Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

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The Battle For The Mind

Acts 17

Introduction

Let's recap Paul's journey so far: 23 different cities (at least) over two separate missionary trips. Along the way they've been accosted by demon possessed men and women, accused by Jew and Gentile alike, stoned, beaten, imprisoned, run out of town, yelled at, and worshiped. They've preached in synagogues, in city courts, by a river, and before magistrates and politicians - but they have yet to meet with a new type of audience - people that use not their religion, race, or fists but their minds, to react to the gospel.

Daniel Webster said: "Knowledge, in truth, is the great sun in the firmament. Life and power are scattered with all its beams."

For some, collecting knowledge is like collecting rays of sunlight, allowing it to alter you as the sun alters the pigment of your skin, darkening you as you let various parts of your mind bath in it's luminescence.

But, too much knowledge, like too much sun, can burn you badly. And, not to carry the analogy too far, too much knowledge, like looking directly into the sun, can also blind you to the truth.

Today we are going to see two groups of people who treat the knowledge of God's truth in two very distinctive ways to two very distinctive ends.

It's about which you trust more - your intellect, or the truth.

Vs 1 - 9

It's amazing how much stuff the world makes up about Christianity. And I see a shift in our own time - it used to be that the moral values that the character of Jesus creates in us were thought of as desirable, even in the world around us - at least on the surface.

Two of my kids are in the musical "The Music Man" over at the high school. It was written in the fifties, I think, about the period around 1912 in Iowa. In the musical a hoodwinking salesman, Harold Hill, tries to convince the townspeople that trouble with a capital T is just around the corner. He tells them that their sons will start using dirty words like "swell" and "so's your old man." Today, of course, we laugh at such clichés. But it shows how far we've come - or how low we've gotten.

Today if you speak anything but total tolerance for all kinds of perversity, then you are marked as a hateful person.

We should not be surprised - 1 Peter 4:4-6
4 "They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. 5 But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead."

As the bar continues to descend on what is acceptable, we must not lower our standards with it even if it means we stand out more and more. Even if it means non-believers will make up mean stuff about us as well.


Vs 10 - 12

Paul and Silas travel about 45 miles toward the sea to Berea. It was a town that was home to a number of Jews.

The Bereans possessed what the verse calls a more "noble" character.
It literally means "well born". I think that the culture in that city was just markedly different from that in Thessalonica. Sometimes you just find different reactions depending on what group of people you're talking to about the gospel.

They did two things differently:

1) The Bereans "received the message with great eagerness."
"great eagerness" means 'forwardness of mind, readiness - and has as its root the word "passion"

The Thessalonians on the other hand, got jealous. This word comes from a root that means "to get hot."

The Thessalonians got all hot under the collar that someone was stealing their sheep - whereas the Bereans got passionate about the Person Paul was preaching.

2) Not only that but they "examined the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul said was true."

I love this. This is truly one of my life verses. They didn't fly off the handle like the Thessalonians, nor did they just blindly accept every word Paul uttered like it came from the gods, like back in Lystra (from chapter 14).

Greek: "examined" anakrinoo;
by looking through a series (ana) of objects or particulars to distinguish (krinoo) or search after
a. to investigate, examine, inquire into, scrutinize, sift, question: Acts 17:11
b. universally, to judge of, estimate, determine (the excellence or defects of any person or thing): ti, 1 Cor 2:15

1 Cor 2:14
14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:

They were ready to receive, knew what to do with that knowledge (examine it) knew where to go to find the answers (the Scriptures) and then knew what to do once they had investigated - (receive and believe).

Okay, so its easy to tell these two people apart - one responds with their gut and their fists, the other with their minds. But now Paul's going to visit a place where the mind itself is worshiped.

Vs 16 - 17

Athens - not part of Paul's missionary plan, and not a political or trade leader. But it was then the world's intellectual center. Paul no doubt saw the beauty of the temples, but saw behind them the darkness of idolatry. He couldn't keep silent.

Paul was "greatly distressed" it means: to sharpen alongside - to get "stirred up", provoked.

