The message of the gospel was too important to let Satan derail it through fear, intimidation, lies, and hate. This tension continued as Paul and Barnabas went about their work. In Acts 17 we read that Paul and Silas had to flea Thessalonica quickly due to jealousies and insecurities. Ultimately it was fear of the status quo being challenged that drove men to try and kill them. Around this time, Paul wrote 1 and 2 Thessalonians to give the new churches there instruction and encourage them to stay strong in their faith.
Verifying the Message
From Thessalonica, Paul and Silas went to Berea. We are told: Now these Jews (in Berea) were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
The Jews in Berea verified the Old Testament Paul quoted to support his message of salvation through Jesus. They listened and then verified. It is not that Paul’s creditability was being called into question. Rather they wanted to be sure what he said was accurate to the scriptures.
When he quoted scripture, is it what the verse said? If you considered the context, was it still accurate? Was his case as compelling once they had time to consider it further?
This is the only mention of Berea and Luke could have easily tied Paul’s journey from Thessalonica to Athens with a transitional sentence. Instead, Luke stops and tells us this one fact about the Jews in Berea. Why? They are a good example for us today.
Do we verify what our teachers of the Word say? Do we look up for ourselves the content of Sunday sermons, books we buy, or even blogs like this? Do we take the time to ask God if what we are taking in is true?
We have a huge advantage over the Jews of Berea because we have the Word in printed form! We don’t have to rely on oral traditions or seek out a religious leader. We can get on our knees with God’s Word anytime and ask God to verify what we heard.
It really is an incredible gift.
Worship in the Big Apple
After being pushed out of Berea by the same people stirring up dissent in Thessalonica, Paul goes onto Athens. Athens was the New York City of its day. It was the power and worship center of the empire. The city was full of idols and temples to various god. How could what Paul saw translate to our day?
Signs of Consumerism. Wealth. Income disparity. Fame. Self-importance. Beauty. Security by power.
Paul went all over the city trying to tell people about Jesus and true salvation. Enough people were intrigued they took him to the Areopagus to speak.
The Areopagus was an open-air gathering place where they would hold trials and have important forums. Athens was a city that loved knowledge and the latest fads. Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. This was a golden opportunity for Paul.
Do Not Worship Stone or Wood
Paul addressed the crowd where they were. He did not just launch into who Jesus is and how they were wrong about things. Instead Paul provided a context they would understand:
“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’”
The people of Athens worshiped anything! They gave their time, money, attention, and homage to a god they had zero idea who it was or what it did. They worshipped idols that were far away. They went through the motions to keep gods from reigning down ruin, to keep themselves healthy, to bring about prosperity. These gods meant little to them, but they worshiped anyway. Paul brought something new!
From The Message:
“I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with. The God who made the world and everything in it. This Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him.
Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.’ Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it.”
God is not far away. He is personal, with us. He does not want our blind devotion, He wants every part of who we are in relationship with Him.
Paul continues, “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…”
Here is the thing about idols – if we can make it, if I can take a piece of wood and whittle it down to something I put in my home to worship, what power does that idol really have? What power does a piece of wood or marble or gold have? It has power because I say it does. It gets my time and attention because I give it my time and attention. At any time, I can remove the idol and throw it away. I can walk away from an idol at any time.
But not so with God.
Worship the Maker of All Things
God created everything. He spoke and this incredible and amazing cosmos came into being. He spoke into the void and there was earth. By His design and craftsmanship, we have the mountains, all the various trees and flowers, all the animals! All the minerals of the earth and here because He placed them there.
We recognize beauty because God created beautiful things. There is no logical reason for flowers to be so colorful, for sunsets so vivid! The smell of lilacs, the beauty of a bear, the tenderness of its cub. The massive redwoods, the glory of turquoise seas. The intricacies of a turtle shell or the buds of a flower. All of it – all of it has purpose, yes – but it has beauty within that purpose because it came from a God who loves beauty. He craves it.
Here is the thing, God does not need us. God could have stopped on day six and had this perfect world with all living things and just left man out of it. God could have looked at Eden and been like, “we’re good!” But no! God created us. Even though we’d muck it all up. Even though we would bring wars, sickness, poverty, pain, injustice and destruction – God still made Adam and Eve with will to choose.
God does not want to just be worshipped. He is not an idol in Corinth that people bring flowers to. The Old Testament laws of atonement weren’t about the ritual, it was about the heart!
Another version of verses 24 and 25 says: The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
God made us so we could know Him. God made us so we could choose to worship and love Him. It is not by force. He is not a dictator. Blind devotion is not His thing. By choice we come and commune with Him.
But like the Athenians (and most of the world) we choose to worship other things.
Living with Divided Loyalties
Whatever we place the highest value on is what we worship. Whatever we spent the most time thinking about and striving for is what we worship.
We can justify it 100 ways, but whatever you value more than God, whatever you turn to instead of doing a quiet time, whatever you look to for your value, whatever you use to validate yourself and measure your worth is your god.
Whose opinion do you seek the most? Whose disapproval do you strive to avoid? What is most important in your life? (What would your loved ones say is most important?)
Paul told the people of Athens: stop worshipping the things God made and instead worship the One who made them.
Stop worshipping what will expire when you do. Worship what created you in your inner most places.
Stop striving so hard to keep idols happy. Stop spending your time, money, energy, etc. on what does not satisfy! If one of these other idols worked the city would not be littered with them.
Ultimately Paul was inviting the people of Athens to lay their burdens down.
What are you worshipping today?
(It might not be money, fame, or status. It could be our children, marriage, or the lack thereof. It could be comfort, security, fear.… There is no limit to what we will put before the Lord.)
“And God spoke these words: ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…’
What is your first priority in life, really? What does your heart chase after? (If this is hard for you, in humility, ask someone close to you.) What, if you lost it, would devastate you? Why is it so hard to keep God first in your life?
What are some changes you can make in your schedule to spend more time with Him? Is it getting up earlier to do a quiet time, scheduling time outside each week, simply listening to worship music in the dark? Is it putting your phone away every night at 7 and switching to things that are life giving?
The simple reality is worshiping God first is not one choice, but a dozen small shifts in our schedule to create time, space, mental and heart space to hear Him.
What is one small shift you can make?
Lord, what do I serve before you? Where does my time, attention, money, talent go that should be directed towards You? What keeps me from putting you first in my life? Lord, not in judgment or shame, because that is not Your way, but in love – show me. I refuse to numb or be distracted. To sit in the silence with You is hard, but it is worth it. I am here Lord, Holy Spirit come.
Two Weeks to Go!
- March 18 – 24: Acts 20 – 23 (March 24 no reading)
- March 25 – 31: Acts 24 – 28