's heart Acts 16:13-15
Paul and his friends did not plunge immediately into evangelizing the city, even though they knew God had called them there. No doubt they needed to rest and pray and make their plans together. It is not enough to know where God wants us to work; we must also know when and how He wants us to work. The Jewish population in Philippi must have been very small since there was no synagogue there, only a place of prayer by the river outside the city. (It required ten men for the founding of a synagogue.) Paul had seen a man in the vision at Troas, but here he was ministering to a group of women! "It is better that the words of the Law be burned than be delivered to a woman!" said the rabbis; but that was no longer Paul's philosophy. He had been obedient and the Lord had gone before to prepare the way.
Lydia was a successful businesswoman from Thyatira, a city renowned for its purple dye. She probably was in charge of a branch office of her guild in Philippi. God brought her all the way to Greece so that she might hear the Gospel and be converted. She was "a worshiper of God," a Gentile who was not a full Jewish proselyte but who openly worshiped with the Jews. She was seeking truth.

Paul shared the Word ("spoken" in Acts 16:14 means personal conversation, not preaching), God opened her heart to the truth, and she believed and was saved. She boldly identified herself with Christ by being baptized, and she insisted that the missionaries stay at her house. All of her household had been converted, so this was a good opportunity for Paul and his associates to teach them the Word and establish a local church. (We will deal with "household salvation" when we get to Acts 16:31.)

We must not conclude that because God opened Lydia's heart, Lydia's part in her conversion was entirely passive. She listened attentively to the Word, and it is the Word that brings the sinner to the Saviour (John 5:24). The same God who ordained the end, Lydia's salvation, also ordained the means to the end, Paul's witness of Jesus Christ. This is a beautiful illustration of 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14.

2.3 God opened the prison doors Acts 16:16-40
No sooner are lost people saved than Satan begins to hinder the work. In this case, he used a demonized girl who had made her masters wealthy by telling fortunes. As Paul and his "team" went regularly to the place of prayer, still witnessing to the lost, this girl repeatedly shouted after them, "These men are the servants of the Most High God, who show us the way of salvation!" Paul did not want either the Gospel or the name of God to be "promoted" by one of Satan's slaves, so he cast out the demon. After all, Satan may speak the truth one minute and the next minute tell a lie; and the unsaved would not know the difference. The owners had no concern for the girl; they were interested only in the income she provided, and now that income was gone. (The conflict between money and ministry appears often in Acts: 5:1-11; 8:18-24; 19:23ff; 20:33-34.) Their only recourse was the Roman law, and they thought they had a pretty good case because the missionaries were Jewish and were propagating a religion not approved by Rome. Moved by both religious and racial prejudices, the magistrates acted rashly and did not investigate the matter fully. This neglect on their part later brought them embarrassment. Why didn't Paul and Silas plead their Roman citizenship? (see Acts 22:25-29; 25:11-12) Perhaps there was not time, or perhaps Paul was saving that weapon for better use later on. He and Silas were stripped and beaten (see 2 Cor. 11:23, 25) and put in the city prison. It looked like the end of their witness in Philippi, but God had other plans.

Instead of complaining or calling on God to judge their enemies, the two men prayed and praised God. When you are in pain, the midnight hour is not the easiest time for a sacred concert, but God gives "songs in the night" (Job 35:10; also see Ps. 42:8). "Any fool can sing in the day," said Charles Haddon Spurgeon. "It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is he who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by. . . . Songs in the night come only from God; they are not in the power of men."

Prayer and praise are powerful weapons (2 Chron. 20:1-22; Acts 4:23-37). God responded by shaking the foundations of the prison, opening all the doors, and loosening the prisoners' bonds. They could have fled to freedom, but instead they remained right where they were. For one thing, Paul immediately took command; and, no doubt, the fear of God was on these pagan men. The prisoners must have realized that there was something very special about those two Jewish preachers! Paul's attention was fixed on the jailer, the man he really wanted to win to Christ. It was a Roman law that if a guard lost a prisoner, he was given the same punishment the prisoner would have received; so there must have been some men in the prison who had committed capital crimes. The jailer would rather commit suicide than face shame and execution. A hard-hearted person seeking vengeance would have let the cruel jailer kill himself, but Paul was not that kind of a man (see Matt. 5:10-12, 43-48). It was the jailer who was the prisoner, not Paul; and Paul not only saved the man's life, but pointed him to eternal life in Christ.
"What must I do to be saved?" is the cry of lost people worldwide, and we had better be able to give them the right answer. The legalists in the church would have replied, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1, nkjv). But Paul knew the right answer—faith in Jesus Christ. In the Book of Acts, the emphasis is on faith in Jesus Christ alone (Acts 2:38-39; 4:12; 8:12, 37; 10:10-43; 13:38-39).

