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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

April 8 - Acts 17

Today's reading in our daily plan is Acts 17. Take a moment to pray, asking God to speak to you from this passage. Then read, using the following notes and questions to help you get everything out of the passage.

SAY WHAT? (What is the passage saying?)
  • Paul was released from prison in chapter 16 and now he travels to Greece. His first stop is the city of Thessalonica. He continues to preach in the synagogues on the Sabbath sharing about Christ. Many Jews and Greeks came to faith. But, once again, some jealous Jews stir up trouble, drag Jason, his kind house host to prison, where he has to post bail. Verse 6 states that some of the people of Thessalonica exclaimed, "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here…" Another translation of this verse is, "These men who have turned the world upside down have now come here…" (This is where Verve gets the third part of our mission statement -- we exist to "Love God. Love People.Turn the World Upside Down.")
  • Paul and his friends then sneak to Berea in the middle of the night. The people of Berea examined the Scriptures along with Paul to see if the message of Jesus was true. The scriptures at that time would only have consisted of the Old Testament. There is a lot of information in the Old Testament that points toward Jesus, and so studying it led the Bereans to faith. No surprise here, some angry Thessalonians came down to Berea to stir up trouble again and run Paul out of the city.
  • Paul then travels to Athens, and here is where things take a turn. So far in the book of Acts, we see Paul mostly speaking in the synagogue to fellow Jews. He had much in common with them and understood their culture and their faith. But the people of Athens were not Jewish. Matter of fact, they weren't anything. It was a city full of "spiritual" people, philosophers, intellectuals, and know-it-alls. Talking about the latest ideas was their favorite past time. Paul had little in common with them, so he took some time to walk around the city and study their culture. And when he finally speaks to them in the marketplace, he starts right where they're at. He didn't start with scripture or with Jesus. In fact, he didn't even mention Jesus. Instead, he started with their idol to an unknown God. Some people sneered at him when he finished speaking. But others asked to hear more, and a few even became believers.
SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • Although it is still early in the church's history,  Christians were already being called people who "turned the world upside down." Because of God's empowering of the Holy Spirit, followers of Jesus were having an impact far beyond what they could on their own. He still gives believers that same power today.
  • The Bereans had a noble desire for truth. Leaving Judaism behind to follow Jesus often meant being disowned by family, persecution, and even death. But, they were determined to uncover the truth, no matter what it meant. We should strive for that same desire of truth.
  • The Athenians were a lot like us.  Athens was a university town. All the best writers, poets, philosophers, and spiritual gurus gathered there. They desired to gain as much knowledge as they could. But, they cared about ideas more than truth. Paul was speaking to friends just like ours. And, he leaves a great example for how to do it. He learned about them and understood what they believed, and then chose to meet them where they were on their spiritual journey. He didn't make great leaps into scripture or Jesus talk. He simply took them one step at a time. He recognized their idols and encouraged them that maybe God is bigger than gold or stone, showing us that most of the time the best approach is to simply help people make one simple step.

NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • God did not just empower the early church to turn the world upside-down; He empowers us to do the same today! Keep leaning on God and the power of the Holy Spirit to reach your friends for Christ.
  • Do you pursue truth about God? Or are you content with what you already know? Are you ok believing, but not knowing why you believe? Maybe, like the Bereans, you need to examine the scriptures on a much deeper level.
  • When you think about sharing your faith, what comes to mind? Paul shows us that we don't need to make some grand speech or presentation; we are simply called to understand our friends and listen to them. By listening, we can ask the right questions to help them eventually come to faith in Jesus. Is there someone in your life right now with whom God is asking you to take this approach?