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Starting Where People Are

Summit Life / J.D. Greear
The Truth Network Radio
June 15, 2021 9:00 am

Starting Where People Are

Summit Life / J.D. Greear

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June 15, 2021 9:00 am

When it comes to cross-cultural communication, there’s a lot that can get lost in translation. We’re learning that in order for others to understand the gospel, we first need to understand where they’re coming from!

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Today on Summit Life with J.D.

Greer. In Paul, we see a picture of what we need to be, people who are deeply aware of our culture, able to dialogue with it, but untainted by it, which means that we got to get to know our culture. We got to pay attention to it. The only way Paul was upset by the idolatry of the culture is he spent time getting to know it. When it comes to cross-cultural communication, it's easy for even the simplest message to get lost in translation.

After all, we all come to the table with preconceived notions and customs and beliefs that have shaped us up to this point. And as it turns out, this is something the early church had to grapple with too. A whole new world foreign to the gospel message was at their doorstep. Today on Summit Life, Pastor J.D. Greer explains that in order for others to fully understand our message, we need to first understand where they're coming from. We're in a series titled Sent. And if you've missed any of the previous messages, you can listen to them online when you visit us at Pastor J.D. titled today's message, Starting Where People Are.

If you have a Bible, I'd love for you to take it out and open it to the book of Acts chapter 17. When I was in college, I was a part of this thing called North Carolina student legislature. I went to a North Carolina college and a couple of times a year, you would send each college in North Carolina, we'd send a delegation and we would come down here to the Capitol in North Carolina. And we would present bills and argue like we were Congress and pass laws. What we did had absolutely no bearing at all on any law ever, but it was fun.

It was kind of like dress up for college students. And so in one of these sessions, I was in my fastest sleep in my hotel room, 2.30 at night. And one of my roommates who I had led to Christ about three weeks prior to this, at 2.30 in the morning, comes busting in my room, yelling at the top of his lungs, he's out of breath, J.D., grab your Bible quick and come on. And I honestly, I'm trying to wake up, I'm groggy, he's just yelling at me beside my bed, grab your Bible quick, come on. I honestly thought somebody was dying and needed to get saved.

Like they were choking on a piece of meat and they had a few seconds and I was going to share the gospel with them and then they were going to die. So I jumped out of bed, I got nothing but gym shorts on and I'm like, I got to get dressed. He's like, there ain't time for you to get dressed. So I got, you know, I literally am running out the door, I grab my Bible, I grab the first thing I get my hands on, which happened to be a jacket, you know, because it was in the winter. So I'm running down the hall, you know, gym shorts, trying to put this jacket on. He takes a hard right, bust into this college room, this other hotel room.

There's like 35 college students seated all over this room and two beds. He's out of breath. I'm out of breath. And he says, here he is. And he points at me and I'm like, here, who is? And he said, they all had questions about the Bible. And I told them, you were an expert in the Bible and that you can answer their questions.

And so I'm sitting there, gym shorts, winter coat on with no shirt. And so for about 20 minutes, I just shared the gospel with them. And then for about an hour to about four in the morning, they just asked questions and it was a great night. I often think about that situation when I read this passage in Acts chapter 17, because Paul is going to find himself in a very similar situation. I think he was a little bit better dressed than I was. I don't know if you've ever been in a situation like that.

Maybe it wasn't that dramatic. Again, I hope that you are better dressed, but did you know what to say in that moment? If you found yourself in a situation where there are people who have little to no knowledge at all of the Christian message and are very different than you, how do you conduct yourself in a time like that? What do you say? If you are a believer here this weekend, what I think you're going to see in the next few minutes is you're going to see some insights and some patterns for really what you should say and how you should talk to people.

You are very outside of what you believe and think very differently than you. If you're not a believer, what I hope happens today is that you see in what Paul says to this group of people, you see some of your own questions addressed. You see some questions that are going to be posed back to you. And I hope that you hear the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul and then through me to address kind of where you are in your search for God. So Acts chapter 17, we're going to begin around verse 16. I'm just going to work our way through this passage and I'll read a few verses and stop and make some points.

