July 4, 2022) Richard Winter encourages standing strong for our faith in today’s pagan society…
I like options. But what do you do when the option seems to fly in the face of reality? Can we really ‘have it our way, anyway, and anytime’? If you can, it makes life seem that we’re buying from the like of Burger King – because this is how they sell the Whopper.
Now I like the term Whopper, but I also feel that in a country once termed as Christian, we are being told some whoppers! You know – untruths, inaccurate assessments, actual lies. Examples: Today we have gone from Father God to Mother Earth. In public schools, we cannot celebrate Easter, but we can celebrate Earth Day!
Pluralism and paganism
As a nation we have moved away from our Christian centredness. Although we have many Christians, no longer do people claim America a Christian country! Increasingly, many Americans believe that Jesus is only one option among many.
This is pluralism… and we are expected to accept that –
- All religions are equal.
- Tolerance is wrong.
- We’re not supposed to simply tolerate, for that assumes we don’t agree.
- We’re expected to go beyond tolerance; accept and approve that every religion is the truth.
Although I’ve mentioned America, my country that I love and pastor The Connection Church in California, the whole world – every nation – can be said to be paganised!
Let’s consider the apostle Paul’s discovery of paganism among locals, some who were God-fearing Greeks… and also Jews, his own people.
Acts 17:16-34 tells about his visit to the Greek city of Athens, intellectual and cultural centre of the ancient world. As he walks the streets, Paul sees the depth of depravity and wickedness, the city’s false teachers and pagan temples.
Athens was full of art, literature, and philosophy, native home of Socrates and Plato, and adopted home of Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno.
Paul would have looked up at a mountain called the Acropolis, on top of which was perhaps the most architecturally perfect building ever created, the Parthenon, dedicated to Athene, the goddess associated with wisdom, handicraft, and warfare.
As a result of this intellectualism, cultural superiority and paganism, Athens was a city filled with cynicism, snobbery, and debate. Paul is going to share Jesus with its people… and he’s going to meet strong resistance.
Three challenges for Christians today
What Paul encountered so long ago is reality today in our society!
The scripture above is not just about what had happened, but depicts what is happening today! It’s not just about what God has said through Paul to others so long ago; it’s what He is saying to our society in 2022… God’s societal warnings so we will learn from them and apply them in our lives today.
The challenges Paul found in ancient Athens are ours today – if we’re Bible-believing Christians – ones we can expect as we stand for our faith and live for Christ in today’s pagan society:
- Superstitious Idolatry.
- Self-righteousness Inactivity.
- Sophisticated Intellectualism.
Let’s look at what Paul experienced, and how God used him to spread truth, not whoopers.
1. Superstitious idolatry (Acts 17:16, 22)
Ancient Athens had some 30,000 different gods that they worshipped. There were idols and pagan images everywhere.
In today’s society, every major city around the world is filled with idolatry; the difference is that we give our idols different names. An idol is anything you love more, fear more, serve more or trust more than Almighty God. It’s whatever is first place in your life. Whatever your heart trusts in, that is your idol.
Idolatry is the greatest sin that anyone can commit because it transgresses the greatest commandment of loving something/someone more than Almighty God (Matthew 22:37).
We will face modern gods of our cities as we go out each day. Here are some…
The people in ancient Athens called this god, Mammon. Those who worship it are devoted to wealth, business, success, achievement, and the major things in their lives are their possessions!
Sadly, today there are those worshipping this god who are churchgoers! But although they may tip the hat to our God, He will not take second place!
Never mind movies and TV shows, just look at some of today’s video games that kids are playing, and you will see that we worship the god of violence with its guns, explosions, and mayhem!
Ancient Athens had several sex gods – and goddesses. Example: Aphrodite was primarily known as the goddess of sexual love and beauty, and fertility (syncretised, incidentally, with the Romans’ Venus).
Today we can see this god of sexual lust and promiscuity at work in the movies, the internet, on our TVs.
And… even our mobile phones!
2. Self-righteousness inactivity (Acts 17:17)
Would we recognise self-righteous inactivity if we saw it? Paul did and he was against it!
The Jews were meant to be God’s first missionaries, but Paul finds fellow-Jews in a city that obviously doesn’t know or care about the truth… and they are doing nothing about it! They were happy in their little religious club, joining in another religion among the many.
