Month: March 2013

Triumphing over Depression

One of several versions of the painting "...

One of the most famous works of art The Scream was created by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch. In 2012, it was sold for $119.9 million, becoming the world’s most expensive work of art ever sold at an auction. Why is this piece such an influential item? I believe most people can relate to the character’s emotions in the picture—fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and depression. Nearly everyone in the world, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity, has experienced depressing moods. It affects more than 19 million adults in the United States, predominately between the ages of 25 to 44, and women are twice as likely to suffer from it as men.

There is not a concise definition of depression, but only a range of emotional and physical symptoms that attempt to describe it. Secularists define it as a biological medical illness that causes “loss of energy, feelings of weakness, powerlessness, unhappiness, self-punishment, and a whole range of negative feelings.”  Biblical counselors also define depression with similar symptoms, but differ on what depression is, why it occurs, and how to effectively treat it. Let’s investigate the biblical perspective.

Biblical Perspective on Depression

Biblical counselors first understand human beings to be composed of both a body and a soul (Matt. 10:28; 1 Thess. 5:23), and created by a living God (2 Cor. 6:16). This position differs from secularists who either believe man to be purely biological or having two components (body and mind). Even if secularists believe there is a mind, that doesn’t conclude they believe in the personal God of the Bible. These assertions are important to recognize first since they lay the foundation for understanding depression. People are not alone when they experience depression. Famous people like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill struggled with melancholy. Even the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon, the missionary David Brainerd, and Bible translator J.B. Phillips wrote personal journals expressing their struggles with sadness.

Why is depression a universal phenomenon to humankind? Let’s examine the world through biblical lenses to understand why depression exists. First, depression exists because we live in a fallen world (Gen. 3). All of us have sinned against God (Rom 3:23) and our relationship is fractured apart from Christ. People were made to worship God and know Him, but everyone has turned to idols that leave the soul empty and unsatisfied. Second, depression is a result of living a life without God. The person who doesn’t believe in God has no absolute standard for determining the purpose or goal of life, which ultimately leads to depression. Even if unbelievers have peace, it’s only temporary and not the same type of peace that Christ offers to those who receive the Holy Spirit (John 14:27). Finally, when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are given a new heart which gives us good desires, comfort, and hope for the future (2 Cor. 5:17). Because believers still struggle with inward sin, it is possible to get depressed. Nevertheless, it’s the hope of every Christian to be delivered from sin when we go to heaven and worship God (Rev. 7:15-17).

There are many specific causes of depression. First, a person may feel sad because they have guilt over sins they have committed in the past or present. In the Scriptures, Jonah was disobedient toward God, reluctant to visit Nineveh, and afterward asked if God would take his life (Jonah 4:3). David was heavy in heart after he committed adultery (Ps. 32). These sins can cause our conscious to accuse us and can continue to grow to depression unless we confess and forsake it (Rom. 2:14). Moreover, depression can result from overwhelming responsibilities that seem impossible to accomplish by the individual. In Deuteronomy 1:28, we have an example of the Israelites who entered the land of spies and believed that they were too large to fight, resulting in discouragement. Oftentimes we get overwhelmed with the bills we need to pay, the projects we have at work, and spending quality time with family. This can lead us to despair. However, we need to realize that God is sovereign and working out all things for our benefit (Rom. 8:28).

Depression is an issue that continues to plague our culture. The secular community believes that it’s a biopsychosocial illness while the biblical community believes that it’s a result of living in a fallen world. The only cure to the root of depression is the gospel. All of us have struggled with depression and desperately need the Prince of peace (Isa. 9:6) Jesus Christ to fill our hearts with love, joy, and satisfaction so that we can live a life triumphing over depression. 

5 practical steps to triumphing over depression.

1. Read Psalm 68:19, then make a list of 25 blessings that God has bestowed on you. Think about every area of your life: physical, spiritual, financial, social, circumstantial, etc. After you write them down, make it a daily practice to thank God. I have noticed that when I focus on God’s goodness, I rejoice instead of feeling depressed. Finish by reading Philippians 4:8 and Ephesians 5:20.

2. Take notes on the Sunday sermon. Read them over with your spouse or a close friend. Then act on them. For example, if the pastor preaches on the great commission in Matthew 28:16-20, pray what God would have you do. Think about unbelievers that are in your sphere of influence: work, school, relatives, friends, etc. Take an opportunity to invite them to your church, pray for their salvation, or share your own testimony about what God has done for you. As you see God work, your life may take on a new purpose that will quench depression.

3. Complaining is a sin easily overlooked in our culture and can lead to a depressing outlook on life. Pay attention each time you grumble about a situation, confess your sin, and read Romans 12:2: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” When you repent of complaining, remember to replace it with a thought that is pleasing to God, which is thanksgiving (Ps. 28:7; 69:30; Col. 2:6-7).

