Let’s continue learning about how Paul engaged the culture in Athens.
Read Acts 17:16-34
Where does Paul go to engage lost Athens? Right to the center of activity—the marketplace—the “agora.” This was the center of life. Remember, there is no Fox News, no Internet blogs or television or movie theatres—this is where everyone came to interact. Not only did they buy and sell goods, but they also exchanged ideas. There were town criers who ran around yelling out news for everyone to hear. Teachers would set up shop and invite people to come and listen. It was a lot like CNN or the Internet—everyone had an opinion and they are all setting up shop so that they can get an audience.
And then Paul starts to engage the philosophers. Before I explain to you who the Epicurean and Stoics were, let me say that in that Greek world with a pantheon on gods, it was very unpopular to say that there is only one exclusive way. As a matter of fact, Christians were called “hate filled” even in that day because they dare believed that Jesus was the only way to God.
Does this sound familiar to you? This is the culture in which we live. We no longer live in a culture that accepts a Judeo-Christian worldview as the norm.
The Epicureans had a philosophy where their chief goal in life was to attain the maximum amount of pleasure and the minimum amount of pain. Their opinion was that this life is all there is and you only go around once, so you might as well go out with a bang. If it feels good, do it. If it doesn’t feel good, stay away from it. Avoid hurt, pain, and suffering at all costs.
Does this sound familiar? We live in an Epicurean culture that seeks pleasure at all costs and hates the idea of anything painful or uncomfortable.
The Stoics on the other hand had the “grin and bear it” attitude. Life comes at you hard, but I can rely on myself to face whatever happens. I will stick it out. I’m tough. I am self-reliant. I don’t need any help. Whatever comes, comes.
In Northeast Colorado, I find this attitude very prevalent. We live in a culture here that is very self-reliant, proud, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, farming, ranching, oil rig, railroad working independent I can face life on my own mentality.
But notice that they call Paul a “babbler”. The literal translation is “seed picker or gutter sparrow.” It was slang for a person who was a junk collector in the marketplace. He would go about picking up scraps from all over the place. In other words, they thought Paul was this jack-of-all-trades, but master of none in ideas who went around collecting things from all different worldviews and tried to pull it off as if he’s an expert or knows what he’s talking about. They thought he was strange and didn’t make sense.
Especially when he talked about the gospel. Remember from last week that the gospel is the good news message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. He was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. He was preaching the gospel and they thought he was crazy.
Does this sound familiar.
And then they bring him to the Areopagus or Mars Hill to further question him because he has perked their interest. This was a culture that loved to spend all their time telling or hearing something new. They didn’t have CNN or Fox News or TV or Internet or YouTube or Facebook like we do, so they did the equivalent. They just met out in the open marketplaces.
Our culture is a culture that is seeking something new. Whether it’s a new book promoted by Oprah, or a new YouTube clip, or a new friend on Facebook or a talking head on CNN or the latest movie or video game, we are obsessed with things “NEW”
So Paul then begins to preach a message. And I want us to pay close attention to how he engages them. Remember, he’s extremely bothered by the rank idolatry so he could have gotten in their face and rebuked them as pagans and told them to turn or burn, fly or fry and totally rip them to shreds. But these are pagans. They are ignorant as we shall see. They don’t know any better.
We live in a culture of Biblical ignorance. Lost people are enslaved and blinded and they don’t even know it. They are trapped in all kinds of idolatry and we need to engage people with compassion and try to build bridges of understanding and engage them with gentleness and respect
1 Peter 3:15-16 But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Are you prepared to make a defense? Are you ready to share your hope in Christ? Do you see the value of engaging lost culture with the gospel? Do you see the importance of being a church that Disciples for God’s Great Commission?
Spend some time praying for those in your life who are not Christians. Pray for boldness and opportunities to share and give a defense for your faith.