It is touching to see the change in the attitude of the jailer as he washed the wounds of these two prisoners who were now his brothers in Christ. One of the evidences of true repentance is a loving desire to make restitution and reparation wherever we have hurt others. We should not only wash one another's feet (John 13:14-15), but we should also cleanse the wounds we have given to others.

The city officials knew that they had no convincing case against Paul and Silas, so they sent word to the jailer to release them. Paul, however, was unwilling to "sneak out of town," for that kind of exit would have left the new church under a cloud of suspicion. People would have asked, "Who were those men? Were they guilty of some crime? Why did they leave so quickly? What do their followers believe?" Paul and his associates wanted to leave behind a strong witness of their own integrity as well as a good testimony for the infant church in Philippi.

It was then that Paul made use of his Roman citizenship and boldly challenged the officials on the legality of their treatment. This was not personal revenge but a desire to give protection and respect for the church. While the record does not say that the magistrates officially and publicly apologized, it does state that they respectfully came to Paul and Silas, escorted them out of the prison, and politely asked them to leave town. Paul and Silas remained in Philippi long enough to visit the new believers and encourage them in the Lord.

As we review this chapter, you can see that the work of the Lord progresses through difficulties and challenges. Sometimes the workers have problems with each other, and sometimes the problems come from the outside. Not every sinner comes to Christ in exactly the same manner. Timothy was saved partly through the influence of a godly mother and grandmother. Lydia was converted through a quiet conversation with Paul at a Jewish prayer meeting, while the jailer's conversion was dramatic. One minute he was a potential suicide, and the next minute he was a child of God! Different people with different experiences, and yet all of them changed by the grace of God. Others just like them are waiting to be told God's simple plan of salvation. Will you help them hear? In your own witness for Christ, will you be daring?

Acts 17:1-9 Thessalonica:  Resisting the Word
In the last Seminar we began to retrace the steps of Paul and Silas on their Second Missionary Journey. We picked up the story in Acts 15 were we found Paul and Barnabas agreeing to revisit the Galatian churches. They disagreed over the reliability of John Mark, and split up. Barnabas the pastor with a gift for reconditioning failures took Mark on holiday to Cyprus. Chapter 16 began with Paul and Silas travelling to Derbe and Lystra, where they picked up Timothy. They revisited the churches in Galatia. Then Paul decided it was time to move on.

William Barclay writes about what happened next,
"For anyone who can read between the lines the story of Paul's coming to Macedonia is one of the most dramatic stories in the Book of Acts. Luke with supreme economy of words, tells it in Acts 16:6-10. Short as that narrative is, it gives the inescapable impression of a chain of circumstances culminating in one supreme event. Paul had arrived at the Hellespont. To the left there lay the teeming province of Asia; to the right there stretched the great province of Bithynia; but the Holy Spirit would allow him to enter neither of them. There was something driving him relentlessly on to the Aegean Sea. So he came to Alexandrian Troas, still uncertain where he ought to go. Then came his vision of a man calling "Come over to Macedonia and help us". There began the evangelisation of Europe. Macedonia was the kingdom of Alexander the Great, who had conquered the world, and wept because there were no more worlds to conquer. Alexander had been more than a military genius, he had been more a missionary dreaming of one world dominated and enlightened by Greek culture. He believed he had been sent by God to unite, to pacify and to reconcile the whole world, to marry East and West, he had dreamed of an empire where there was neither Greek nor Jew, Barbarian or Scythian, bond or free. Such a vision can only have fired Paul as he sailed for Europe with the supernatural answer. The whole territory, the place names, the very air they breathed was saturated with memories of this man Alexander who had attempted to do by force what Paul's Lord Jesus was accomplishing by the Holy Spirit transforming peoples hearts and minds."