4. Do a bible study on verses about repentance and forgiveness. Then make a list of the consequences of sin and the benefits of obedience. Finally, read through Psalm 32, 38, and 51, praying that God would transform your heart to worship Him.

5. Every time you experience depression, jot down the experience in a journal. Afterwards, read through the Psalms and then meditate on a particular verse. Try to memorize it so that your mind will be filled with God’s word rather than worry, anxiety, or fear that leads to depression. Finally, seek an accountability partner to let them know each time you are experiencing symptoms of loneliness or anxiety.

Bibliography

Lee Shirley (2000) Depression: A Treatable Disease. The National Academy on an Aging Society, (9): 1-6.

Robert Smith, The Christian Counselor’s Medical Desk Reference (Hackettstown, NJ: Zondervan Press, 2000), 200).

Janice Wetzel, Clinical Handbook of Depression (New York, NY: Gardner Press, 1984)

Edward Welch (2000), Words of Hope for those who Struggle with Depression. Journal of Biblical Counseling (18

Wayne Mack, Out of the Blues: Dealing with the Blues of Depression and Loneliness ( Bemidji, MN: Focus Publishing, 2006).

The Idolatry of Micah in the book of Judges

Priest, High Priest, and Levite, illustration ...

Last summer I had the opportunity to visit my wife’s native land, the beautiful Ukraine in eastern Europe. During our stay with her family, we visited the capital city Kiev, journeyed through the evergreen trees and natural springs of the Carpathean Mountains, and went to a historical Church. It was coated with blue walls and round topped domes lustered with gold. After going inside the lavished Cathedral, we gazed at the intricate portraits of saints, marbled floors, and smelled numerous incenses burning around the entire square block of the building. To the left, there was this prayer box similar to one at a movie theatre. It had a priest dressed up in a black vesture with a long white beard. There was a line of fervent visitors emptying their pockets and handing their money in full to the priest. There was a sign which listed the price of how much each prayer cost. If you wanted someone to pray for your spouse or have a service in your name, it cost extra. The only exception was the one being prayed for could not be a harlot, drunkard, or any other denomination outside of theirs.

Right then, I realized that their god was not the living Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, but the idol of money and power. They were fashioning their god by creating  buildings with larger domes, pillars, and jewels, rather than sharing their earnings with the old crippled man and widow begging at the entrance of the gate. Jesus said that a pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and widows in distress, and to be unspotted from the world. The same type of idolatry was also happening during the book of Judges between Micah and the Levite. Read Judges 17:1-13 and we will analyze the text and apply it to our own situation today.

The first aspect is the religious corruption in Israel. In the book of Joshua, God brought victory, giving Israel the land promised to Abraham through the conquests of Jericho, AI, Bethel, and the other Canaanite cities. After Joshua died in 1375 BC, the signs of unfaithfulness began to emerge. The Israelites were content with settling alongside the inhabitants, allowing other false gods to appear in Israelite worship with Yahweh. God continued to be patient, just, and merciful. When the Israelites were dominated by their neighboring nations, God would raise up judges or deliverers (warriors) in six cycles of events, demonstrating his forgiveness, rescuing them each time from their enemies. The key verse is Judges 21:25: “Israel had no King; everyone did as he saw fit.”

At the beginning of the period of Judges, the Israelites had difficulty with escaping the temptation of foreign gods in the land, but now their moral compass completely collapsed. In chapter 17, a new idea emerges. God’s people are manufacturing their own idols and false gods, starting with Micah the Ephramite, the help of his mother, the Levite who attended Micah’s shrine, and the Danite tribe. Israel became much different than it was during the time of Joshua. Instead of cult sites on hills being destroyed in Israel they were being constructed. Instead of idols being cut down, they were being manufactured. Even the central shrine for Yahweh is placed by Micah’s false god.

The second truth is the corruption of the Levitical Priesthood. The Levite was a young man from the clan of Judah. Although this young man was a descendent of Levi, he violated his call in many ways. First, he did not determine to dedicate his allegiance to Yahweh, but worship any deity that would give him prestige, which was Micah’s god of ten shekels and a shirt. Third, he does not serve at the place of Yahweh’s choosing but at a place chosen by a man. Moreover, he does not receive an honorarium (Deut. 18) where the Lord is his inheritance, but worships temporary silver, food, and clothes. Lastly, he lusts for power just like Micah did when he was captured by the Danites. They said to him, “Is it better for you to be a priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and a family in Israel?” Then it states here: “The priest’s heart was glad, and he took the ephod and household idols and the graven images and went among the people. The Levite not only worshipped Micah’s false god but encouraged others to do the same. This man has no passion for God. In the end, you notice the wandering Levite succeeds as the high priest of the Danite cult shrine, and the Danites succeed in conquering land even though they never called on God for help.

