“Paul had some days to wait at Athens for Silas and Timothy to arrive, and while he was there his soul was exasperated beyond endurance at the sight of a city so completely idolatrous. He felt compelled to discuss the matter with the Jews in the synagogue as well as with the God-fearing Gentiles, and he even argued daily in the open market place….” Acts 17:19-17 jbp.
I love that Paul was so passionate about the state of the culture, and I am intrigued that his soul was so exasperated by the confusion and illusion of the town. (“For all the Athenians, and even foreign visitors to Athens, had an obsession for any novelty and would spend their whole time talking or listening to anything new.” v21). He would probably have a similar reaction if he were to walk the streets of America now. He used the public forum of the day to persuade people of the truth of the Message. I wonder what it would have been like if Paul had had access to facebook or twitter back in the day. Interesting that in a time in which the flawed thinking of the culture was promoting prostitution, exploitation of children, slaveship (one third of the Roman Empire was comprised of slaves), power abuse, and a host of other societal ills, Paul’s focus was on their idolatry – their misplaced worship. He wanted to change their idea of who God really is.
This may be instructive for present day believers who want to make a cultural difference – people who are exasperated by the flawed value system of our country. His protest was against the lies of the time, the killing illusions. Paul addressed their faulty ideas from a burden for truth – the kind of Truth that would set these people free. Although it is not recorded that he participated in protest marches, he certainly did cause some. People were so vehemently opposed to his message that they stoned him, assaulted him, and undermined him in every possible way. Mostly this was perpetrated by the jealous Jews who viewed him as a heretic. Their reaction to his message probably resembles the reception he would have now – some laughing at him, some intrigued. But more likely he would be met with accusations of being an intolerant bigot, a repressive religious zealot, and chastised even by a diminished Christendom. It never stopped him from loving people enough to tell them the truth -and he did not dilute the message to accommodate the crowds. I heard yesterday of a young person who told my friend that if you love someone you do not disagree with them. She was absolutely convinced that this is true, but as she lives her life out of this reality, she is absolutely doomed for disaster. Someone who truly loves her will take the risk of lovingly persuading her of the misconceptions she is certain to have. It is easier, I guess, to just dismiss a dissenter as a hater or an idiot rather than to lovingly confront him. I, for one, am so thankful for the brave souls who have been willing to challenge my perceptions and behavior over the years. It has given me the chance to become a better person than I would have been just living our of my own idea of truth and reality. My son challenged me on an issue just recently and I am so grateful! It is like having a second set of eyes.
Paul faced an age of excess, perversion, greed, self-indulgence and inhumanity. He treated the disease with truth. He brilliantly tailored his message to his audience, but people reacted to the message and not to his personality. He persisted because he cared – first about his loving Lord – and out of that love sprang his care for the people around him who were blinded by the ravages of sin. He went to the heart of the matter -the faulty perception of God and sin – and left the peripherals to work themselves out. Tim Keller nails it when he says the way a person changes is by changing what they worship. As we struggle to reach our society and change the ugly effects of prevailing self-centeredness in our culture, let us prayerfully and carefully consider our approach. Let us centralize the Message as we lovingly serve those around us. Let us speak when led by the Holy Spirit, and let us not be content to put a bandaid on a severed artery by watering down the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the only Remedy. Let us live it before we talk it!