And then we'll just work our way all the way down to verse 34 that way. Verse 16, now, while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, this is not Athens, Georgia, this is Athens, Greece, even after Rome's ascendancy, Athens remained the intellectual capital of the world. I think Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Duke, all kind of rolled into one. That was Athens. It was one of the art and athletic cultural centers of the world. You had one of the largest athletic stadiums there. And of course you recognize that it was the birthplace of the Olympics.

And so it was a lot of stuff happening there. While he was there, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. There was an ancient saying in Athens that it was easier to find a God in Athens than it was a human. I've had a chance to pass through Athens a couple of times, and it's true.

Everywhere you look in the ancient city of Athens, you're going to see temple ruins, huge temples to Zeus and Athena and Apollyon. So Paul has seen all this and he is provoked by it. Verse 17, so he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, which seems to be where he always started his evangelism, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. The marketplace was not just a place they shopped. Paul's not hanging out at the checkout aisle at target, asking awkward questions. This was like a cultural center for them.

It's where they discuss new ideas. And so he is there engaging them because he's been provoked by their idolatry, which leads me to number one, grieve over idolatry and do something about it. We see in Paul a pattern for how we're supposed to relate to our city. You see, when people encounter temples as large as the ones you would find in Athens, they tended to do one of two things, either A, be so enamored by these structures and these temples that they just wanted to be a part of them and wanted to be accepted by them and they wanted a piece of the action, or they were so offended by and repulsed by them that they would run away from the city. Paul did neither of those things. The idolatry that he saw in Athens broke his heart, but he didn't run away from it in fear and hatred.

He didn't draw close to it with a desire to be accepted by them. He ran straight against them, toward them, wanting to engage their idolatry and show them the message of the true God. Here is my question for you. When you see idolatrous structures in our society, what is your reaction? Tim Keller says you can look at whatever buildings in your city are the biggest, and that will usually give you an indication of what the city's idols are.

So if that's true in Raleigh-Durham, we've got a few big buildings that are dedicated, I think, to finance, then we've got some really big sports arenas. That's probably an indication of where the idolatry in our city lies. When you see those things, what is the dominant reaction that takes place in your heart? It's okay to be impressed with those things, but does it grieve you that more glory is given to those things, more energy is poured out on those things that is given to the Almighty and the glorious God? When you watch things like the Oscars or the Grammys, what emotion fills your heart? Is it admiration?

Is it awe? Is it a sense of repulsion, or is it compassion and heartbreak? You see, if you're not provoked by the idolatry, if you're not provoked by the sensuality, then that means you are, here's an old word, worldly. It means you're just very at home in the world, and its idols, or whether you acknowledge it or not, are kind of the idols of your heart.

What they want is what you want. But if you're one of the ones who sees all those things and just gets angry and says, you know, to hell with the world, then you don't really get the gospel. Summit Church, in Paul, we see a picture of what we need to be. People who are deeply aware of our culture, able to dialogue with it, but untainted by it, which means that we got to get to know our culture.

We got to pay attention to it. The only way Paul was upset by the idolatry of the culture is he'd spent time getting to know it. Many of us are all peeved and ticked off about where our culture is headed, but we're not actually listening to what people are saying.

Here's the irony. We send people overseas to be missionaries, and one of the first things they do is they spend several months just learning the culture, to be able to understand it, understand what its questions are, dialogue with it. The irony is that many of those people get to know that culture better than you and I will get to know our own.

Now, I'm not advocating that you sit around and watch filthy movies and call that cultural research, but that you be engaged, you stay engaged in the culture for the purpose of reaching people, because you're going to see that Paul's presentation of the gospel is built on how much he has listened to them and understood the questions that they're asking. And you do that because that's what Jesus did with you. Jesus did not see your idolatry. He was provoked by it, but he did not run away from it. He did not desire to be accepted by us. He ran straight to us, he confronted us, and he showed us the futility of our idolatry and that there was a gap between what we were doing and what God wanted for us.

