I have a friend who planted a church in Las Vegas. He said he decided to do what everyone should do when they move into a new neighborhood and they baked some cookies and set off to meet everyone around them.
Apparently, what is baked in Vegas is not to be shared in Vegas.
He went door to door being cussed at and turned away until one guy finally just told him, “We don’t do that here.”
Making new neighbors can be tough. As we talked about a couple weeks ago in our Sunday morning teaching, Jesus moved towns from Nazareth to Capernaum and called to be a disciple in the process.
But, making new neighbors and being in neighborhoods isn’t always that easy. But, Paul shows us a great example on how to make good neighbors.
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 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 happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.”
So, here we have Paul in Athens, trying to meet new people and get to know a new culture. Athens was the epicenter of culture for the Greeks and the culture was divided into two philosophical corners: The Epicureans and the Stoics. The Epicureans believed pleasure was the most important thing to attain. Whatever feels good is good. Then, there were the Stoics, which, as the name suggests, were much more rational. Feeling didn’t matter, virtue mattered.
These opposing philosophers had a club called the Areopagus which met on Mars Hill to have these conversations. Paul begins to speak to them and here is what he says:
22 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. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
They had idols all over the place – even one to an “unknown god” just in case they missed one when they made all the statues. But, Paul wants to tell them who this unknown God is, and this is how he does it:
26 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.
SIDE NOTE: This is a key verse in here when it comes to neighboring. Imagine that God actually placed you in your appointed place for your appointed time. He actually set you into the neighborhood in which you live, the office in which you work, the gym where you exercise, the knitting group in which you knit. Wherever you are is where you were meant to be.
So, Paul is now telling them about this God. The one who created us, but is also with us. He’s accessible and as close to us as we are to one another.
27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
Those last two lines are some of my favorites. They come from poets in the area (from the island of Crete). These would have been poems these philosophers would have known. It would be like me reciting Taylor Swift lyrics to you right now… Whether or not you wanted to admit it, you’d know where the words “The haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate and the players gonna play play play play play” are coming from.
Paul knew Scripture. He was likely a student of Gamaliel who was considered the best of the Rabbis in his day. Paul would have had much of the Torah (today; the Old Testament) memorized. But, he doesn’t begin telling these people about God by using Scripture, he begins with their own language, their own words.
Sometimes being a neighbor, we begin with where the people are around us and work from there. We go to them instead of them coming to us. If you know anything about Restoration, that’s the kind of place we want to be. We want to go to where people are, not waiting for them to come to us.
Here are this week’s readings:
[If you hit a spot in these verses where you get confused or hung up, don’t hesitate to reach out.]
Monday // Matthew 25:31-34
Tuesday // Psalm 68:5
Wednesday // 2 Corinthians 4:7
Thursday // Hebrews 13:1-3
Friday // 1 Kings 17:8-16
KEVIN STAMPER | LEAD PASTOR | @KEVINSTAMPER