How often can we be like the Levite. It is easy for us to point our fingers at the secular realm when they build multimillion dollar stadiums to house their sport gods, buy LCD flatscreen Televisions and sit to worship the entertainment god, or attend the innumerable fast-food chains to serve their idol of gluttony. Is it possible for us to be like the Levite, who will be an actor of religion for ten shekels and a shirt in order to have a good salary? Are you finding a ministry position, not because you are called to go somewhere, but because it offers full-benefits and are tired of having menial jobs? Can we be tempted to grow our church attendance, not for King Jesus’ sake, but so we can have more Danites worshipping us, following our tweets, and broadcasting our sermons?

What kind of change does God want from us? He doesn’t want us to worship idols because He knows they can’t ultimately satisfy our heart’s desires. We are created to worship God and enjoy Him forever. King Solomon had everything that the natural man could want: power, fame, fortune, but he ultimately said in the end that all of it is meaningless and chasing after the wind (Ecc. 1:14). Instead, pursue Christ by reading His Word, obeying his commands, praising Him in spiritual songs and hymns, and letting Him be the King of your heart. He is the only God that truly loves us because He took the wrath of God in our place so that we could enjoy eternity with Him.

The Temptations of Jesus in the Wilderness

English: The Temptation of Jesus on the Mountain

Matthew 4:1-11: The Temptations of Jesus in the Wilderness 

  1. Read the Story multiple times. 
  2. Identify the Setting and Characters: After Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, the Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Next, Jesus was transported by the devil to the pinnacle of the temple in the holy city Jerusalem. At the last temptation, the devil took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him the kingdoms of the world. The characters in the story are Jesus, the tempter, and ministering angels.
  3. Observe the StoryThe story is about the temptations that Jesus experienced after his baptism and before his public ministry. After each temptation, Jesus manages to defeat Satan with the Word of God. At the end of the story, Satan flees from the Son of Man then ministering angels help him recover.  
  4. Isolate the Different Scenes: Scene 1: The Spirit of God leads Jesus into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. Scene 2: The first temptation of Satan was to ask Jesus to turn stones into bread, but Jesus responded by saying that man shall live by every word that comes from God. Scene 3: The devil transports Jesus to the holy city and tempts him a second time, telling Jesus to throw himself off the temple since God’s angels would catch him. Jesus tells the devil that God’s word says not to put the Lord to the test. Scene 4: Satan takes Jesus to a high mountain, shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and then tells Jesus that he will give him all of these kingdoms if Jesus will worship him. Jesus rebukes Satan, and tells him that only God is worthy to be worshipped. Scene 5: The devil left and angels came and ministered to Jesus.

The Whole Gospel Context

Matthew 4 is a foreshadow and antitype of what happened in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan and failed to obey God. In the same way, Jesus was tempted by Satan but fully obeyed God. Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, so also the result of one act of righteousness by Jesus Christ brought justification for all men who believe in Him (Rom. 5:12-14). Another antitype is Israel. Where Israel failed in the wilderness, Jesus succeeded in the wilderness.

Jesus death-resurrection plays a role in this picture because in the previous chapter he had just been declared the Son of God. Now Satan is attempting to question his calling with “If you are the Son of God” but Jesus defeats his schemes and ironically proves by His character and life that He is the Son of Man. Therefore, Matthew revealed that Jesus’ victory demonstrated His divine kingship. His royal power to resist the only other great ruler of the universe, Satan himself. By so doing, Jesus sealed His final victory yet to come. Satan’s purpose was just the opposite. He wanted to conquer the King, overthrow the Messiah, and to claim the royal rights himself. However, we see that Jesus, the promised seed of the woman mentioned in Genesis 3, will soon crush the head of the serpent when He is crucified for the sins of the world. From this point forward, he will conquer death and sit at the right hand of the Father, proving His victory and salvation for the sins of the world.

Character traits to be conformed to:  

  1. Jesus trusted in the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to lead Him into the wilderness where he would undergo difficult trials. He was also trusting in God’s Word, using it to answer against the schemes of the devil.
  2. Jesus was disciplined and self-controlled, fasting for forty days and forty nights, and rejecting all the material kingdoms in the world that Satan offered to him.
  3. Jesus was humble, not using his power for selfish gain. For instance, he could have turned stone into bread in an instance, but chose not to do so because he was relying upon God. He also allowed the angels to minister to him after the temptations were over. This takes humility because most people think they can fight their own battles rather than asking for help.
  4. Jesus was bold, fighting against the temptations of Satan and rebuking him in the name of the Lord.