Luke joined them at this point. From 16:11 Luke writes as an eyewitness to the events. They caught a boat to Neapolis, journeyed to Philippi where Paul exasperated by the continual interruptions to his preaching, delivered a girl fortune teller from an evil spirit, and was thrown in prison by her ungrateful owner. The Apostolic band is freed by a miraculously timed earthquake that brings their jailer and his family to Christ. They took time for some "follow up" bible studies with the young Philippian Church meeting at Lydias house, then they are off again heading for Thessalonica. Thessalonica was a key city within Paul's strategy. Roland Allen in his great work "Missionary Method's St Paul's or Ours?" says, "It seems to be a rule which may be unhesitatingly accepted that St Paul struck at the centres of Roman administration, the centres of Hellenic civilisation, the centres of Jewish influence, the keys of the great trade routes."

Thessalonica was a good example. It was the capital of Macedonia rivalling even Constantinople as the centre of the known world. It had one of the worlds greatest dockyards. Its population at this time was around 200.000. It was not a colony like Troas or Philippi but a free city. Therefore there were no Roman troops stationed or occupying it. Thessalonica had its own popular assembly and magistrates. But the supreme importance of Thessalonica was that it lay on the M1 of the ancient world the Via Egnatia, the Egnatian Road which stretched from Dyrrachium on the Adriatic to Constatinople on the Bosphorus and then away to Asia Minor. The main street in Thessalonica actually formed part of that main road linking Rome with Asia. East and West converged on Thessalonica. It was said to be "in the lap of the Roman Empire", with trade and commerce expanding her balance of trade surplus.

It was wealthy, and prosperous but morally degenerate, apart from its Jewish minority it was totally pagan. The story of their ministry in Thessalonica covers just a three week period. Yet it is one of immense significance. Its impossible to over stress the importance of the arrival of Christianity in Thessalonica, for strategically it guaranteed the spread of the gospel both East and West. It was a crucial day in making Christianity into a world faith. "Apostolic Ministry" is the in thing at the moment. It has dramatic exciting connotations. I believe if we look closely the example of apostolic ministry in this passage is far more genuine, far more penetrating and relevant, and realistic than many we are offered today.

3.1 The Gospel Proclaimed 17:1-3

3.1.1 Paul's Method 17:2
In spite of having suffered and been insulted in Philippi, Paul and Silas received strength from God to presevere at Thessalonica too. Calvin speaks admiringly of Paul's "unconquerable mental courage and indefatigable endurance in the cross." Paul had a strategy. "As was his custom..."

Synagogue - He went to the people most receptive, most responsive.
- He went when they would be most open. And he went repeatedly.
Scriptures - He began with what they had in common. He began with their Scriptures. It was not what we would today call "power evangelism". Heal and let them ask questions later. The deliverence of the slave girl at Philippi in the previous chapter was occurred because she had repeatedly interrupted his preaching. Nor do we find here a model for "friendship evangelism."

Paul didn't decide to get stuck into the local community for a few years to give him credibility. What we have here is proclamation evangelism. Notice the words used to describe Paul's approach. He "reasoned"; he "explained"; he "proved"; he "proclaimed". This assumes several things about Paul's understanding of evangelism that we would do well to emulate.

Familiarity with the Scriptures: He knew them.
Reverence for the Scriptures: He relied on them.
Competence with the Scriptures: He knew how to use them.
Paul's method. Familiar, reverent, competent with the Scriptures.

3.1.2 Paul's Message Acts 17:2-3 Its Divine Authority 17:2-3
The Gospel is rooted in the Word of God not the traditions of men. The Old Testament Scriptures were Paul's authority for His claims about Jesus. Its Direct Argument 17:3
Paul was engaged in proclaiming Jesus. The Messiah had come!. This was the long awaited good news!. No doubt he told them the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, his life and ministry, his death and resurrection, his exultation, his present reign and future return, his offer of salvation and warning of judgement. The word in verse 3 "prove" = to lay beside. It probably refers to Paul's approach of setting the predictions in the OT Scriptures of the Messiah along side the fulfilment in Jesus. He would have given them,
Proof from the OT that the Messiah must suffer and die.
Proof from the OT that the Messiah would also rise again.
Proof that the historical person of Jesus fulfilled the prophecies.
The Messiah had to die and rise again. This had been no accident, no mistake. Paul explained from the Old Testament that this had been not only foreseen but predicted and explained. Its Distinct Appeal 17:3
Its hard for us to grasp how significant this message was of the long awaited Saviour. Their Messiah had come. Jesus was the Messiah. The Gospel Proclaimed.

3.2 The Gospel Received Acts 17:4
3.2.1 Its Wide Influence
All kinds of people responded regardless of nationality, class or sex. The Gospel is always universal and unconditional to all.