So that's number one. Verse 18, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also converse with him. Now you're like, who are those guys? Epicureans were basically hedonists. You know what a hedonist is?

Somebody who just seeks pleasure. They believe that the gods were not concerned at all about this world, so live it up. The Stoics were the complete opposite of the Epicureans. They were pantheists who believed that God was in everything. So they were all about getting in touch with the divine within. And the way that they thought that you did that was by avoiding the passions and cares of the world. Their ideal state, they believed to be spiritual, their ideal state was imperturbability.

You're like, what does that mean? Imperturbability, unable to be perturbed, which means they were not, you know, moved by pain. They were not seduced by pleasure. Think Spock, that he would have been a good Stoic, okay, because that's his ideal. You say, well, that's really interesting, but that's irrelevant to me because I'm neither an Epicurean nor a Stoic.

Here is why I point that out. Epicureanism and Stoicism had grown up in the wake of an argument that took place between Plato and his brilliant student Aristotle. Neither Epicureanism or Stoicism, neither of them were really well thought out, carefully articulated philosophies. They were what we call pragmatic, which means that they were just functional. It just worked for people. Some people preferred to live it up.

Some people preferred more the reflective life. What you find in history, listen to this, anytime that there are some really smart people that are both regarded well by the culture that disagree with each other, what happens to everybody else is you develop this kind of philosophical despair. You're like, well, it's impossible to really figure things out because both these guys are really smart and they disagree. So it must be whatever works for you.

So it's just going to, I'm going to choose one that works for me and you choose one that works for you. In our culture, that's what we deal with because you got guys like Stephen Hawking on one side, who seems to be a really intelligent scientist saying, you know, God's not necessary at all to explain the universe. And then you got other cultural icons like Billy Graham, who's saying God is absolutely necessary to explain things and he's necessary for your life. And a lot of us look at that and you say, well, both these guys are well-regarded and respected. It must be that we just can't figure it out.

So whatever works. Those are the kinds of people that Paul is talking to. They are people who have developed a functional philosophy of life, but it's not really well thought out. And that's where Paul is about to get engaged here. Verse 19, I guess, or verse 18 still. And some say, what does this babbler wish to say? Now babbler is a very derogatory term. It literally means a bird who picks up seeds and spits them out without digesting them. Think like a, you know, like a chicken. All right. That's my best chicken illustration, by the way.

You people ever seen a chicken? So what he's doing is he's saying that Paul is like a guy who takes an idea from somebody else, doesn't understand it or digest it and just spits it out because he's heard it. In other words, Paul has a second class mind. I will tell you guys that it used to really bother me that everywhere I went, when people found out that I was a committed Christian, it was just automatically assumed that I was a second class mind. I'm a committed Christian. Therefore I'm the knuckle dragging Neanderthal.

Who's never really read a book who wants to marry his sister. And that used to really bother me until I realized that it's just, it's always been that way. And I mean, especially some of you college students, you might be the smartest person on your campus. You might be more well-read than anybody on your campus, but you just need to understand that this is what they thought about Jesus. It's what they said about Paul. It is a satanic lie, and you just better get used to it. And you better not resent it. You better embrace it. You're going to show like Paul's about to show.

I'm actually not as dumb as you think I am, but just because they say that doesn't mean you are that, right? And so that's what you're going to see. Others said he seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities because he's preaching Jesus and the resurrection. Verse 19, so they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, which is translated Mars Hill, saying, may we know this new teaching that you're presenting? Because you see verse 21, Luke says, all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except for telling or hearing something new. Historians say that these philosophers were always on the lookout for another god that they could add to their Parthenon. Parthenon was a big building where they kept the statues of all the gods that were in the Roman and Greek empire or the Roman empire in Greek culture. So they're always looking for a new one. So they're trying to interview Paul to see if he's got the intellectual chops to include a statue of Jesus in the Parthenon.

They're like, hey, we've got this section back here, didn't have a statue yet. Maybe Jesus will fit in there. So this is Paul's interview.

