Welcome to the CWA Radio Network.
You are listening to A Musing hosted by me, Heather Randall.
What if every thought is deeper than a daydream. What if it's a
seedling from our Heavenly Father, our one true muse, pointing us to something we need to know? Let's embrace the freedom to wonder, take the invitation to explore, and learn everything He has to teach us in this amazing journey of life.
Let's get this show started.
Thank you for tuning in to episode 1 of A Musing. Today we'll be hanging out in Acts. We're going to be discussing Philosophy, the use of secular tools in evangelism, and emphasizing the importance God places on human experience in ministry.
We have a lot to cover today so let's not delay.
Open your Bible with me to Acts 17. We'll start in verse 16:
While Paul was waiting for them (speaking of Silas and Timothy)
in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and god-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happen to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him.
Let's stop here for a moment so I can give some background.
Epicurean philosophy was founded around 307 BC and based on the teachings of a man named Epicurus.
To give you an idea of their beliefs I'll read a quote from Epicurus himself. He wrote: "Pleasure is our first and kindred good. It is the starting point of every choice and every aversion, and to it we always come back, inasmuch as we make feeling the rule by which to judge of every good thing."
Epicurean philosophy was not a new thing in Paul's day. The idea predated Christ and, I would say, that there are many in our modern society who unconsciously hold to these beliefs today.
How many people do you know who are ruled by emotions which they use as the ultimate parameter to test if something is good
Again that quote is "we make feeling the rule by which to judge of every good thing.
On the other hand we have Stoicism, a branch of philosophy founded in 300 BC by Zeno of Cyprus and influenced by Socrates.
The stoic focuses on personal improvement, seeks to stay present and aims to avoid emotional extremes through self-control. The virtues taught in stoicism have actually since been accepted by some Christian theologians.
While the stoic mindset of being calm and tranquil is also mirrored in Buddhism.
Stoicism encourages followers to use the use of willpower to change their negative thought patterns and empower them to overcome the most trying times. They look inwardly for peace rather than focusing on their circumstances or feelings which seems like a good thing on the surface. However, Stoicism also lends itself to nature worship.
Now, self-control (we know) can be a fruit of spirit. It is a fruit of the Spirit, but the way that stoics think about it is not simply, you know, self-control through the Spirit. It's self-control independent of the Spirit of God and whenever we do things in our own power we run into problems, right? I mean, we know this as believers.
So this is the problem with stoicism. They try to fix their own problems.
Now again, Stoicism lends itself to nature worship. Ancient Stoics were known to build altars to geysers, worship rivers, ultimately elevating creation above the creator. From this we get that Zen/ new-age vibe in our society today that says that they can fix problems without God (it's just mine over matter) and here's where the self-help movement enters the scene. You see, the truth is . . .
Stoics are what we would call good people that lean on their own
understanding and prioritize personal virtue over relationship with God.
Yes, we still have these beliefs in our world and, honestly, they're even in our churches. It's these two groups that Paul finds himself in the midst of so let's return back to verse 18. It says:
Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus.
Now let's stop again. The Areopagus was a rock in the city where the high court of Athens would gather and hear cases. This, along
with the people's complaints in verse 18, might imply that Paul was actually on trial for teaching about a foreign God.
If this is the case, then that would mean that Paul's longest recorded sermon may have actually been a sort of legal defense.
Let's go back to verse 19. They took him. Oops, sorry. Hold on, I jumped my space. Okay. Alright, so let's return to verse 18 or
I'm sorry, 19:
Then they I took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean." (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "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 the this inscription: To An Unknown God. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship -- and this is what I'm going to proclaim to you.
Paul shows himself as a talented speaker in the way that he addresses his audience. He has taken time to recognize what's important to them (religion), to observe what they worship, and to quote their poets. As we'll see in verse 38, Paul understands who he is speaking to and how to reach them through the use of their own accepted knowledge. How did he learn this?
Well, I would say that he learned it from the very teachings of Jesus in Scripture.
Jesus quoted secular proverbs often. In Acts 26:14, Paul shares about his conversion writing: I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
Scholars and Theologians say that the phrase "kick against the pricks" was a phrase that originated in a Greek play. With Paul's
knowledge of Greek art history and philosophy, this phrase would have made sense to him.
God knew what would reach Saul. This shows us that Godly inspiration can come from secular knowledge because God is truth and truth is rooted in Him.
Personal story here: When I was a teenager my mom was overwhelmed by my moods and drama. Can't imagine that, right?
At one point, she was really crying out to God about what to do with me. She desperately wanted to be in God's will in her parenting.
So this one day, she was praying in the car when the lyrics to Hold on Loosely by 38 Special pushed through the speakers. As she listened, she begin to feel that (in that moment) God had used this secular song to provide her with tools to move forward with me. The song warned her to hold on loosely because if she clung too tight she was gonna lose the control she needed to maintain.