3.2.2 Its Immediate Power
A large number were persuaded by their arguments from Scripture. Revival broke out as the word was proclaimed. We have been told that a revival is supposed to have begun in Britain last month. Thessalonica makes a good pattern for what is necessary.

3.2.3 Its Abiding Result
Within weeks these young Christians willingly identified with the Apostles and suffered hostility. The Gospel Proclaimed, the Gospel Received, and

3.3 The Gospel Prohibited Acts 17:5-9
The preaching of the Gospel caused a riot. As so often happens success in witnessing arouses hostility. In Thessalonica the mob took it out on the new converts, and singled out Jason who had welcomed Paul and the other evangelists. Why does Luke take longer telling us about the opposition than he does of the conversions? Because he wants to prepare the Church for persecution which is inevitable, as the gospel penetrates the dominion of darkness.

3.3.1 The Cause of the Hostility 17:5
Jealousy and resentment. Satan was losing his grip, the unbelieving Jews were losing their proselytes.

3.3.2 The Charge behind the Hostility 17:6-7
How does this fit with our image in the local community. Are we making enough waves? At Thessalonica the Christians were regarded as:-
Notorious : "men who've caused trouble all over the world"
Divisive : "Jason has welcomed them into his house"
Seditious : "defying Caesars decrees... there is another Caesar" This was a very damaging accusation to be made in a free city, for the condoning of treason might lead to the loss of her privileges as a free trade zone. Such a charge would often proved fatal for the accused too... Advocating another Caesar was far more serious than the rumours circulating Conservative circles about a stalking horse or serious rival appearing in the leadership elections.

This charge against the Christians must be seen in the context of widespread unrest in the Jewish communities throughout the Empire. Jewish freedom fighters were very active in Judea and their militant Messianism could easily be confused by the authorities with the claims made for Jesus the Messiah. It was this kind of controversy in Rome which had led Claudius to expel all the Jews from the capital as mentioned in Acts 18:2. The cause, the charge,

3.3.3 The Consequences of the Hostility 17:8-9
Turmoil among the Crowd. Confusion even among officials.
Trial for the Christians. "Jason was taken in for questioning then released on bail" Jason was bound over to keep the peace, on condition his new friends didn't cause any more disturbance. It was felt prudent that Paul make a quick get away so he was smuggled out of town and went on to Berea where there was a repeat performance. The Gospel proclaimed, the Gospel received and the Gospel prohibited. Not a very glamorous end to this three week Crusade. Humanly speaking, the foundation of the Church in Europe, and the future of Christianity world-wide rested on a whole series of similar, seemingly precarious, knife edge fracas with Jewish religious fundamentalists and Roman authorities. But then again the Lord was in full control. Untroubled by these puny efforts to impede the proclamation of the Gospel. The Father is bringing people to Himself, and He'll use every method to do it. And anyone. Anyone that is willing to risk their reputation, willing to risk their very life for Jesus. Even you and me.

4. Berea - Receiving the Word Acts 17:10-15
Under cover of night, Paul and Silas left the city and headed for Berea, about forty-five miles away. It does not appear that Timothy was with them, as he was probably working in Philippi. Later, he would join Paul in Athens (Acts 17:15) and then be sent to Thessalonica to encourage the church in its time of persecution (1 Thes. 3:1ff). Since Timothy was a Gentile, and had not been present when the trouble erupted, he could minister in the city freely. The peace bond could keep Paul out, but it would not apply to Paul's young assistant. Paul went into the synagogue and there discovered a group of people keenly interested in the study of the Old Testament Scriptures. In fact, they met daily to search the Scriptures to determine whether or not what Paul was saying was true. Paul had been overjoyed at the way the people in Thessalonica had received the Word (1 Thes. 2:13), so these "noble Bereans" must have really encouraged his heart. All of us should imitate these Bereans by faithfully studying God's Word daily, discussing it, and testing the messages that we hear.

God used His Word so that many people trusted Christ. One of the men who was converted was Sopater, who later assisted Paul (Acts 20:4). He may be the same man (Sosipater) who later sent greetings to the Christians in Rome (Rom. 16:21). Once again, Satan brought the enemy to the field as the unbelieving Jews from Thessalonica came to Berea and stirred up the people (note 1 Thes. 2:13-20). How did these men hear that Paul and Silas were ministering in Berea? Perhaps the growing witness of the Berean believers reached as far as Thessalonica, or it may be that some troublemaker took the message to his friends in Thessalonica. Satan also has his "missionaries" and they are busy (2 Cor. 11:13-15).