Character traits to reject: 

  1. Satan was trying to deceive the Son of Man by quoting Scripture to him that was taken out of context. Deception is a character trait to be avoided because it is a life full of lies that can hurt your relationship with others.
  2. Satan was prideful, boasting to Jesus about all the kingdoms of the world that he owned, even though all of it ultimately belonged to God. He also wanted Jesus to worship him, which is a result of many sinful character traits, including: pride, arrogance, selfishness.

I was taught this template by Dr. Jonathan Pennington, professor of New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His method is called a Closer Reading of the Text, which focuses on identifying the characters, isolating the scenes, analyzing the narrative, and discovering the fallen condition, redemptive solution, and virtue formation goals in the text.

What are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?

thAMHN15VW

1 Corinthians 12:7-11 lists the spiritual gifts. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another the gifts of healing by one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills.”

The first gift, wisdom, indicates a speaking gift (1 Pet. 4:11). The Bible teaches that wisdom is understanding God’s word and being able to apply it practically to situations that exist in the world (Luke 7:35; Acts 6:10; James 1:5). This is an important component for a pastor because he not only needs to do a proper exegesis of God’s word, but he needs to make it applicable to his congregation.

The second gift, knowledge, also is understanding and speaking God’s truth with insight, but it focuses on grasping the meaning of it rather than the practical nature of it.The third gift, faith, is distinct from saving faith. This gift is possessed by those who are persistent in prayer and building their relationship with the Holy Spirit. A friend of mine was considered a faithful warrior in prayer because he would always intercede for the church he went to with a strong trust that God would answer his prayers. This is an important function for the body to have.

The fourth gift, healing, was a sign used by Christ and his apostles (Matt 8:16; Luke 10:1; 2 Cor 12:12) to demonstrate the power and glory of God. Though I believe that it could still happen today, it is not common. There have been false prophets and teachers who have abused this area of ministry, and I don’t think we should follow signs and wonders, but the Word of God. However, we shouldn’t go to the other extreme and deny that God could perform miracles because we have a God who is able to do supernatural works whenever He desires.

The fifth gift, prophecy, is speaking forth or proclaiming publicly what has already been said. In the Old Testament, the prophets would speak God’s word. They did not speak outside of the revelation that God intended for them to have, and If what they said didn’t come to pass, they would be killed. Since God has already given us all we need for salvation and life and has spoken in the last days through His Son (Heb. 1), it is unnecessary to speak any prophetic utterance that isn’t already confirmed in the Bible. Moreover, the Bible declares that no one knows the day or the hour when the Lord will return so anyone who claims to prophesy when the end will come, is false and shouldn’t be listened to. God gives us ample warnings in the Scriptures to watch out for these deceivers (Matt. 24:36; Acts 1:7).

The sixth gift, discerning of spirits, is a spiritual gift God gives us through the Holy Spirit to determine whether it’s from God or a counterfeit from Satan. The Bible informs us that Satan masquerades as an angel of light; thus, it is difficult to discern a lying and deceptive spirit unless we have the omniscient God living within us (Acts 17:11; John 4:1). I believe this gift can be both objectively and subjectively discerned, through the Word of God and the Holy Spirit convicting us when we feel like something is wrong. For instance, you should never accuse anyone, but if you feel uncomfortable around a person, it may be the Holy Spirit telling you to be watchful and investigate if there is something that person may be hiding. This discernment needs to be correctly handled, in a biblical, humble, and patient way.

The last gift is speaking and interpreting tongues. There are two arguments in this debate. Some believe that this specific gift has ceased with the completion of the canon (1 Cor. 13: 8-12) while others maintain that they are still used for today (1 Cor. 1:7). First, it is important to recognize that both sides have good arguments and as Christians we need to be gracious with opposing views. We can, however, stand up against any charismatic movement who teaches that you must speak in tongues in order to be saved, that it is a prerequisite or proof of having a second baptism of the Holy Spirit, or if it is not done in an orderly way.

Personally, I believe that speaking in tongues was an actual language that was spoken by people and not a nonsensical language that no one could understand. Here is why I believe this. First, God is rational so He would not give us something that we can’t interpret ourselves. Second, God’s point of having this gift and giving it to the apostles was because there were many languages from around the world gathered in one specific place. It was essential for the Word of God to be translated so that they could hear it in their own language and be saved.

Is Jesus the only way to Heaven?

I heard a story about a Buddhist and a Hindu discussing religious topics. They both agreed they were on different paths but would end up at the same destination on top of the mountain—the place they allegorized as god. All they had to do was be faithful to their own religion and do enough good deeds to earn his favor.When they asked the Christian missionary what his thoughts were, he said: “I do believe that each of us are on different paths, but I don’t think that we will end up finding God on top of the mountain.” They asked him, “Why not?” He said: “Because in the Christian religion, God, who you say  we have to search for on top of the mountain, actually came to the world and found us. We didn’t create our own path to find him.” They were startled and agreed that this God was more loving since he searched diligently for the people he created.