Then we find Biblical examples of this in Numbers 23. We can
see that Balaam is hired to curse Israel, but God won't let him. Instead, he spoke incredible blessings which are still spoken over Israel today. Truth has a way of making itself heard.
With God in charge, even on ungodly man sent to curse God's own people could be used to speak profound beauty, truth, and promise.
With Athens, the unknown God came out of a need for answers. During a horrible plague in Athens the leaders determined
that they must be under a curse, so they did what any place of that time would do in such a situation, and they began to offer sacrifices to their gods. But the plague continued, so then they started to really think about this and became convinced that there must be some other God that could fix their situation that they didn't know about yet. They wanted to learn about this God and they wanted to learn the right way to sacrifice to him and what to do, so they sent for Epimenides to help them figure out a way to set things right with this unknown god .
Epimenides no more knew the name of this other God than they did. He encouraged them to make sacrifices and built altars to this unknown God and, it is said, that within a week of honoring the
unknown God the plague was stopped.
Well, when we think about this, we know that gods of stone and metal and, you know . . . false gods, have no power to affect change. So, one of two things is happening here with their plague stopping and that's either just an extraordinary coincidence, or the unknown God was God Himself responding to their ignorant cry for help and meeting them where they were at.
See, they didn't know his name or anything about him but they were recognizing (however small) the sovereignty of God and, even then, God shows up.
Any accidental truth that people stumble upon and accept is no
less from God. To illustrate this, I imagine the poor, the fatherless, the widows gathering grain. It's on the outside, peripheral, maybe it's broken or uprooted already. They don't know the owner of the field, but they can gather there.
The world may not know God, the owner of wisdom, but I have to believe that He scatters little seeds of Himself all over, to the point that some people trip over Him and don't notice.
This was the case for the people of Athens. They were stumbling over truth they couldn't understand because they lacked a relationship with the Creator. That's why Paul had to start his teaching from the point of creation defining the Creator, for those who didn't know.
So let's go back to verse 24:
"The God who made the world and everything in it is the lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far away from any of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring'. "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone -- an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead". When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said "We want to hear you again on this subject." At that, Paul left the council.
Some sneered, but others were curious
Paul whet their appetites, not by speaking over their heads, but by
appealing to what they already knew and building on it.
Hearing is great, but Paul was not just effective at getting them to hear. We learn in verse 34 that some who heard were led to believe. Starting in verse 34:
Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed among them was Dionysius a member of the Areopagus also a woman named Damaris and a number of others.
You see, the interesting thing is that, when Paul quoted Epimenides saying:
"For in him we live and move and have our being"
Paul was not advocating a lie, but unpacking accidental wisdom and explaining that the unknown God to which this quote was written was in fact Yahweh, to whom it can absolutely be said that we find life and purpose.
In the 1980s though these words were actually used in a praise song called In Him We Live and Move. Maybe you remember singing it. It was by Randy Spear with Integrity's Hosanna music.
I grew up singing it in my church and we sang "For in him we live and move and have our being".
As believers, we can recognize the truth in these words. Now this
phrase is, again, speaking to the unknown God, so of course Paul could appropriate it and use it to explain God himself.
Now, I have less understanding about why Paul quoted Aratus the poet who originally said "we are his offspring". This line is taken from a poem titled Phenomena and I want to read the first five verses to you. It says:
Let us begin with Zeus whom we mortals never leave unspoken.
For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.
Even the sea and the harbor are full of this deity.
Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.
For we are indeed his offspring.
Clearly Aratus was not actually writing about an unknown God, but about Zeus himself. So this verse is this verse that that Paul
uses. This part of this verse, "is Paul promoting Zeus?" is the question, and I would say no. Paul is not using the line as intended, or as a way of honoring Zeus.
What he's really doing here is using the quote as an example of a Greek thinker and writer who believed that God's were divine, (separate and different from humans).
This barb against anthropomorphic deism sets the ground for his attack on the idols that the people of Athens had made representing their gods with human appearances.
Now, you see, they thought that Zeus . . . you know, the people in Athens would have thought of Zeus as almost like a statue. Like right there in their midst looking human, something that
they could touch, something tangible. But this poet, Aratus, was was very clear that gods can't be contained. That they're bigger than, you know, an idol. That they're bigger than human comprehension. They go beyond. And so, this is what Paul was using to express the bigness of our God. That he, he goes
beyond, you know, an idol. He's not. He's not a shape that man can make. He's not. You know, He can't be controlled by human
So, with this argument, Paul was elevating Yahweh above humanity and using their own writer to soften the
blow and express that idea as not so outrageous.
He made it palatable so that they could accept that idea by using their own source. This proves that even mistakes teach.
We all know that Aratus is wrong, right? As a believers, we understand that Zeus is not a real god. He made a mistake in his theology, but even his mistake was used to teach.
You see, God can use anything. God is holy, but he is also personal. He cares about forming relationship with us and is not
afraid to use unconventional means to reach us.
In the scriptures we read today we learned that God does not ignore the secular, but uses everything to bring himself glory.
