Do you ever stop to think about how much change happens around us? Think about the cities we live in and how different they look today than they did 10 years ago. Think about how different they will look in another 10 years. If you’ve gone back to a city or town that you used to live in, you’ll notice the smallest or largest bit of change/progress. What we don’t see is all the work that went into the change. Even if we never moved, we’re not in the middle of all that hard work, we just watch the houses or buildings going up.
In Acts 18:1-18 we learn about a few people that don’t make the evening news, and their names aren’t popular ones. Yet they played an integral part of the early churches story and helped move the gospel (good news) forward.
The characters we’re talking about are Titius, Crispus and Gallio. The first two are Jews who were connected to the Synagogue. When Paul arrives in Corinth he does what he always does, goes to the Synagogue to share the good news of Jesus with his cultural family. As usual, he causes quite a stir. Titius and Crispus take on huge risk as they open their hearts and homes to the message of Jesus. Seems like they weren’t afraid of potential consequences and made provision for conversation about Jesus to continue away from the Synagogue.
We don’t hear about these people after this story, but they played a huge part in advancing the gospel. Makes me think about the unseen workers and people in cities that have progressed and grown. We see buildings and parks and highways that have gone up, but the ground crew on those projects are forgotten. Even if there names are forgotten or their stories misplaced, what they did to move the gospel story forward cannot be disregarded.
Acts 18 is also the first place in the NT where we are told that Paul was bi-vocational. He was a tent-maker (more like one who worked with leather). More important than what he did was why he did it. Paul was so committed to sharing Jesus that he would work two jobs to make it happen. That said, scholars say that Rabbis were known to work trades. Judaism saw work as sacred, and Rabbis were adamant about bridging the gap between theology and everyday life. They did not want to be detached scholars, but spiritual leaders who understood what people went through. Paul took this seriously and worked a trade to make a living when other resources weren’t available.
The most insightful part of this text may be Paul’s vision from God. Paul wanted out of Corinth. He wasn’t used to staying in one place too long. God, however, had other plans. Paul wants to go, but God tells him to stay. “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” Even Paul, the spiritual giant that he is, needs to be encouraged, challenged and affirmed. He is set on leaving and moving on to the next spot on his agenda, but God says stay. This should make people like you and me feel good. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’d admit that we want to leave our tough situations too. If you’re like me, the option of ditching is very tempting. Things get chaotic and we want to leave. Things get tough and we think of other options. The conflict in our work place or neighbourhood or relationship feels like it’s at a place of no return and rather than sticking it out, we want to leave and start fresh some where else. In this instance, probably due to the unsettledness around the Synagogue, Paul thought that leaving the locals to run the show would be better. But God had other plans.
All these things happened for Corinth to experience the good news of Jesus. An expression of the Gospel began in this diverse city because of unassuming Jews, a Roman official, and an apostle who needed God to interrupt his sleep for him to stick it out. Just like a growing city or a growing movement, we now look back on this chapter of the church and say, ‘look at the progress, look at the change, look at how the gospel spread’. It’s a different world because of it.
When people see you 10 years between visits, do they meet the same person or do they meet someone who’s grown, someone who’s moved forward, someone who’s faith is stronger and calling is more refined? I want my friends to not just see all that I’ve done, but to notice who I’ve become. And when I look back, I want to be able to pin point moments in my life where God orchestrated people and places, for me to be the person I am today. I want to trust God enough to listen when he interrupts my sleep. I want to have enough faith to listen to God’s direction. And I want to trust Jesus and his story so much so that I’m willing to take risks, shake the ground, and make such a difference that the future will be different because of it.
Why is it that we are so prone to settle for less when we have the option for more? I don’t mean that we spend less, when we should spend more, or think we should acquire less when we deserve more. Far from that. In so many scenarios we end up choosing the second or third or even fifth best option. Think about what we choose to eat, or how we choose to use our time, or one of the biggest things, how we choose to spend our money. We know there’s a better way, yet we often opt for less.
My Dad was trained as a cabinet maker and always had this thing about buying ‘good’ furniture. He would go without a certain piece of furniture for months if it meant that he could have the right piece and the best quality. Why? He knew the difference. He knew that some furniture wasn’t worth the ‘better price’. He didn’t want to settle for less.
In Chapter 17 of Acts, Paul discovers a city (Athens) that is full of idols. We read that this distressed him – it concerned him. Why? We don’t walk downtown and get saddened by what we see? We normally take in the sights, find a great place to eat, and enjoy an evening out. What Paul found was overwhelming: A city that made gods like we make food. They turned them over like an assembly line. Gold, Silver, Stone, Shrines, Temples, Statues, etc. This hurt Paul at the core because his faith in Jesus is founded on a God who is jealous.
How does that make you feel? That God is jealous? The language we find in the OT is clear and wonderful. God wants us to worship Him alone. Exodus 20&32, Psalm 86, Leviticus 26, and other places in the scripture show us that God wants our full attention. The language of covenant is prominent in the Scriptures. Relationship language. When Israel was fooling around with other nations and other gods, God/Yahweh, was not just disappointed, but hurt. When asked what the most important commandment is, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy for 1/2 of his answer. “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is ONE. Love him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.”
You can see why Paul is concerned about this city: He knows that they are settling for less than what God has for them. They have settled for ‘g’ods they’ve created. He wants to introduce them to a God who created each and everyone of them (and us).
What are our gods today? In 2014? Just like in first century Athens, we have lots of options at our disposal, most of which we’ve created ourselves, or at least chosen to turn into a ‘g’od for our pleasure.
Tim Keller says that idolatry is taking some ‘incomplete’ joy and building your life around it. We start with good intentions, around things that are essentially good or neutral and we turn them into idols that we value more than, you got it, God.