I wonder, how stirred up do we get when we see the idolatry around us? People worshipping, not gods of stone, but gods of paper and gold, beauty and power, fame and knowledge.

Vs 18

2 Groups:
Epicureans
Believed God exists but has no interest in the affairs of men
The chief aim of their life is pleasure, which was to be sought in a peaceful and tranquil life free of pain or fear, especially the fear of death.
Stoics
Believed that God was the world's soul, and indwelt all things. They believed that a happy life was one lived in harmony with nature. They believed all men were brothers.

They called Paul a "Babbler" which means "Seed picker" - one who picked up on all kinds of undigested bits of knowledge.

Vs 19 - 21

These people were known for their curiosity. You will find those in the world who are curious too - but be careful. Many times the curiosity is about gaining knowledge, not about knowing God.

The Aereopolis was probably situated on Mars Hill, between the marketplace and the acropolis. The council he talked to were not politicians, but educational and religious leaders who wanted to determine whether to permit Paul to teach in Athens.

Vs 26 - 27

Paul's argument is that God cannot dwell in anything man constructs - no building, nor any philosophy. But He created a dwelling place (the creation) for us that should lead us to Him.

Vs 28 - 29

We are God's offspring in that He created us, but He is not subject to or even like the creation - so to make something that resembles the creation and use it to worship God is not correct.

Vs 30 - 31

In the past God overlooked man's ignorance of the full revelation of God, but now that Jesus rose from the dead no one has an excuse.

Vs 32

The idea of a bodily day of resurrection from the dead and judgment would have been gross to the Greeks. They preferred the idea of a disembodied spirit and personal immortality.


Vs 33 - 34

Paul's preaching wasn't entirely in vain - and often you will find that even if the accepted norms of the group don't support you, there will be people who are open minded and will accept the gospel.

Now let's look at the characteristics of the three groups.

Thessalonians Bereans Athenians
Minds focused on themselves Minds prepared to receive the Word Minds closed to anything beyond their current understanding
Jumped to wrong conclusions Examined and investigated Criticized and questioned
Attacked out of jealousy "Received" = a gentle taking "Mocked" or "sneered" (throw out the lip)
"Hear again" put off

Now I want to challenge you - how do you react to the Word of God?

Do you want it proven to your satisfaction beyond a shadow of a doubt? Do you think its okay unless it touches a nerve in your life? Do you consider Bible study a mere intellectual exercise? Do you enjoy endless arguments over words and contradictions - never really coming to an understanding, but simply continuing the debate?

Here are some thoughts:

1) Just because we can't understand something God says doesn't mean we're right and He'

God's thoughts are above our thoughts. His logic must take precedence over ours.

Isaiah 55:8-11
8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.
9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

We think that because we can make sense of something then it must be true - and that if we can't make sense of something then it couldn't be true.

We must make room for the existence of someone who thinks far beyond what we can imagine - and that our minds are finite.

2) Just because people don't respond doesn't mean God's Word isn't effective.

God's Word is more powerful than ink on a page

Isaiah 55:10 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Even if something doesn't make sense to you, you should feel free to speak God's Word - it contains a power we are unable to grasp.

3) Just because someone says something, don't be afraid to examine it carefully.

Don't let yourself get caught by the two extremes: accepting too much at face value, or shutting everything out altogether.

Listen with a critical ear - is this right? Then search, examine, investigate, sift, ponder - through God's Word to see if these things be so. How?

- Soak in the Word
- Search topics that interest you or trouble you
- Study - 2 Tim 2:15-17
o 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 16 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene.
To "correctly handle" means to "cut straight - dissect". By studying the Word, not just what it says but what it means, you are much better prepared to know what's not in the Word.
Godless chatter means two things: 1- heathenism - worldly truths disguised as spiritual truths, and 2 - emptiness: fruitless discussion that doesn't lead to a better understanding of the truth.
- Settle - don't just run with the latest doctrinal trend, but let teaching settle with other teaching you've heard over the years. Trust especially in the classics - those works that survive time

Let's set ourselves to embracing the truth of God's Word, not rejecting it outright, but not receiving it without careful consideration.

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