Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
January 8, 2017
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. 22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ 29 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
— Acts 17:16-34, ESV
One of my favorite books is Between Two Worlds by Dr. John R.W. Stott. It is designed to help the preacher get an accurate message from the world of the Bible and effectively communicate it to the world of today. The book builds a bridge, between two worlds, to help people to rightly understand the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This kind of bridge building is not merely the task of the scholar or pastor. It is every Christian’s duty to take the word of God and bring it to bear on the hearts and minds of people in our world. The bridge we seek to build is not merely one that travels from the first century to the twenty-first century. It is a lifeline that spans the chasm between the saved and the lost, between Heaven and Hell.
No one was a better bridge builder than the Apostle Paul. He is the exemplary first century witness to instruct twenty-first century Christians. The world in which he ministers in this text, ancient Athens, was prosperous, pagan, and filled with people who had never really heard the gospel. It was a lot like modern day America.
Let’s look at how Paul carried the cross and built a saving bridge between two worlds. It was a bridge built with one major tool: love!
Paul loved God, even to the point of jealousy.
Paul’s “spirit was provoked within him” (vs. 16) by what he saw in Athens. He was deeply upset, intensely angry, or perhaps the best translation would be to say that he was jealous. The Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) translates this same term “jealous” when speaking of God. So jealousy can actually be a loving, God-like characteristic. Why was Paul so jealous?
If someone was trying to romance your girlfriend or boyfriend, wouldn't you be jealous? If someone was trying to steal your spouse and break up your marriage, wouldn't you be jealous? Why? Because someone is trying to rob you of your rightful place. In Athens, Paul saw false gods and dead religions trying to rob the Lord Jesus Christ of His place on the throne. When we see such things in America, it ought to make us jealous for Jesus. We ought to have a strong desire for Him to be Lord of lords and King of kings in the lives of people who are perishing without Him.
Do you love to gather publicly and worship the Lord? Then you should feel jealousy concerning those who do not. Do you love to open your Bible and read and meditate upon the word of God? Then you should pity towards those who ignore the word of God to their peril. Do you love being a fully devoted follower of the Lord Jesus Christ? What about everyone else?
Knowing and loving God will make you jealous for Him. He is our Creator and Sustainer and Father and Judge and Savior (ref. vs. 24, 25, 26ff, 30-31, 31-32). Does it bother you when God is systematically kicked out of courtrooms, classrooms, and sometimes even churches? Does it bother you that people in our world live like there is no such thing as sin and there will never be a judgment so there is no need of our Savior, Jesus Christ? Get jealous, people!
Get provoked and stirred up at the sin of unbelief. But don't hate the sinners and unbelievers. Love them in spite of, even on account of, their lostness.
Paul loved lost people, enough to learn about them and spend time with them.
Paul would not have even been in Athens if he did not love lost people. Before Paul preached to them, he took the time to learn something about them. He read their literature, he understood their poetry. Then he “reasoned” (ref. vs. 16), dialogued, or exchanged ideas with them.
He talked with the religious people at “church” (the synagogue) to find out why they did not believe in Jesus. He talked with the common people on the street (the marketplace) to bring their attention to Christ. He talked with the cultured people of his day (Epicureans and Stoics at the Areopagus). Paul took time to engage their culture. He even complimented them in the conversation (vs. 22). But most of all he challenged them to believe in Jesus Christ.
When it comes to lost and unchurched people, you can either build a wall of separation from them or build a bridge to reach them. Fundamentalism encouraged the former to generations of Christians, but we need to tear that wall down and build the bridge. Even if you don't drink, going to a bar and grill with a lost friend just might encourage them to come to worship with you. Even if you don’t prefer “secular” music and movies, take time to find out what the world is hearing and seeing. You will find some common grace and you will establish some common ground, like the Apostle Paul. Christians need to quit being a sub-culture and learn to permeate culture with God’s grace.
Paul loved lost and unchurched people, enough to reach them on their turf in their terms. Loving God is easy. Loving one another in the church ought not to be hard. Loving unchurched people takes real, Christ-like, love. And the most compassionate thing we can ever do for sinners is courageously share with them the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul loved the gospel, enough to tell it to other people.
Paul could have compromised and blended in. Paul could have condemned them and offered no hope. But he walked over a freshly built bridge and paved it with the gospel of Jesus Christ. From creation to the cross and the empty tomb, Paul never tired of telling the story of Jesus. With courage and commitment, Paul sought their conversion. He preached to them the loving, life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. On their own turf in their own language he spoke to them of God, Jesus, and the necessity of faith and repentance.
As always, he was ignored by some and mocked by others. But he endured all things for the sake of the elect (ref. 2 Timothy 2:10), and on that day dedicated disciples were delivered to the Lord Jesus Christ.
You and I actually live in the same world as Paul. We are Christians in an affluent, corrupt, faithless society. Twenty-first century America is more like first century Athens than we can imagine. Most people, in both worlds, have never really heard the real gospel of grace. They have heard of religion, and don’t like it. They have heard self-help gospels and become confused. What many haven’t heard is a patient, detailed explanation of the gospel of grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone.
We can blend in and compromise with culture, like so many professing Christians and churches are doing today. Or, we can condemn culture and offer no alternatives, no love. Better still, we can seek to understand where our lost friends are coming from and work earnestly for their conversion. We can build a bridge between two worlds, and bring lost and unchurched people over to a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
All we need is love, according to Paul and John. We need a great passion for God that even drives us to godly jealousy. We need a great love for sinners that seeks to understand and not condemn. We need loving courage and commitment based on the gospel that will motivate us to build that bridge. Christ is coming. People are perishing. Who will help build a bridge between two worlds?
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