Posted by Milo Hurley for July 14 and 21, 2012 Sabbath Schools
I’ve decided to combine two lessons into one post. Lesson 2 covers four places in Paul’s second missionary journey. Lesson 3, as the title implies, presents more background on Thessalonica. Below I talk about one thing from each city that stands out to me (other things may stand out to you from your reading of Acts 16 and 17). Click on the links following each city for useful historical information as well as images.
Philippi (click here for images)
First, let’s rewind to include Philippi. Last week we talked about how Paul and Silas were whipped and incarcerated (Acts 16). They were, as Jesus once said, “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:10). So here’s a question: What is persecution? 2 Timothy 3:12 states that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” However, if we examine ourselves carefully in the mirror of God’s holy law, we may find that much of our persecution comes from our own wrong choices or bad attitudes. In such cases, chastening might be a better word of choice.
Thessalonica (click here for images)
Last week we also talked about Paul’s preaching strategy (Acts 17:1-3). Visiting the local synagogue (if one was available), he used the Scriptures (Old Testament) to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. Should we use the same approach today? Recently I’ve heard two people voice their skepticism about the Bible. The first person, who incidentally visited my Sabbath School class, explained how different scholars will interpret the same text in different ways — proof that it’s all subjective. The second person, a coworker disgruntled with organized religion, said that the story of Jesus was just another gimmick to extract money from a congregation. Is Paul’s method in Thessalonica applicable in these kinds of encounters?
Berea (click here for images)
Mention the Bereans, and Acts 17:11 comes into focus: “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” How often do we search the Scriptures to solidify our beliefs? Many of us hold the doctrines of our parents, our pastors, our teachers. But this is not acceptable Christianity. We must know the Scriptures for ourselves. I’m not saying we should simply arm ourselves with a magazine clip full of proof texts. I’m saying we should know — intellectually and intimately — who Jesus is (present tense). To know the Savior we must open His Word “daily” (verse 11, again).
Athens (click here for images)
Imagine Paul, schooled in the Scriptures, yet quoting not a single text as he stands “in the midst of the Areopagus” (Acts 17:22). Rather, he quotes Athenian poets (verse 28) while directing the men of Athens to the natural world around them. And why does he do this? Because he knows that his audience is not familiar with the Law and the Prophets. Hence he must meet them where they are. In order to understand them, he has spent time with them — not only “in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers,” but also “in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there” (verse 17). He has rubbed shoulders with the people, in other words. So, how can we do the same without compromising our principles (be in the world, yet not of the world)?
Corinth (click here for images)
This is where Paul wrote his letters to the Thessalonians. And this is where he seems to have changed his angle of approach. Instead of using excellent speech or wisdom, as he did in Athens, he’s now determined not to preach anything “except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Is the apostle saying that his ministry in Athens was a failure, or that his methods there were unsound? Such a conclusion feels like wearing a tee shirt to a wedding. Remember, to the Corinthians Paul also writes that he can be a Jew to the Jews, or a Gentile to the Gentiles — “all things to all men” (9:22). Remember too, he did gain some converts from preaching in the Areopagus (Acts 17:34). I’m inclined to believe that the apostle, himself still a learner in the school of evangelism, was forever seeking the best way to reach the lost.