Summary: This continues in my expository series through the book of Acts.
Say the word “spiritual” today, and really, you’ve said nothing. There are all sorts of “spiritualities” out there in the marketplace. Google the word “spirituality”, and here’s outcome:
• Spirituality.com, from the Christian Science society
• Jewish kabbalah inspirational prayers
• Spiritualityandpractice.com, a “multi-faith website on ways to practice spirituality in everyday life”, where I listened to a song on the “37 spiritual practices”, set to “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. Positively ghastly.
• “Native American” and “New Age” spirituality links
• “Spirituality for Today”, a Roman Catholic site
• One writer wishes us “Namaste”, which translated means, “the universal spirit within me bows to the universal spirit within you in oneness". My universal spirit then upchucks.
• I could “deepen my spiritual connection to discover my purpose in life”, courtesy of Deepak Chopra
• Find mind-blowing psychic predictions (for a price, of course)
• A guy aptly-named “Jeff Krock”, who advises us to “Integrate the full spectrum of your power and touch your deepest peace.”
And all of that’s just the first page that pops up. In today’s text, Paul visits a “spiritual” place; let’s read today’s text together!
I am indebted for the basic outline of today’s message to the great British Bible teacher John Stott, who helped me out of a difficult time this week. Now, this isn’t Stott’s message; if it were, it’d be a lot better! But his main outline was worthy of using.
I. What Paul Saw - :16a
We’re going to talk about Athens today, but you can put away your Bulldog paraphernalia; I mean the real Athens, not its Georgia namesake. That’s where we find Paul waiting on Silas and Timothy to arrive from Berea. The Athens Paul found was but a shadow of her former self, with perhaps no more than 10,000 or so individuals living there. But its heyday had been glorious, the cultural and intellectual center of the world; people such as Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Epicurus, and Zeno lived there. Though conquered by Rome in 146 B.C., the empire had allowed Athens free to govern its own affairs within the empire. And though its greatness was long-since past, it continued to live in and on that glorious past. It was a city full of idols, the Greek pantheon of gods occupying a conspicuous place there; in fact, in the original language, the suggestion is that the city was almost “smothered” with idols. Pausanius, who was to visit Athens some 50 years after the apostle Paul, said that it was easier to meet a god on the streets of Athens than to meet a man, and there is evidence that perhaps that was literally true!
We need not think of an idol necessarily as a carved or chiseled image, though that’s what Paul was looking at. An idol is a God-substitute. And it can take many different forms. We even use the term on our most popular TV program: “American Idol”. Of course, we don’t bow down to singers…at least we don’t in theory. Quite frankly, as I look at contemporary American society, I find a whole lot of similarities to Athens of Paul’s day, and as we go through this passage, you might be looking for some:
• Novelty – give me something new!
• Multiplicity of spiritualities
• Emphasis upon “spirituality”—theory, feelings, experiences, personalities—over doing (forgetting that faith without works is dead)
And you could probably add to that list; be on the lookout as we work our way through this passage. Point is, this passage is pertinent to us because it describes ministering in a world and situation not that foreign to us. The Athens Paul saw was like us!
II. What Paul Felt - :16b
“His spirit was provoked within him” (:16). Now, if we were to journey to Athens today and see some of that magnificent architecture, and some of the statues dedicated to the Greek gods, no one would be tempted to bow down and worship, but in Paul’s day, that’s exactly what was going on; these statues and images were indicative of false gods, worshipped by the Athenians. Paul wasn’t filled with artistic appreciation, as we might be; he found such idolatry spiritually repulsive, and though he was originally going to wait there for Silas and Timothy before beginning his mission to the Athenians, he found their false worship so disgusting that he couldn’t help but speak.
What was disgusting about it? It robbed God of the glory due His name. No one or nothing else can possibly have a claim on the title “god”. And so when people make gods out of stone and silver, or out of celebrities and relationships, or out of what-have-you, God is being robbed of the glory due only His name, and it is not only appropriate that God jealously guard His name, but that we do as well. That’s exactly what Paul felt in Athens, a righteous indignation, if you will, at the fact that the name and the place of the true and living God was being denigrated in favor of these would-be gods. So what did he do about it?