Though Scripture is God-breathed there are secular elements
within it that's because God recognizes that inspiration is often birthed out of human experience.
We are influenced by our culture, both sides of it, the holy and the common. We are influenced by history and how we were raised. That unique perspective our experience shapes within us does not degrade God's influence, but directs it into the corners of our lives
that need him the most.
As a homeschooling mom, I don't want my children to separate their lives in two categories of school and non school knowledge. I want them to view all of life as an opportunity to learn.
Also, I don't think God wants us to separate "spiritual" and "real" life, but to carry the reality of our God into all environments throughout our lives.
There's no point that we put God on a shelf and carry on with our day. Whether directly or indirectly, everything we experience as believers should point us back to God for confirmation, encouragement, correction, direction and so on. Our experiences open a pathway for communication with God. They highlight our need for him and help us hear his voice.
As we learn to listen, these experiences shape our own voice and our authentic voice draws a specific audience that we are uniquely designed to reach. l
Let's talk about Damaris for a minute. This was ancient Greece, remember?
To be a woman accepted into a circle for such discussions, she was clearly intelligent and respected in Athens. I read some reports that said, you know, perhaps she may have been a prostitute. This is one theory, and other theory says that she was a daughter of a
wealthy man. There's a whole bunch of ideas about who this character, Damaris, may have been.
She likely had a very specific upbringing and education that
would have made her unique to the kingdom of God. That allowed her to be placed in that that time period and in that setting (where women were not you know categorically allowed). For her to be respected in the community would likely have put her conversion in the spotlight and provided her with a platform to influence others. So, what doors were open there because she came to believe? Well, we may never know. But here is a greater
question: What doors will be opened because of your belief? What experiences, education history or cultural practices can you draw on to reach the lost?
You see, what happens a lot of times when we become saved, when we we come to the saving knowledge of Christ, is that we
reject everything of who we are.
Now, it is absolutely scriptural truth that we need to put off the old man. We need to renew our minds and our thinking
(the way that we think and the way that we process ideas). We need to act differently. You know, we're going to behave differently. We're gonna make better choices. We're going to be a
different person and that's all truth, but our experiences and the core of our identity and the things that made us us will always remain. They should always remain.
Sometimes, what we do as believers, is we mask them. We hide them. We bury them. We stuff them and we pretend that they're not there, but what they really are are keys. They're opportunities that God wants to use within us. They're little, you know, little ideas. Little sparks that he's put in our learning, our education, in
our past that he wants imparted in our future, that he wants us to use in a holy way to reach those who are deceived by possibly the same things that we were deceived by. There are things that we
can speak to because we've been there and done that. If we forget where we've come from, if we forget our history, if we forget our culture, if we forget our past, if we forget those little experiences that shaped us, then we're limiting the impact that God has
designed for us to have in our culture.
We have opportunities to pull those experiences in and reach the lost through them. I want to encourage us all to do that. I want to tell you that it's okay if God puts a secular thought in your head to communicate with an unsaved person. If you have this idea of reaching them, and you can relate God to something that they will understand, it does not mean that you are are settling or degrading the message of God.
Now, if you try to bend God's Word to fit into the culture . . . you know, that's what we run into with some seeker-sensitive stuff.
Or where we try to shift culture to pack it into scripture, well we can't do that. But, if our experiences can be applied through Scripture, then by all means. This is what Paul did. This is what
Yeshua himself did. This is what Jesus did. This is how we reach the lost.
So, today . . . absolutely secular tools can be used in evangelism when they emphasize God. When they they either expose error, expose a truth, or point to God -- use them.
Again, we've talked about philosophy and I hope that you learned
something new about those verses in Acts and what was really
going on behind the scenes in Paul's mind.
Now, you know, we're walking through a society that is filled with this religious mindset. And see he was in Athens and he was surrounded by people who he acknowledges have a religious
I would say, that even though our world seems like it is completely absent of God, I would say that we truly have a lot of false gods at work and we need to acknowledge the religiosity,
however false it is within our culture, and we need to speak out as believers and address it.
We need to point out the unknown God that they have not discovered yet and help them discover. The path to that, the path to teaching about God, always starts at creation because it's in and through creation that he's imparted himself. That's where he first gave that breath, inside of us. I believe that when we go back and we talk about creation, that that breath is ignited within the unbeliever. It sparks it. It comes to their mind and it feels like something worth listening to even if they can't agree in their spirit. Something inside of them is tugged because God's Spirit wants to be alive in all of us. So go ahead, don't hold back the creativity, the influence that God has given you. Don't be silent
when you have opportunity to speak. When you have opportunity to recognize (for an unbeliever) something that God has laid
on your heart to share, listen to God's voice when he speaks to you. If you're put in a position where you have influence, and God speaks to you . . . and he restores you use your influence for his glory . . . whatever you do, seek to live in him, to move by his leading, and to find your purpose tucked within his will. That's my prayer for you I hope to see you next week. God bless!