While other religions believe that you can earn your way to heaven if you practice faith and be a good person, the Christian religion states that no one is good, all have sinned, no one seeks God, and all of our attempts to please God fall short of the perfect standard that He requires (Gen. 8:21; Ecc. 7:20; Rom. 3:23; 29). Instead, the only way for man to be saved and reconciled was for God to take on human flesh (John 1:14) and be the propitiator (appease the wrath of God) for the sins of the world (John 3:16). Also, not only did Jesus bear the wrath of God in our place, but He lived the perfect life and imputed (gave us) His righteousness to us so that we could be justified freely by His grace (Eph. 2:7-8).This is the only way that man can be accepted before God. Acts 4:12 states, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” What a wonderful God we serve!

What Does the Bible Say About the Trinity?

English: a Venn diagram-like symbol for the Ch...

The Triune God eternally exists in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s important to emphasize that Christians do not believe in tri-theism, or three Gods that are of equal power. As Deuteronomy 6:4 states, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Other heresies that must be avoided are modalism (claims there is one person who appears to us in three forms), Arianism (denies the full deity of the Son and the Holy Spirit), Subordinationism (Son was eternal and divine, but not equal to the Father in being or attributes), and Adoptionism (Jesus lived as an ordinary man until his baptism, then God adopted Jesus as his Son and gave him supernatural powers).

All persons of the Trinity are distinct in their roles yet equal in deity. For example, the Father spoke the creative words to bring the universe into being, but it was the Son, the eternal Word of God, who carried out these creative decrees (John 1:3). The Holy Spirit was also active, moving over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2), manifesting God’s presence in creation (Ps. 33:6). In the work of redemption, God the Father sends the Son (Gal 4:4; Eph. 1:9-10), the Son obeys and dies for our sins—God the Father and Holy Spirit did not die for our sins. The Holy Spirit works in our life to counsel us and bring us to the knowledge of the Truth (Jn. 15:26), and the Holy Spirit regenerates our heart, sanctifies us, and empowers us to conform into the image of God (1 Cor. 12:7-11)

In the Old Testament we come to Genesis 1:26, where God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” This plural verb suggests that God is speaking about His nature. Some have suggested that this passage is referring to God’s “plural of majesty” or to the many angels, but there are no Hebrew examples of monarchy imposed in the text and angels did not participate in the creation of man, nor were angels created in the image and likeness of mankind. In Isaiah 9:6 we read that the child to be born into the world will be called mighty God, which is reffering to the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, who took on human flesh and dwelt on the Earth. In Isaiah 63:10 God says that his people rebelled and grieved the Holy Spirit, suggesting that the Holy Spirit is distinct from God the Father but equal in the divine nature.

In the New Testament, when Jesus was baptized by John the Bible says, “the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and coming upon him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (Matt. 3:16-17).” Here in one moment the three members of the Trinity are performing three distinct roles. For example, the Father is speaking from heaven, the Holy Spirit is descending from heaven upon the Son, and the Son is being baptized. Similarly, in Ephesians 4:4-6, the apostle Paul states, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

For more on this topic, see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 248).

Paul in Athens: Proclaiming Christ to a Christless Culture

Raphael, St Paul Preaching in Athens

It’s midday in the year AD 50. Mr. Artist just graduated from Apollos University with skills in painting and sculpting. He is now prepared to go to the marketplace and make a living selling his work to the Athenian people. As Artist walks from his house to the urban center of commerce, He bypasses the colosseums, theaters, libraries, and the 15,000 statues of the Roman and Greek god and goddesses (Aphrodite – goddess of beauty, Bacchus – the god of brotherly affection, Zeus – the Father of the gods).

When He enters the marketplace of the city of Athens, a dense population of around 12,000, He struggles to find any spot to set up and sell his art collection. Other craftworkers and idol makers are yelling at each other: “I was here first.” As artist looks around, He becomes overwhelmed by the amount of people that are there. Businesspersons were making deals face-to-face, philosophers were debating and teaching about the sciences, news reporters were heralding their messages to the people.

Finally, artist gets a spot to sell his items. The Athenians run up to him with their drachma coinage, shouting: “Give me your sculpting of Metis so I can have wise counsel or paint me the god of Demeter to hang up in my room so my crops will grow.” Before making the deal, the people start moving frantically. Artist wonders what is going on. Next, he hears from an old woman that there is a peculiar man in the streets proclaiming some foreign deity. She says to Artist in a raspy tone: “They say his name is Paul. He traveled from Thessalonica and Berea to here.” Artist responds: “That’s 250 roman miles. It must have taken him 3 days by sea. He must have something important to say, even though he looks like he hasn’t taken a shower in days.