The believers in Berea outwitted the enemy by taking Paul to the sea and putting him on a ship bound for Athens. Once more, Paul had to leave a place of rich ministry and break away from dear people he had come to love. Silas and Timothy later joined Paul in Athens, and then Timothy was sent to Thessalonica to help the saints there (1 Thes. 3:1-6). Silas was also sent on a special mission somewhere in Macedonia (Philippi?), and later both men met Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:1-5).

5. Athens - Ridiculing the Word Acts 17:16-34
Paul arrived in the great city of Athens, not as a sightseer, but as a soul-winner. The late Noel O. Lyons, for many years director of the Greater Europe Mission, used to say, "Europe is looked over by millions of visitors and is overlooked by millions of Christians." Europe needs the Gospel today just as it did in Paul's day, and we dare not miss our opportunities. Like Paul, we must have open eyes and broken hearts.

5.1 The City : What Paul Saw

Read Acts 17:16. No doubt Paul did the tourist sights. The buildings and monuments of Athens were unrivalled. The acropolis, the towns high and ancient citadel has been described as "one vast composition of architecture and sculpture dedicated to the national glory and the worship of the gods." Or perhaps Paul would have lingered in the Agora, with its many porticoes painted by famous artists, listening to its statesmen and philosophers discussing the basis of democracy. Paul already a graduate of Tarsus and Jerusalem might well have been spellbound by the sheer splendour of the city's architecture, history and wisdom. Yet it was none of these things that struck him. First and foremost what he saw was neither the beauty nor the brilliance of the city but its idolatry. The adjective Luke uses occurs nowhere else in the NT, and has not been found so far anywhere else in Greek literature. The NIV translates it "full of idols", but the idea conveys something stronger. The city was "under" them, swamped by them. The innumerable shrines, statues and temples must have appeared as a gigantic forest of idols. In the Parthenon stood a huge gold and ivory statue of Athena, whose gleaming spear point was visible 40 miles away. Elsewhere there were images to Apollo, Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Bacchus, Neptune, and Diana. The whole Greek pantheon had been fashioned not only in stone but gold and silver, ivory and marble. There is no reason to think that Paul was blind to their beauty.

Athens was in a period of decline at this time, though still recognized as a centre of culture and education. The glory of its politics and commerce had long since faded. It had a famous university and numerous beautiful buildings, but it was not the influential city it once had been. The city was given over to a "cultured paganism" that was nourished by idolatry, novelty (Acts 17:21), and philosophy.

"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.

We today admire Greek sculpture and architecture as beautiful works of art, but in Paul's day, much of this was directly associated with their religion. Paul knew that idolatry was demonic (1 Cor. 10:14-23) and that the many gods of the Greeks were only characters in stories who were unable to change men's lives (1 Cor. 8:1-6). With all of their culture and wisdom, the Greeks did not know the true God (1 Cor. 1:18-25).

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." The person who chases the new and ignores the old soon discovers that he has no deep roots to nourish his life. He also discovers that nothing is really new; it's just that our memories are poor (Ecc. 1:8-11).

The city was also devoted to philosophy. When you think of Greece, you automatically think of Socrates and Aristotle and a host of other thinkers whose works are still read and studied today. Newspaper columnist Franklin P. Adams once defined philosophy as "unintelligible answers to insoluble problems," but the Greeks would not have agreed with him. They would have followed Aristotle who called philosophy "the science which considers truth."

But beauty did not impress him if it did not honour God the Father. Instead Paul felt oppressed by the idolatrous use to which the Athenians had put their God-given talents and energy. This is what Paul saw: a city submerged in its idols.

5.2 The Idolatry : What Paul Felt
The text says Paul was "greatly distressed". The verb comes from the medical word used of a seizure or epileptic fit. It also means to irritate, provoke, to arouse in anger. The only other time the word is used in the NT appears in his letter to the Corinthian Church, where Paul describes love as "not easily angered". Does that mean Paul did not practice in Athens what he preached in Corinth? No. The emotion Paul felt is the same word in the OT describing God's jealous reaction to idolatry. What is jealousy? Jealousy is the resentment of rivals. Whether it is good or evil jealousy depends on whether the rival has any business to be there. To be jealous of someone who threatens to outshine us in beauty, brains or sport is sinful, because we cannot claim a monopoly of talent in these areas. It on the other hand, a third party comes between a husband and wife, the jealousy of the injured person so displaced is righteous, because the intruder has no right to be there.

