In the last few days I had the opportunity to see some things and walk in some areas of the world I’ve never seen before. After spending a week preaching and teaching in Ukraine for the Ukrainian Bible Institute, I went to Athens, Greece for four days. Spending time visiting museums and walking around the agora or market place in Athens where Paul walked around meeting people, talking to them about God and about Jesus and his resurrection from the dead. I walked up to Mars Hill and stood on the likely spot where Paul preached to the people and reminded them that while it was great to be religious, that just being religious isn’t enough. We must believe in and submit to the God that made the worlds and all things in it, that God isn’t worshiped with a man’s hands as though he needed anything since he gives to all life and breath and all things and has made of one man all the nations of the earth and determined the times when they would be born and where they would live. He quoted their own poets to the effect that we are the offspring of God. He said God had once overlooked the ignorance of man but now commands all men everywhere to repent because he has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man he has ordained and has given assurance to us in that he has raised him from the dead.
I also went to the city of Corinth and walked across the remains of the synagogue where Paul visited and preached to the crowd. I walked from the synagogue to the bema or court area where they drug Paul to accuse him of doing wrong. Gallio wouldn’t be pulled into such matters and dismissed the whole crowd. In anger they grabbed and beat the ruler of the synagogue but the Roman judge cared nothing about the whole action. Even 2,000 years later it was easy to see how idolatry and immorality had overtaken minds and hearts of the people. In one area there was a monument to askepulous who was supposed to be the healer. There were models of different body parts that were being offered as a sacrifice to try to find healing. The sexual organs were modeled for offering due to the huge problem they had with venereal diseases. Immorality, idolatry, covetousness and lust ruled their lives. Yet God told Paul when he arrived there not to be afraid because He had many people in this city and no one was going to hurt him. It would have seemed like the most unlikely place in the world for one to build a great church. But God knew that in spite of the moral filth in the city there were people with tender hearts waiting for the good news of Jesus. Paul stayed there for 18 months and then left behind a good church. Sure it had problems and many wrong notions prevailed there but they remained the church of God, sanctified in Christ and set apart to be saints.
Some things that kept running through my mind as I visited those areas where the first century church was being spread were as follows: 1. God’s perspective on a fruitful field for preaching and teaching his gospel is very different from ours. We look for nice areas, where people are already good moral people and the neighborhood doesn’t have many problems. God often looked into the areas where the need is worst and the problems were deep. 2. He made a clear distinction between being religious and being righteous. The people of Athens were very religious but not righteous. 3. The one name other than Paul that we know from the church in Cenchrea was a godly woman named Phoebe. Were there no elders, deacons or preachers there? I don’t think that was it. It was the case that a godly woman was the one the Holy Spirit thought best epitomized what God wanted a Christian to be. 4. What God sees as the best prospects for powerful workers in the church may not be what we would ever imagine. Paul thought he could be so much more effective if God would take away his physical problems so he prayed three different times for God to take them away. God told him “no”. The Lord said, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” He told him his grace was sufficient for him so Paul said he now gloried in his weakness, in persecution, in trials, in sickness and hurts.
Perspective is a great thing. I appreciate the opportunity to see some things a little more clearly tonight.