As artist begins to approach this man, the Epicureans and the Stoic philosophers begin to dialogue with Paul, asking many questions. Artist notices that some were impressed with Paul’s understanding of Greek culture and philosophy while others were laughing at him, calling him an ignorant babbler. Nevertheless, the philosophers invited him to preach a sermon at the Areopagus, which is found in your Bible in Acts 17:22-34. The Areopagus, also known as Mars Hill, was a 370 foot rock where the greatest minds would come together and discuss politics, philosophy, and science.

Artist becomes so eager to hear this man proclaim his God that He decides to skip work for the day, hoping that this God could bring joy and meaning to his life, unlike the gods of silver who can’t speak. As artist takes his seat, the Apostle Paul stands up in the midst of the Areopagus with a stern and compassionate tone: “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an alter with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.‘ Therefore what you worship in ignorance this I proclaim to you.

The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own prophets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’

Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead. ”Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” So Paul went out of their midst, but some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

There are many people today like Mr. Artist, the intellectually elite philosophers, and the people of Athens who are longing for an inward peace, who want to be fused with meaning and purpose, to have a worldview that will answer why they exist, what their purpose is, and where they are going after this life is over. The problem is that the Bible says men and women are more prone to believe in falsehood than truth, to love darkness more than light, to worship anything and everything except the true and living God. As Romans 1 rightly states: Men have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the created things rather than the creator.

Then you have us, the people of God. The ones who were just as lost as the world, following our own selfish desires and the Prince of the power of the air, Satan, who is now working in the sons of disobedience. How thankful should we be, that God extended unmerited favor to us (grace). That God revealed to us our sin and gave us the strength through His Holy spirit to repent and trust in Him rather than false gods. That our old self has been crucified and we no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in us. C.S. Lewis said: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

As we look at our text today, I want us to examine the character of Paul and how it affected his evangelism. There are three basic questions I want us to ask ourselves. (1) Where did Paul go and why? (2) How did he feel? (3) What did he do? My goal for answering these questions is not to give you 5 secret principles that will help you become a better evangelist by tomorrow. The purpose of my sermon is to introspect Paul’s life to understand the kind of heart, character, and attitude one possesses when they have a genuine relationship with God.

Where did Paul go and why? Before we can answer this question, let’s briefly discuss his background. He was born in Tarsus, a Greek Mediterranean City known for intellectual elitism, but was encouraged by his parents to study Judaism in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel, a famous rabbi and leading authority in the Sanhedrin. He grew up to be a Pharisee, a group who emphasized strict orthodoxy. Before becoming a follower of Jesus, Paul zealously persecuted the Christian church, trying to destroy it. In Acts 7, he held the coats of those who stoned Stephen, the first martyr and dragged believers to prison in 8:3.

His life completely changed when he was traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus to lock up more Christians. A great light appeared to him and he was struck blind. A voice called out to him, Saul, why are you persecuting me? This was the resurrected Jesus. Paul’s conversion dramatically changed his life and he began preaching that Jesus of Nazareth was the Jewish messiah and the Son of God. He went on three separate missionary journeys across the world, was stoned, shipwrecked, beaten, and threatened countless times. He was able to endure all of these hardships because God took out his heart of stone (idolatry, legalism, murder, pride) and gave him His Holy Spirit, moving Paul to live for the glory of God.

First, in order for Paul to have an impact on the culture, he must have an inward change of the heart. This change happens when you are born again and have a personal relationship with God. The metaphor of marriage is used in the same way to describe our relationship with God. Isaiah 54:5 states: “For your Maker is your husband. The Lord Almighty is his name; he is called the God of all the earth.” So as our relationship with God gets better, our desires and motives become more like His.

Before my wife and I got married, I didn’t care for watermelons. My family never ate them. The only fruit I remember eating growing up was apples and bananas. When we got married, I found out that Olya’s favorite fruit is watermelon. Now, I love them and eat healthier than before. Unfortunately, Olya didn’t know before she married me that our refrigerator at home was always stocked with cans of Coca-Cola. We have compromised to caffeine free Coke. My point is that we are gradually conforming into the likeness of the one to whom we are closest to. Because she liked watermelons and we hang out all the time, I eventually had to eat them with her and as a result I began to grow a desire for them. As God and you spend more time together, you will inevitably desire to be holy and compassionate because thats His character. Second, because of this inward change of the heart through a relationship with God, Paul was effective in evangelizing to the culture. We can better understand why Paul preached in the places that he did and endured the trials that he experienced. It’s because he had died to his old nature and God is working through him. Because God loves His creation, and is willing that no one perish, Paul also has the same desires. This is why Jesus’ last words to his disciples were: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to EVERY creature.” This includes the Jews and the Gentile people.