Y'all think Paul's going to interview well? Verse 22, so Paul, standing up in the midst of Mars Hill, the Areopagus said, men of Athens, I perceive that you are in every way very religious. Now, is that a compliment or an insult? That's the beauty of it.

You don't know. The word religious in Greek can literally mean spiritual, which would be a compliment, or it can mean superstitious, which would be an insult. They think he means spiritual, so they take it as a compliment. Paul's probably got a twinkle in his eye because he meant the double entendre. Oh, you're very religious. So they're like, oh yes, we are.

Thank you for noticing. Verse 23, for as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription to the unknown God. This was their just in case God. Just in case the real God didn't get represented in the thousands of other gods, we got here's to you unknown God.

You know, they, if you've ever been through Athens or seen pictures of it, one of the things around these temples is there were all these images that depicted struggle and the tour guide that I was with said that these were the Greeks way of just showing the difficulty of the questions that life is presenting and they're struggling to figure life out and struggling to come to meaning. Paul looks at the unknown God statue and he looks at all these images of struggle and he says, what therefore you worship as unknown, I proclaim to you, I can see you're struggling. I can see you want to know a God that you know you don't quite know yet.

That's the one that I'm going to proclaim to you. In other words, he started with their questions. That's significantly different than where he starts with the Jews. Acts 17 two, when he walks into a synagogue, it says he opened the scriptures and reasoned with them. Paul didn't open the Bible on Mars Hill.

Why? Because they don't recognize the authority of the Bible. So he knows he's got to reason with them to get them to pay attention to what the Bible says. So he starts not with chapter and verse. He starts with their questions and the only way he could start with their questions is he knew what they were.

Number two, Paul found points of agreement. Here's what he said, I can see you're searching for God. Mankind is incurably religious. You see, God created us to worship and to know him.

It's a primary drive. It's like hunger. People say, well, I'm not really religious because I don't go to church. You can no more cease being religious by not going to church than you can cease having a sex drive by choosing to remain single. Now, sin has corrupted that desire, but the remnants of it are still there. The book of Ecclesiastes says that God has put eternity indelibly in the hearts of mankind, which means that all people ask questions about God. All people search for meaning. All people are looking for kind of ultimate answers to life's questions. Some of the best conversations that I've ever had about God took place with people who would probably never step foot in this church.

Sometimes in fraternities, sometimes in bars, sometimes in places that are just very far from what you would think of as a church culture. You got people who are not religious in the formal sense, but they've got questions about God because God put that in their heart. And that search for God that takes place, listen to me, in every human being should be identified, and it should be affirmed because that's the place that you can start. I've told atheists, for example, I admire your passion for truth. I can see that you want to be a moral person who is intellectually honest, and I think that's awesome. I've told non-religious fathers in my neighborhood, I can see you really care about the future of your children. I can see that you're concerned to leave a legacy and to leave something to them that's worth living for. I've told activists who are, shall we say, on the liberal side, who hold positions on issues very different than my own. I will say to them, you know, I'm very touched by how compassionate you are and how much you want to see the brokenness of the world healed.

Why? Because those things are remnants of the image of God and the search for God in them. And I want to say, that's great.

That's awesome. I can see in all ways, you're very spiritual. Now, what Paul's about to do in the next few verses is he's going to start pointing out little logical problems with their approach to God. Look at verse 24. The God, the real God, who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn't dwell in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands as though he needed anything since he gave to mankind life and breath and everything they need. In other words, does it make sense that the God who created everything would actually need for you to build him a house to live in and then for you to put out food every morning for him to eat? Does that really make sense that God's dependent on your rice and meat that you leave out in the doorstep for him to actually come and snack on?

That doesn't make sense. He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth. He's the one that determined there are allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place that they should seek him and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.

Now, he's doing a couple of things here. The first thing he's doing is he's confronting this idea that God is like a tribal God. You see, they had like thousands of gods and each one was over a different sphere. He had the God of the sea and the God of war. And then you have the God of the Ephesians.

He said, no, no, no. The real God is a creator of all of it. He's not God over one particular sphere.