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!" 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. Our Creator and Redeemer has a right to our exclusive allegiance, and is rightly "jealous" if we transfer it to anyone or anything else. This was Paul's sentiment when he wrote to the backsliding Corinthians "I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy". He longed for them to remain loyal to Jesus. So the pain which Paul felt was due neither to bad temper, nor pity at the Athenian's ignorance. It was due to his utter hatred of idolatry, stirred by jealousy for God, he saw people so depraved as to be giving to idols the honour and glory which were due to the one true God alone. What is our motivation in mission? Obedience to the Great Commission? That's good. Compassion for the needs of the lost? That's better. These are important, but the highest incentive of all is jealousy for the glory of Jesus Christ. Henry Martyn had a brilliant career as a mathematician at Cambridge University. While there he went to hear Charles Simeon the preacher and soon dedicated his life to telling others about Jesus. He became the first volunteer to join a new missionary society working in India. The day he arrived at his new home he wrote in his diary "Now let me burn out for God". Not trained as a linguist, nevertheless, he translated the NT into Hindustani. Then he translated it into Arabic. After he'd completed his third mammoth translation into Persian, he died of exhaustion only 31 years old. Earlier he'd written in his diary, "I could not endure existence if Jesus was not glorified; it would be hell to me, if he were to be always so dishonoured." What Paul saw, what Paul felt. Now lets see,

5.3 The Witness: What Paul Did

"Left at Athens alone" (1 Thes. 3:1), Paul viewed the idolatrous city and his spirit was "stirred." Paul's reaction was positive and strategic. His practice was first to go to the people with whom he had most in common, a reverence for the scriptures. Every sabbath he went to talk to the Jews about what the Old Testament foretold about Jesus. Then during the week he debated with passers-by in the Agora market place. Anyone who was interested. It was here that the Stoic and Epicurean scouts found him. They were rival groups who held very different world views. The Stoics like Moslems, emphasized fatalism, submission and the endurance of pain. The Epicureans like Buddhists on the other hand emphasized chance, escape & enjoying pleasure. Some were rather sceptical and insulted Paul. "Babbler" was Athenian slang for a magpie or parrot. It was used of teachers who not having an original idea of their own picked up scraps of knowledge from here and there. Paul was just an ignorant plagiarist. Others were more charitable but confused. They thought Paul was talking about two new gods called Jesus and the resurrection. Read verses 19-20

Whatever the precise motive of the philosophers may have been, they brought him to the Areopagus or Mars Hill. The place where the judges and senior politicians met as guardians of the city's religions, morals and education. What Paul saw, felt and did.

5.4 The Defence: What Paul Said
Read verses 22-24. The apostle took as his point of contact with them, the anonymous altar he had come across. Despite their multiplicity of shrines, the Athenians remained superstitious that there might still be another god they had offended by not honouring. As an insurance policy they had dedicated this altar to the unknown god, just in case. How are we to interpret Paul's introduction? Was he acknowledging the validity of their religion? No, Paul was acknowledging their ignorance not their worship. He made the bold claim that he could enlighten their ignorance, insisting that special revelation must correct what ever general revelation might disclose. He then went on to proclaim the living and true God in five ways. Five ways that expose the errors, the horrors of idolatry.

5.4.1 This Unknown God Created You Acts 17:24-25 He is an infinite Being : Our Creator Acts 17:24
The sun, the moon, the stars, the vast reaches of space, the surging seas, the violent volcanos, the jungles and deserts, the animals, and man himself are all made by an omnipotent, omniscient, infinite God. An awesome, magnificent, preexistent, self existing uncreated God. This view of God is very different from either the Epicurean emphasis on a chance combination of atoms as you find in the scientific religion of evolution, or the pantheism of the Stoics, as is common among Hindus, shintoists and animists today. How absurd to imagine the Infinite Creator God would live in a man made shrine. Any attempt to limit or localize God, to imprison Him in holy temples is ludicrous. God is an infinite being, our creator. He is an Independent Being : Our Sustainer Acts 17:25
Everywhere he looked, Paul saw the work of genius. The Parthenon was indeed a wonder of the world. 50 colossal statues, 520 feet of continuous Ionic frieze depicting horses of the sun god throwing up their magnificent heads and the horse of the moon goddess poised to leap out of the very stone work. Paul dismissed it all as worthless. God alone sustains the life He created and gives to His creatures. It is absurd as thinking God should ever need sustaining with food and water. But that is what most Eastern religions believe when they daily offer food before their shrines. These people in Athens had attempted to domesticate God, to reduce Him to the level of a household pet dependant on us for food and shelter. It was a ridiculous, blasphemous reversal of roles. The infinite God, the independent God. This unknown God created you.