Three of the biggest that grab our attention are Love, Money & Stuff.
Out of those, let’s just quickly talk about Money. We would be lying to ourselves if we said that we’ve never been tempted to elevate money to a ‘godly’ status. We don’t think of ourselves as greedy, only others. Jesus, when warning about not having two masters gets right to the point by saying, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13) He could’ve used any other ‘g’od metaphor, instead he used money. It’s our biggest distraction, always has been, always will be. One reason is because we never feel like we have enough of it. Let’s be clear, money isn’t bad, neither is love, and sex, and stuff. However, when it takes the place of God and when we settle for the feelings we get from those things, we are actually replacing God.
Here’s the lie: We don’t need anything when we have Money, Love & Stuff. But that is when we need God even more.
Ask yourself this: Do you trust God more or do you trust those other things more? Put it this way, what do you think you need to live well, Money, Love, Stuff or God?
The answer is this: When you love God more, you love others more. When God is who you trust, the other things fall into their proper place. When God is at the centre, the other things can be viewed in a healthy way. If God fulfills you more than anything, you’ll enjoy the other things properly.
So don’t settle for silver…or gold…or stuff…or ___________. Fill the longing in you with the one and only – GOD.
Sunday at the Village in June & July we are back in ACTs. Since we’ve launched our church community we’ve gone in and out of a series called, “To Be Continued”. We felt that teaching through the early church’s story of becoming
would only help our new story of becoming (a church community) as well.
As we arrive to Acts 17 we’ve seen so much happen. One thing that has yet to occur though is Paul teaching in front of a fully pagan crowd. By pagan we mean that none of them would be Jewish or God-fearers (people who were intrigued with and followed God’s story). The scene on Marz Hill (The Areopagus) is tense and exciting. Athens is a city filled with ‘g’ods, idols, and men who love new ideas. One thing they weren’t aware of was the Resurrected Jesus. Actually, they knew so little of him that when Paul spoke of Jesus and the Resurrection, they thought he was talking about two new gods, a male one in Jesus and a female one in Resurrection (word in Greek is connected to the word Anastasia). Even though they were confused, they were intrigued.
Paul is invited to explain his ideas a little further among philosophers and thinkers. What comes next is an eloquent teaching about the one God, God the Father, Creator, Ruler, Judge, and of course (the resurrected) Jesus who was and is God in the flesh. What’s amazing is how Paul goes about his talk. He starts with a common ground: spirituality. The Greeks were very spiritual, they just weren’t very aware of…well…God. We see that lots today don’t we? People are are intrigued with spirituality, but are looking in the wrong places for the God who fulfills our spiritual longing. Paul identifies in the Greeks a longing for something more; something bigger than themselves. They worship ‘unknown gods’, and Paul sees this and invites them to know their creator, God.
When you read this story, you come at it from two different perspectives: One is the side of the Greek’s, the other is the ‘already’ Christ-Follower who is learning from Paul’s approach to sharing the Gospel.
If you’re the person, in the midst of a culture, full of idols, but still searching for more, this talk on Marz Hill should totally intrigue you. You don’t have to follow ‘made-up’ gods. You don’t have to settle for second rate deities. You can find hope and truth in the ONE God – in Jesus, the resurrected one. Small ‘g’ gods let you down. Here’s why? We made them up. We created them. We deem them worthy, even through they aren’t. Think about this: what’s your idol? What do you give ‘worth’ to? In 2014 we might not view idols in the same way. Actually, we don’t. But if we take a good look, we’ll see them all around us: our cars, our money, our houses, our stuff, etc. The challenge to you is…follow the true God. Follow Jesus. He’s the resurrected one, the creator, the ruler, the lover of our soul. He is a God who is BIG, yet at the same time very close.
If you’re already a follower of Jesus and wondering how you can introduce people to their creator, this is a great example that Luke & Paul give us. Paul’s talk was most definitely longer, but Luke (the writer of Acts) wants us to get enough of it to see the mastery of Paul’s ways. He doesn’t start with God, he starts with culture and ends up at God. He starts low and leads them up. Too often, the church has been accused of throwing the Bible in people’s faces. Rightfully so. We should learn from Paul and discover how to preach ‘to the word’ and just just ‘from the word’. You know the difference don’t you? The moments when you felt like the ‘preacher’ assumed you knew what he/she knew. Perhaps you even felt a little (or a lot) judged. This is when the one communicating the gospel assumes you know what they are talking about and where they’re coming from. In the former places in Acts, Paul is at least working with people who knew something of the story. It may not be the Jesus story, but it was at least the God-story of Israel. In Athens Paul’s audience is very different. Jesus & the Resurrection was truly a ‘new’ idea.
So read this text/story as you wish: as one who is new to the journey, or as one who needs some help in how to invite others to walk along side you. As always, let the story read you too.
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(small group questions) Acts 17:16-32
This story begins with Paul waiting in Athens for his
friends to join him. Can you think of an experience when something significant happened
while you were waiting? (optional)
Athens was known for having lots of idols. Someone called it
a forest of idols. Durham wouldn’t be popular for the same bit of info would
How would detect or define idols today? In our cities? In
our culture? Or is that even a worthwhile question to be asking?
Why do you think Paul’s message of Jesus being the only way
to the only God is hard to accept by some?
(Maybe Read Deut 6:4-5 & Mark 12:29-31)
This is the crux of what Paul is saying in Acts 17…what
resonates with you most? What causes some questions?
24 “The God who made the world and everything
in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built
by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human
hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and
breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made
all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out
their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God
did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find
him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For
in him we live and move and have our being.’[b] As some of your own poets
have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[c]
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring…
God asks that we worship him only. But as we do, all other
things fall into their right place & perspective. What can you add or say