The second thing he's doing is he's showing them that life's most important pursuit is to know that God. Greek and Roman gods, you see, were always a means to some other thing. You worshiped and served them because you wanted something they could give you.

For example, here, give you a little sampling. Artemis was the goddess of prosperity, the goddess of money. So if you wanted prosperity and money, then you were devoted to her. You went to her temple and you made offerings. Athena was the goddess of wisdom. In her temple, there was a statue of Zeus with his head split open and she was coming out of it.

So if you want to be smart, you want to get wisdom, then you would go to the temple of Athena and you would give offerings and she would give you wisdom. Then there was a goddess Nikkei, or we might say Nike, N-I-K-E. She was the goddess of victory. She was worshiped by athletes and warriors and Michael Jordan, right? Because she made you run faster, jump higher, and soar above the competition.

She was in the shoes. Then there was the goddess of Aphrodite. Do you know what goddess that was?

Aphrodisiac. She was a goddess of sex, good sex, beauty, fertility. The thing for you to remember is that all these gods were a means to something else. Whatever you were looking for, prosperity, money, sex, smoother bowel movements, whatever, whatever was important to you, you worshiped God to get that thing. The real God, Paul says, is so glorious and transcendent that he is his own reward.

And he's not sought as a means to anything else. And Paul kind of looks at them and says, you know that. You know that the real God, the reason you have an altar to the unknown God is you know that there's something out there that is better than power and money, that that's just not working for you. Yet, even though he is so glorious and transcendent, he's actually not far from each one of us for, quote, in him we live and move and have our being.

Here's a question. What Bible passage is he quoting there? Is it from Isaiah?

Maybe Jeremiah? How about Leviticus? Deuteronomy. Nobody knows what's in Deuteronomy, so we just always say we're quoting from there, right? What verse is he quoting? He's not quoting a Bible verse. It's got quotes around it because it's a quote from a poem written in 600 BC to Zeus. That's where he quoted.

Then he goes on. He says this, as even some of your own poets have said, we are indeed his offspring. That's from a poem called Phenomena written by a stoic poet. Paul is quoting from things embedded in their popular culture. Being then God's offspring, just like your poets have said, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and the imagination of man. Paul wants to make it clear in their own context that if God is the creator, he can never be reduced to something that you can hold in your hands. That's a pretty important starting point when it comes to talking about the God of the universe, wouldn't you say? You're listening to Summit Life, the Bible teaching ministry of pastor, author, and theologian J.D.

Greer. We're in a teaching series called Sent, and we're here every day on the radio and web sharing gospel truth that transforms lives. If you've missed any of the messages in this series, you can find them online free of charge at When you give to Summit Life, you're helping us expand our website and radio ministry to reach new listeners all across the country so that more people can understand and embrace the gospel message each and every day.

We are so grateful for your financial partnership. And as a way of saying thanks for your gift today, we'll send you a copy of a new resource created especially for our listeners. It's volume two of our study titled Sent, the Book of Acts.

And as you read and study, you'll learn more about what God was doing throughout the Book of Acts and the history of the early church. Ask for your copy of Sent, the Book of Acts volume two, covering chapters nine through 28 when you donate today at the suggested level of $25 or more. Give us a call at 866-335-5220. That's 866-335-5220.

Or it might be more convenient to give and request the book online at While you're on our website, please take a moment and learn about becoming a gospel partner. Gospel partners are an integral part of our team at JD Greer Ministries, enabling us to boldly proclaim the gospel throughout this radio ministry, our website, and print resources. As a growing ministry, we pray that more gospel partners will join us in helping others experience the love of God through Jesus Christ. When you sign up for a regular ongoing monthly gift of $25 or more, you become part of our gospel partner family, and we'd love to have you join us today.

I'm Molly Vitovich. Don't miss tomorrow when Pastor JD shows us that if we want to share God's love in a counterfeit culture, we have to really know what his word says. We'll see you right here Wednesday for Summit Life with JD Greer. Today's program was produced and sponsored by JD Greer Ministries.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-17 12:44:46 / 2023-08-17 12:56:02 / 11

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