5.4.2 This Unknown God Controls You Acts 17:26
Paul left no room for a theory of a master race though the Athenians naturally considered themselves to be so. Every race thinks theirs is superior. The truth is we have a common origin; all trace their ancestry back to Adam. God has not only created each race equal, he has set natural boundaries. As we are seeing in the former Yugoslavia, you cannot force people of different ethnic groups to live in peace with each other. The times as well as the boundaries of the nations are in His hands, and it is from him that we should seek a solution. This unknown God created you and controls you.

5.4.3 This Unknown God Convicts You Acts 17:27-29 Paul reinforces what they already felt 17:27
There is as Pascal put it, "A God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every human being which only God can fill". There is a universal striving, a feeling after God. We touch God in nature, providence and circumstance because He is not far away. Paul affirms what they had almost found 17:28
The Athenians own poets had described this sensation, this search for God. They knew God must be there, but they had not found Him. Without the true revelation they had digressed into idolatry to try and describe God, try and worship Him. Paul quotes their own writers whom they understood to corroborate the Scriptures which they did not. He does so not to canonize them but to expose their own inconsistency. This should make us look for similar insights drawn from general revelation that lie embedded in non-Christian authors, for these give us points of contact. Like showing a Moslem from the Koran that Jesus is superior to Mohommet because Mohommet never performed miracles, never appealed to OT prophecy as fulfilled in Him, never claimed to be sinless. Paul has underlined what they felt and what they'd almost found.... Paul explains what they had always forgotten 17:29
All idolatry whether ancient or modern, primitive or sophisticated, is inexcusable, whether the images are metal or mental, material objects of worship or unworthy concepts of the mind. Idolatry tries to minimize the gulf between the Creator and His creatures, in order to bring Him under human control. It reverses the roles of Genesis 1 "In the beginning man made God in his own image". it's a perverse expression of human rebellion against God. Surrounded by the cultural and academic intelligencia of Athens, Paul not mincing his words, called it ignorance. Having shown God to be the Creator of the universe, the Sustainer of life, the Ruler of the world, and the Father of all, and having secured their attention Paul gave his challenge...

5.4.4 This Unknown God Commands You Acts 17:29-31
Paul comes back to his opening point. The Athenians had admitted in this inscription that they were ignorant of God. Now that Paul had given them logical proof they were no longer innocent. Exposing error is as important as stating truth in evangelism. "In the past God overlooked such ignorance." It is not that God did not notice it, nor that He aquiesced in it as excusable. No in His mercy He did not punish as they deserved. Now everything was different. Repentance and obedience are commanded because God has revealed Himself. Judgement is certain for those who ignore Jesus for this is the ultimate rebellion. Three things about this judgement.

Decreed: God's Judgement is Universal God will judge the whole world.
Defined: God's Judgement is Righteous He will judge with total justice.
Dramatised: God's Judgement is Certain The day's been set, the judge selected God has committed the judgement to His Son, and He has given proof of this publicly to everybody by raising him from the dead. By the resurrection Jesus was vindicated, and declared to be both Lord and Judge. Read 17:32-34. Mention of the resurrection was enough to bring the meeting to an abrupt end. The Jerusalem Bible translates it as "they burst out laughing", revealing their own blindness. The meeting was adjourned in uproar. There was derision from some, but decisions from others. A trickle of new disciples responded to one of the finest sermons in history. If we do not speak enough like Paul, perhaps it is because we do not feel enough like Paul. Perhaps because we do not see enough like Paul.

That was the order. He saw, he felt, he spoke. It all began with his eyes. He looked and saw men and women created in the image of God, degrading themselves by giving to idols the homage due to God alone. May God make us jealous this week. Jealous for His glory. Lets pray....

This seminar draws heavily on material from John Stott's commentary on Acts by IVP and Warren Wersbie's commentary by Victor Press