PAUL PREACHES IN ATHENS, GREECE
By Bob Myhan
Paul usually started evangelizing a new area by going to the place where the Jews worshipped and using the Old Testament scriptures to prove Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah (see Acts 17:1-3).
The City of Athens
As Paul began to preach in Athens, however, he did not seem to find a love of the truth among the Jews in the synagogue or the religious Gentiles in the market (Acts 17:17). But "certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him" and showed some interest in his theme of Jesus and the resurrection (Acts 17:18).
These were followers of the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC). Opposing the idealistic and skeptical mood of the times, Epicurus wanted to provide security in an unsure world. He grounded his system on the incontestability of sense experience; pleasure and pain are the ultimate good and evil. Intelligent choice is necessary for the good life. Although only fragments of his works remain, his loyal disciples passed on his doctrines of friendship, peace of mind, and spiritual enjoyment as goals of the good life. Under the Roman Empire, Epicureans chose to withdraw from view and the last known member of the school was Diogenes of Oenoanda (fl. 200 AD).
These were adherents of Stoicism, the dominant philosophy of the Hellenistic-Roman period, founded by Zeno of Citium (c. 333-262 BC). The highest Stoic virtue is to live in harmony with the cosmos. To do this, people must live austere and noble lives, above concern for trivial things, and be able to control emotions. The wise man, or sage, puts his own integrity and duty ahead of lesser interests and feelings. Stoicism was reworked but remained basically unchanged until it faded after the end of the 3rd century AD.
Similarities and Differences
“The Stoics taught that the greatest good in life was to be attained through a total indifference to both the sorrows and the pleasures of the world; the Epicureans, that it was to be obtained through the prudent gratification of every passion and propensity; and they united in denying conscious existence after death. ... In opposition to the former, Paul taught that we should weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice; in opposition to the latter, that we should deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts; and in opposition to both, that the final goal of human hopes is a resurrection from the dead to life everlasting” (J.W. McGarvey, New Commentary on Acts of Apostles, pp. 120-121).
The Epicureans and Stoics were not in a proper frame of mind to understand the resurrection or any other idea involving the inner man. They did not have a love of the truth for they had “changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever” (Rom. 1:25). Thus, they were curious about Paul’s teaching only because it represented something new.
Try to putting yourself in the shoes of an Epicurean or a Stoic. You would love nothing better than to hear some new thing or idea, but you would have no comforting hope, no outlet for the expression of your needs and fears, and no expectation that such will be heard and responded to in a favorable way.
You can, and should, take comfort in the fact that God’s word does not change and there is no need to learn every new philosophy that comes down the pike. You can use this for support in all aspects of life. You don’t have to try new things. The gospel is tried and true, and will never pass away.
Though Paul was an inspired apostle, he could not convert certain individuals, because lack of interest prevented their believing. Indeed, they seem to have been completely ignorant of the One True and Living God.
Thus, Paul tried to create within their minds an appreciation for the Almighty God, who is the Creator of the universe. This is because one must first be convinced that there is a living God who created all things before one can even begin to develop a love for the truth of God or to understand God’s truth, which is His word (John 17:17).
Christians of today will not be able to convert everyone, any more that Paul was, but we should be able to sit down with the lost and discuss with them, in an orderly way, why man not only needs God but is responsible to Him!
PAUL’S SERMON ON MARS HILL
Introduction: While Paul waited at Athens, “his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry” (Acts 17:16). These people were religious but their religion was not based on revelation from God; it was based on superstitions originating in the minds of men. They did not realize their own need for God, but thought their gods needed them! They organized their lives around the “needs” of impersonal, inanimate idols that they worshipped, preparing them food and putting up dwellings for them! They worshipped so many false deities that Petronius, a Roman writer of satire, said that it was “easier to find a god than a man at Athens.”
A. God is Creator of all (Acts 17:24-26)
1. He made all things.
2. He is the Lord of heaven and earth.
3. He does not dwell in temples made with hands.
4. He is the maker of all nations.
B. God is within the reach of all (Acts 17:27-29)
1. In Him we live, and move, and have our existence.
2. We are His creative offspring.
3. Cast away then the idols and worship the true God.
C. God gives salvation to all (Acts 17:30-31)
1. The days of ignorance are over.
2. Men now are to repent and turn to Christ.
3. The final judgment is certain.
Conclusion: Will man’s response, today, be any different from the response of that day? Some rejected, some procrastinated and some believed. &
BY WHAT EVIDENCE SHALL WE BE JUDGED?
By Bob Myhan
Introduction: In a fair trial, conviction or acquittal is based solely on the evidence presented by the prosecution and the defense. When we stand before the throne of God, however, He will be both the prosecutor and the judge. We will, therefore, need no defense. But on what evidence will we be convicted as unjust or acquitted as just? The evidence will be threefold. There will be:
The Evidence of Our Actions
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Cor. 5:10)
The Evidence of Our Words
“But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.” (Matt. 12:36)
The Evidence of Our Thoughts
And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, "Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit." But Peter said to him, "Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity." (Acts 8:14-23)
Conclusion: We must do what we know is good (James 4:17). We must speak the truth and we must speak it in love (Eph. 4:1 5) and we must guard our very thoughts (2 Cor. 10:5). &