And that’s what Satan and non-believers want from us today!
Paul’s reaction was to get involved in some serious discussions with them all. Verse 17 tells us that ‘he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.’
Regarding the Jews he challenged, Paul was facing not idolatry, but those who believed in the one true God. Self-righteous, self-satisfied, spiritually inactive, they did not know Jesus as their personal Saviour and Lord. Such are ‘respectable sinners’ of whom we have many today! They look down on others with their superstitions, but have never seen themselves in need of a Saviour.
The apostle had been this same kind of self-righteous bigot before he met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus and was transformed. He wanted others to find what he found! Don’t you feel like Paul?
3. Sophisticated intellectualism (Acts 17:18)
This is not superstitious idolaters or self-righteous believers, but those who see themselves as intellectual giants… philosophers.
‘Philosophy’ literally means ‘a love of knowledge.’ As the cultural and intellectual centre of the world at that time, philosophers clustered to the city of Athens!
Acts 17:18 tells that Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with Paul who was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection: ‘Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.”’
Epicureans and the Stoics… you will have met them, but they won’t be wearing ancient clothing!
Epicurus lived about 300 years before Christ. His philosophy was that we really can’t make sense out of life and that the search for pure truth by reason is impossible. He believed that you can never find absolute truth, so just enjoy yourself because this is all you have.
He taught that the wisest thing is pleasure based on your own personal experience. Epicureans, his followers, were lovers of pleasure. We see in our cities today a philosophy of pleasure. Some say, ‘Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.’
Led by a philosopher namedZeno, Stoics believed in a form of fatalism;that we have no real choice in the things that are happening to us.Stoics were also pantheists, believing that everything is God and God is everything; therefore, we’re just swept up in it, and life has no real, vital meaning.
Stoicism is a form of intellectual pride that smirked at those who thought they had the answer; it was self-sufficiency built on nihilism. Philosophies of pleasure and pride are still with us today.
Paul’s presentation of his faith
The apostle finds the perfect lead-in and shares boldly with confidence!
In ancient Athens, anyone could make a presentation of their position on Mars Hill. There Paul takes an opportunity to speak, standing in the shadow of the philosophers Plato, Socrates, Zeno, and Epicurus. He knew that this human wisdom and the beauty of Athens were magnificent foolishness without the God, and he shares God’s heart (Acts 17:19-23).
Observing that the Athenians were covering all bases Paul uses something he’d noticed as a means of attracting their attention: ‘People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god’ (v22-23).
Then he begins to speak about the one true God who made everything, and stands above and distinct from creation (v 24-31). And verse 32 tells us that although there were some sneerers, others wanted to hear more!
Straight to the point, Paul tells the Athenians that one cannot put God in a corner of any temple; He is the God of creation who made man, but many men make gods out of human creations! That He is the God of supernatural salvation coming to His creation in human form, was crucified for our sins and resurrected so that we can have eternal life!
Paul was not ashamed to preach the resurrection of Christ! Neither should we be! Some there thought Paul was insane, but he still preached the resurrected Christ.
When you share Jesus, there will be people who believe. That’s what happened in Athens: Some listeners believed and became followers of Christ (Acts 17:32-34) .
Three responses to sharing
The gospel has the power to change lives and anytime we witness to others, there will be one of three responses:
(i) Derision (Acts 17:32)
Some mocked Paul and laughed. Are you willing to be laughed at for your faith? You may be laughed at for bowing your head in a restaurant before you eat. Or by the business world for keeping a Bible on your desk. Or, if studying, by your teacher or university professor.
(ii) Delay (Acts 17:32)
Some people will try to put it off and say, ‘Maybe tomorrow I’ll give Jesus my heart.’ One of the devil’s favourite ways to send a soul to hell is through delay!
(Reader… have you accepted Christ as your Saviour? If you intend to, do it now!)
(iii) Decision (Acts 17:34)
There is power in the gospel, and there is something in the human heart that recognises the gospel as the truth; and there will be those who will accept the gospel as their truth.
What’s needed in our paganised world are strong Christians who will boldly tell the truth to anyone who will listen! Can we do that?
Of course we can… we are Spirit-filled for that singular purpose!
Like Paul, let’s take opportunities and with the Holy Spirit’s leading share truth, gospel truth, not whoopers!
Dr Richard Winter pastors The Connection Church, Huntington Beach, California