Where did he go? The first location where Paul went was the synagogue, where the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles were. Acts 17:2 states that as his custom was, Paul went to the synagogues whenever he entered a new city. I believe he did this for two reasons. First, because God desired that his own people, the Israelites, return to Him. Second, because Paul could relate to the Jews. He grew up in that environment his whole life and was able to use his gift of understanding the Old Testament to point them to Christ. What gifts has God given to you that will affect your sphere of influence?

The second location of Paul’s activity was the agora, the central plaza of Athens. This was a marketplace of ideas, philosophies, businesses, and art where the unbelieving Gentiles were. These were the common people. You had businesspersons making transactions on the street corners rather than office buildings, journalists heralding news (they had no newspapers), and professors engaging face to face. The agora was where everyone came together to buy and sell or share ideas, and Paul goes public there with his faith. To the modern person, it doesn’t make sense that Paul would be public with his faith. Even some misguided Christians would say thats why we have different temples, synagogues, and church buildings so that people can practice their faith in privacy and not be bothered by others with different religious convictions.  However, if there is a God who is the Creator of everything, that God would have to logically be the Lord over every area. You couldn’t keep him in a private place like Sunday worship and the Wednesday Bible study, but God will be outflowing from your heart in every situation and place. Jesus said there is coming a time when you will neither worship on this mountain or in Jerusalem, but all worshippers will worship God in spirit and in truth. Often times, unfortunately, we keep it private.

You just completed your grocery shopping and are putting your food items on the conveyer belt, waiting for the cashier to ask if you have a Kroger plus card. You respond: Yes, I do. She says, “How are you today?” You say: “Fine, and you?” She makes this statement: Well, okay. I was watching the news today and heard that there was another shooting on the West end of Louisville. The only news you ever hear now is bad. In what way do you respond? Do you just say oh yea, I agree. The news is depressing, or do you take this as an opportunity to say, “Well, do you want to hear good news instead?” and then share the gospel. I must confess that I have had opportunities like this before and failed to be faithful to what God wanted me to do. Let’s be like Paul who was always ready to give an answer to the hope that was in Him, but let us do this with meekness and gentleness.

The third location that Paul went to was the Areopagus, also known as Mars Hill. This 370 foot rock is where the greatest minds would come together and discuss politics, philosophy, and science. It would be equivalent to being invited to speak at Harvard or Cambridge except that if you were charged with introducing foreign deities, you could be killed. Paul’s life was on the line. He was invited by the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers of his day. The Epicureans were materialists who believed that even if gods existed at all, they were far removed from us. This is eighteenth century deism (clockmaker). Stoic philosophers were pantheists (Spinoza), believing that the ultimate divine principle was to be found in all of nature and the spark of divinity within. Modern day components were Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan who famously said, “The universe all there was, is, and ever will be.” Interestingly enough, these two types of philosophies are saturated in our universities today.

How did Paul interact with these people? He seems to begin on common ground by saying that they are religious. This word is used to mean fearing the gods and does not mean the negative sense of being superstitious. Paul is pointing out that he has carefully walked around the city and he knows which gods they serve. He is letting the Athenians know that He has taken time to study their worldview. This is an important observation in the text because I believe Christians today are ignorant of what others believe. As we engage the culture, not only should we be prepared to give an answer to what we believe, but we should also take time to understand how the culture thinks.

Second, Paul asserts that the unknown god is the God he proclaims in the agora. In other words, he is not introducing a foreign deity to which he could be killed for. Rather, he is pointing out that their unknown God that they worship in ignorance is the God that He believes in, the Creator, Sustainer, Ruler, Father, and Judge of the whole world. Paul’s speech reveals that he made points of connection (agreement, contextualization) and points of contradiction (disagreement). He was willing to understand where they were coming from while also telling them that they need to repent of their idols and serve the living God.

The next question I want to answer is how did Paul feel and what did he see? Paul was greatly distressed when he saw the city was full of idols. The word for distressed is the same word used in the Old Testament for jealousy when God saw His people worshipping idols. The word for jealousy is not in the sense of being envious of another person because he or she has a better car, home, or athletic ability. This jealousy is profound because love is not just sweet feelings but its thunderous feelings. For example, if a husband sees another person flirting with his wife, he is right to be jealous, for only he has the right to flirt with his wife since they are married.

