In Athens, there is a large plateau that overlooks the city called Mars Hill. According to a myth, it was on that hill, that the Greek God of war, also known as Mars to the Romans, was put on trial for the murder of Poseidon’s son, so it became known as Mars Hill. Centuries later, Mars Hill was where the supreme court of Athens met- in an open-air forum where they would try the most complicated cases in the city. But, when it wasn’t being used for trials, it was a popular place where philosophers like the Stoics and Epicureans would meet and debate ideas.
In Acts 17, we read that Paul arrives in Athens, and as he’s walking through the city, he notices thousands of temples dedicated to various gods. And as walks around the city, he starts up conversations in the marketplace with vendors and people who are shopping. Well, the city’s philosophers hear about the conversations Paul is having, and they are curious about these ideas he is spreading so they bring Paul up to Mars Hill to properly debate.
Paul willingly goes, and as he is on Mars Hill, he does two brilliant things. First, he starts the conversation by saying, “Men of Athens, I perceive that you are very religious in all things.” He starts by acknowledging that they are devout in their beliefs. He’s noticed how seriously they are searching for truth, and instead of condemning them for not believing the right thing, he respectfully engages in conversation. Then Paul says, “Not only that, but as I passed by your temples and observed your objects of your worship, I found an altar with the inscription: ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ “
He’s using the culture, ideas, and categories they understood to share about the One true God whom the people of Athens sensed and built an alter to but didn’t know His name yet. Also, since the philosophers didn’t have high regard for the Hebrew scriptures, Paul didn’t build his talk on facts from the Old Testament like he would for a Jewish audience. Instead, he addressed them philosophically, something they took very seriously. In the book of Acts, we read where Paul quotes two Greek philosophers; he says, “In Him, we live and move and have our being.”, which is a quote from one of their philosophers named Epimenides. He also quotes Aratus, who said, “We are God’s offspring”.
He quotes their philosophical heroes to gain jurisdiction to be able to have common language to share about Jesus.
This Christmas, may we be people who aren’t afraid to gather with friends, family and new acquaintances who have different ideas, beliefs, or priorities than we do. When awkward or confrontational conversations happen, may we graciously respond in interesting and refreshing ways.
Because the truth is, sometimes, as people of faith, we get weird about discussing topics that make us uncomfortable or we disagree with. And often, we are offended by people who sin differently than we do. Or, maybe we feel hesitant to get to know the culture around us, and we only read news we agree with, and of course, there is a necessity to guard our minds and avoid temptation. But we also need to know how to talk to people and share about Jesus using ideas and categories that make sense to people living in a messy, real world. I love how Paul communicated with all different people who had different beliefs. Sometimes, it was awkward, but it was also compelling and refreshing while still honoring God as well as the people he talked with.
So this Christmas, let’s enjoy people. Let’s feast with friends and family who see the world differently, and let’s be winsome as we share about the God in whom we live and move and have our being. Amen, and let it be so.
Daily Reading: Acts 17
Source: Greece, A Biblical Tour of Historical Sites by Costas Tsevas (HIGHLY RECOMMEND)