When Missionaries Meet With The Unknown God

I love Paul's sermon in Athens. I love how he didn't criticize, didn't mock, and didn't ignore other people's beliefs, but built on what was good to offer something more. In our hyper-critical religious world, perhaps we have something to learn from him. Anyway, our little group will be studying the second half of Paul's second journey this week, and it starts in Athens.

(17) The Unknown God
Paul set out on a missionary journey to revisit old friends and maybe extend the church’s influence further in Galatia. He ends up in Greece, the cultural center of the universe. If he were trying to change the world, it would be a logical destination. But it was God’s choice of destination, not Paul’s.

Have we ever felt we were following God’s plan, only to find he sends us somewhere else entirely?

Philosophy and Reason
1.       Read Acts 17:16. Greece was renowned for many things, but what provokes Paul? What provokes us when we look at our cities? What are our idols?

2.       Read Acts 17:17. Why doesn’t Paul concentrate on one group of people? Why doesn’t he start an anti-idolatry campaign?

3.       Read Acts 17:18-20. Is Paul being threatened? The Areopagus may not have been quite the seat of power it once was, but it rises to power again fairly soon.

4.       Read Acts 17:21-22.  Verse 21 makes the Athenians sound very shallow to our ears, but they weren’t. We should probably imagine this as a cross between a university and a court of law, planning to discuss and pass verdict on Paul’s message. Does Paul treat their question with respect? How important is it to treat people with respect when they question our faith?

The Unknown God
1.       Read Acts 17:22-23. Can you paraphrase this in a way that applies to any non-Christians you’ve met?

2.       Let’s do some more paraphrasing. Read verse 24. Why is it important that God doesn’t dwell in Temples today? What Temples do people (or even we) imagine he might dwell in?

3.       Read verse 25. Are we ever tempted to believe God “needs” something from us, or from our neighbors?

4.       Read verse 26. Greece still resented its subservience to Rome. And Greeks still considered foreigners to be inferior. But how does this reminder apply to us?

5.       God made all nations... Read verse 27... It sounds as if God made people and nations to seek him. How does this make us feel about nations which we imagine far from him?

6.       Read verse 28. Does this only apply to the good guys?

7.       Read Acts 17:29-31. How had the world changed? Are we still in “times of ignorance”?

8.       Read Acts 17:32-34. The people respond in three different ways. Chapter 18 starts with Paul leaving Athens “after this.” Do we think he walked out on the questioners, or do we think he stayed awhile so they could hear more? Are there times when we need to leave or stay among non-Christians?

9.       Where were Silas and Timothy? Paul asked them to come quickly to Athens (Acts 17:15), but we don’t meet them again until Paul is in Corinth (Acts 18:5). Most people believe Paul sent Timothy back inland, to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2,6-7), while he continued to teach in Athens, and eventually moved on to Corinth.

Priscilla and Acquilla
1.       Read Acts 18:1-4. Where is Corinth? Why might Jews exiled from Rome end up there? Jews were exiled from Rome in 49 AD according to Suetonius.

2.       Priscilla and Aquilla became important leaders in the early church. What do we know about them? Read Acts 18:18-19,24,26, Romans 16:3-4, 1 Corinthians 16:19, 2 Timothy 4:19

3.       Did you notice Priscilla’s name is often mentioned first? What might this mean?

4.       When Paul tells people he earned his own keep, he means it. What might this mean for church leaders today?

Paul and the Corinthians
1.       Read Acts 18:4-5. Who did Paul preach to initially, and what was he preaching/reasoning about? Why might God not have wanted him to wade straight into controversy?

2.       What changed, humanly and spiritually, when Silas and Timothy caught up?

3.       Read Acts 18:6-7. Paul takes his preaching “next door.” Houses were big, with wide open courtyards. How do you envision this?

4.       Read Acts 18:8. Is Crispus a Jew or a Gentile?  Paul’s words in verse 7 were used by Christians later to justify not preaching to Jews. Can they really be used that way?

5.       Read Acts 18:9-11. How long did Paul stay in Corinth? What do you suppose he was doing all that time? (Theory has it he wrote his letters to the Thessalonians then.)

6.       Read Acts 18:12-13. How does Paul know when it’s time to move on? How do we know when God wants us to change what we’re going?

7.       Read Acts 18:14-17. Gallio keeps the courts out of it, even when crimes are committed on court property. But who is beating up whom? And could this be why Paul stays “a while”?

Home to Antioch
1.       Read Acts 18:18. What kind of a vow could this be? Read Numbers 6:5, and Acts 21:23-24. What might following an Old Testament ritual mean to Paul, or to his followers?

2.       Read Acts 18:19-20. Had Paul ever been to Ephesus before?  Why might it have been important to him to get to Jerusalem for the next feast? Read Numbers 6:13-14. (Paul makes a point of staying in Ephesus on his next journey, so he’s not neglecting them. Read Acts 19:1)

3.       Read Acts 18:22-23. So... did he not make it to Jerusalem? Traditionally, verse 23 is the start of Paul’s 3rd missionary journey, so “some time” could be quite some time, and he could have visited Jerusalem for the feast – he just didn’t stay there.


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