Another example is if you love somebody and you see them going in the wrong direction, you don’t just say oh, no. I hope that person will be okay. No, you get mad. You say: “I will not let that drug destroy this person’s life and go to jail. I care too much for them to make bad decisions. Example of mug shots. In the same way, since God created the world, only worship, praise, and honor should go to Him. He is telling them: Don’t fall into the hands of these idols, come to me. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Paul also felt a strong compassion for these people because he knew that they were lost. He saw something that moved him to tears. The sights and sounds that portrayed man’s fundamental idolatry and rejection of God. Like Calvin, Paul could have said: “That man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols.” This emotional connection to the people gave him the audacity to publicly proclaim Christ. It also gave him the courage to stand in front of the most sophisticated philosophers in the world, risk his life, tell them of their ignorance of the unknown god, and then declare to them that they need to repent because Jesus is coming again. There is no 5 point sermon that can produce this passion. It takes reflection, prayer, habits of the heart, and spending quality time with God to know How He feels and thinks.

Not only did Paul feel greatly distressed, he also saw idols under the art, business, government, and philosophies of the Athenians. What is an idol? An idol is excessive devotion to, or reverence for some person or thing. It replaces the one, true God. Throughout the Old Testament, God showed how worthless the idols of other gods were. The Philistines devoted their worship to Dagon, the fish god, even though it was twice knocked to the floor by Yahweh. The contest between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal show that the True God has power and the false gods are worthless.

One of the greatest examples in the Bible where God demonstrates his power against false idols is 2 Kings 5. Naman, the prime minister of Syria, a pagan, was a leper that needed to be healed. He knew about Elisha, that He was a man of God and a well-known prophet. After he got healed, he told Elisha that He would only serve the God of Israel. When he went back to worship in the house of Rimmon with his master, he would bow down but not show his allegiance to the idol because he had the dirt from Israel under him.

In this passage, we see that Paul shows the futility of idols. First, he says that God does not dwell in temples made with hands since He made the world. You can’t confine God to a particular location if He is Lord over all. Next, he says that He can’t be served by human hands as if he needed anything. Since God created the world, he surely doesn’t need someone to serve Him. Rather, He serves His creation by giving them life and breath and all things. We don’t build our tower of Babel, or construct something to Him. He came to us. There are still religions that bow before statues and icons. One day, I visited the Hindu temple of Louisville out of curiosity. When I got there, I saw three miniature temples inside an open space that was at least sixty feet tall. Inside each of these temples were shrines filled with gold, images of various gods, and fruits and vegetables at the altar where incense was being burned. It broke my heart to see them trusting in these gods that they have made in their own image, not recognizing that a resurrection is coming, not a reincarnation.

Idolatry extends beyond the worship of idols and images and false gods. Even if the American west doesn’t bow physically before a statue, they show their excessive devotion to something. It may be the altar called the stadium where the sports deity is worshipped, the fast food restaurants where the god of gluttony is worshipped, the god of wall street where greed is worshipped, the god of lust where pornography is worshipped, the iPhone god where entertainment is worshipped. Are you holding an idol in your heart? If so, God desires for you to trust in Him rather than the pleasures and comforts of this life.

The final question I want to ask is What did he do? First, the Apostle Paul engaged with different types of people. He was able to evangelize to the Jewish people through His knowledge of the Old Testament. He went to the Athenian people, even quoting their own poets, demonstrating that He was an apologist. He not only knew his worldview well, but knew it better than they did. This helps us understand that we should do our best to engage the culture with the gift set that God has given. We may not be able to dialogue with the philosophers at The University of Louisville, but surely we can grab a cup of coffee with our next door neighbor and share the good news.

Because Paul reasoned in the marketplace, He was able to be invited to the Areopagus to discuss more about Jesus and the resurrection. If we are faithful to the opportunities God gives us each day, He may continue to open doors for us. When He preaches his sermon at the Areopagus, he reveals to them that the God they do not know is the one He is proclaiming. Then, he led his audience to the main themes of the gospel, such as the need to repent, the coming judgment, and the gift of eternal life found in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Paul used the resurrection of Jesus as the ultimate proof. He showed that God has given assurance of the coming judgment by raising Jesus from the dead. If Jesus did rise from the dead, then the Athenians should believe. He also said that their times of ignorance have passed because one cannot ignore truth for too long without being responsible for their behavior. Paul was not afraid to be honest and upfront with people, even if it may offend them.

Whether Jew or Gentile, philosopher or simple person, Paul understood that Christ was for all. As Paul shows us throughout his experience in Athens, where we begin may vary with the spiritual condition of our audience, but where we end must always be the same. Proclaiming the reality of sin, judgment, and the need for repentance with Jesus as the only way to salvation. If you are not a believer, I want to ask: Are you going to reject, be reluctant, or be receptive to the gospel like Dionysius and Damaris? If you are a believer, ask yourself the same questions: Where do you go with the gospel, how do you feel about the lostness of my family, friends, and neighbors, and what price are you willing to pay to honor God with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength?