Discerning the Slight of Feigned Interest

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. – Acts 17:16-21

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A view of Mars Hill as seen from the Parthenon in Athens, Greece | Photo by David Steele | November 2014

All she really wanted was to ride my bike. I wanted to ride her horses, so I went to her house down the road from where we lived. She lived with her family in a run-down shack. I think they were a kind-of 20th century indentured servants. They took care of the farmland around their house. And I was led to believe that she had access to the horses in the barn there. Alas it wasn’t to be. She had no access – except to my bike. She thoroughly enjoyed riding it, and I finally discerned her ploy. I got my bike back and went home. Burned and bummed. Duped and without the equine thrill for which I had hoped.

The people of Athens feigned interest in Paul’s teaching there on Mars Hill. They invited him to tell them more, and he will. That is yet to come (tomorrow’s post). For now, however, let’s consider what makes a person willing to risk being taken advantage of, and even deceived or at least misled in their effort to share the Gospel.

As Paul walks around the city of Athens he is troubled by all the false gods and idols. He was an educated man, capable of holding his own in speaking with the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers. He was, after all, trained by Gamaliel. One website said it this way: 

Paul was said to be one of the most brilliant men of his day and not just by the early church leaders and historians. He was a fierce apologist, as evidenced by his witnessing to the Jews and the Greeks (or Gentiles). Paul said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day” (Acts 22:3)

In one of his letters Paul even seems to have coined a combination of two Greek words that show up in the Greek literature after it is found in his letter, but not before. He will not rely on  “superiority of speech” (Greek ὑπεροχὴν λόγου – 1 Corinthians 2:2). He was no lightweight in the theological or philosophical world of thought.

It seems, however, that Paul may have learned something here when this encounter is all played out. His uneasy or troubled spirit was a sign of a godlessness that would require major heart-breaking to penetrate. He will do what he can to debate these supposedly-wise thinkers. [Spoiler Alert!] In the end, however, he does not get very far with them.

We may need to be distressed at the godlessness all around us – sometimes even in our own families and friends. We might well take them on and seek to shine the light of God’s love in Jesus into their lives and hearts. We may also need to be aware that the Deceiver is the one who will feign most anything to lure us away from our mission and even from faith in Jesus who rose from the dead: a stumbling block to the piously-religious and foolishness to the wise philosophers of our day.

This Jesus and his resurrection is the centerpiece of our faith. He was never deceived – not even by Satan himself. And just when Satan thought he had silenced this wisdom from God, Jesus rose from the dead in conquering might. Thank God for that! When we rely on Jesus’ grace and truth we will be able to discern and avoid the deceptive wiles of the Evil One.

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