Devotional # 57. 10/21/13. Thessalonians, Beareans and Athenians.
This week’s Reading: Acts 17:1-34.
Introduction. Last week we talked about Lydia and a warden who both gave their lives to Christ. This week we’re talking about three different types of people: Thessalonians, Beareans and Athenians. As you’ll see some stir up trouble just to keep religious rituals, some are so smart that they’re stupid and some want to know truth…and are willing to change their lives accordingly.
vv. 1-9. Paul and Silas walk to Thessalonica (read what Paul wrote to this church in 1 and 2 Thessalonians) and immediately go into the synagogue (Israeli church) and preach. Some of the people listen but a small group created a riot, angry at the Christians who “turned the world upside down” !!!
vv. 10-15. So the Christians of the city send Paul and Silas to Berea where Paul does the same thing preaching in the synagogue. But there was something different about the people here, called Beareans, which is “now known as Veriain what is today Greek Macedonia” (Source 1). They have become famous (there is even a Christian chain of stores by this name) because of how they handled the gospel. They wanted to know truth instead of follow their own desires or religions. Jesus often asked people to check out if what He was saying was true (as did the apostles and many good pastors will ask this even now). We should model ourselves (and disciple others) to behave in a “fair-minded” way so that we “search the Scriptures” to make sure we are living according to God’s will and not our self righteousness.
Sadly, the small group of “jealous” men making “dissension” (see Galatians 5:19-21) worked themselves up to go to Berea and run Paul out of town. I feel sorry for people like this who feel obligated to stubbornly try and stand in God’s way as He’s working.
vv. 16-31. To understand this next section we need to know what “Epicurean” and “Stoics” believed. Epicurean philosophers believed that God didn’t get involved with humans and when you died your body and soul just disintegrated (Source 2, p. 1665). Stoic philosophy started around 200 BC and by Paul’s time was championed by men like “Seneca (4 B.C.E.–65 C.E.), Epictetus (c. 55–135) and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121–180)” (Source 3). The basic idea of stoicism was indifference to pain or pleasure (Source 2) which is where we get the term “stoic” from today. These philosophers would sit around and discuss all kinds of ideas and worship idols but never get anywhere with it. So they initially mock Paul for his beliefs because his premises start with a loving God who would take action in sending His Son to die on the cross for every human’s sin. These biblical truths stood in contrast to everything they thought and theorized.
Paul gives us a great lesson when he points to the alter for “THE UNKNOWN GOD” and claims it for the One, true God. Often when we share the Bible with people we fail to meet them at their level. This can happen in our own neighborhood but it is even more obvious if we travel to a different country with dissimilar customs and a different language. I’ve been to England where they speak mostly the same words as Americans but it’s a totally different language and culture. From driving on the other side of the street to calling a cookie “a biscuit” and a biscuit a “savory scone” it took some getting used to. Here in Athens Paul points at an alter that every one of these people have seen many times and quotes their poets (v. 28) yet doesn’t water down the message. If God has sent us to share with people about Christ then we meet them on their level (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) but with personal, yet logical reasons (always having a reason for believing what we believe, 1 Peter 3:15) we convince them (Titus 1:9) with the foundation of the Bible (2 Timothy 2:15) as the Holy Spirit speaks through us (Matthew 10:20).
vv. 32-34. When Paul mentions Jesus’ resurrection many start mocking him. This is usually the case. Most people are OK with ethical teaching or discussing their idea of God but as soon as you mention raising from the dead, people get scared. The initial layer is that they’ve been conditioned to it sounding like a bad horror movie. So they don’t accept it because it goes against what we know to be truth. But the deeper layer, the spiritual battle, is this: if there really is a perfect God who took all of our sins and died for us so we could be in heaven with Him than that would demand some sort of response from us. It convicts us because we are living self-centered lives where we are the priority and we would have to change. We would have to humble ourselves and forgive others as Christ has forgiven us.
Conclusion. So who are you like? Are you a Thessalonian? Is it easier for you to just go to church or youth group instead of opening your Bible and having a relationship with Jesus? Are you an Athenian? Always thinking about ideas but never taking action, always debating but finding that you’re just addicted to feeling smart instead of humbling yourself and recognizing you and your bright ideas aren’t the center of the universe?
Or are you interested in becoming a Christian? If you haven’t accepted Jesus as your Savior then read John 3:16 and talk to God about it (also email me if you want).
Do you already consider yourself a Bearean? Well, there is always room for improvement and we have so much room! One of the greatest things you can do to see how much you still have to learn is to get involved in a younger (in age or maturity) believer’s life (Titus 2:1-10) and teach them to be a Bearean.
Are you a younger Christian who wants to become a Bearean? First, pray for God’s guidance. Second, start reading your Bible! I don’t care how many verses, just read until you get to something that makes you think – something that you don’t understand and have to pray about or ask another Christian what it means. There is a free Bible app for iOS and android called youversion (https://www.bible.com) with tons of reading plans to help you…so you have no excuse. Third, get connected with another human(s). You need fellowship no matter how much people, doctrines or how waking up before noon has hurt you. God is none of those things and in Hebrews 10:25 (and a lot of other places) He tells you to interact with other likeminded believers. These are just three ways to start living spiritually-minded so that you “search the Scriptures” and find what you’re searching for!
Source 1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bereans
Source 2: John MacArthur, the John MacArthur Study Bible.