After the threatening mob, believers in Berea covertly conduct Paul to the coast. They find passage on a ship and stay with him, sailing southeast for hours, the sea offering a welcome respite from the chaos in Berea, and, before that, in Thessalonica.
Docking in Athens, they leave Paul for their return to Berea. Paul arrives at Athens once the intellectual capital of the Mediterranean world. Now its glorious pulse of politics and literature and theater is past. Nevertheless, it houses one of the Roman empire’s best universities. Tourists are attracted to its architecture and sculpture. It’s still the center of philosophy, still the city of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. And the remaining magnificent architecture of the Parthenon and the Acropolis for us today is still a world wonder. Athens abides as the cradle of Western democracy.
but both Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea.
and then returned to Berea with instructions from Paul
that Silas and Timothy should join him as soon as possible.
(Acts 17:14,15, TEV).
Waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him, Paul tours the city. He’s struck, not by Athens’ glorious history or magnificent buildings, but by its idols.
he was greatly upset when he noticed how full of idols the city was.
(Acts 17:16, TEV).
For now, lest we think this an ancient history lesson, let’s think about idols today. First, idol definitions. From the “Oxford Dictionary”: (1) An image or representation of a god used as an object of worship; (2) A person or thing that is greatly admired, loved, or revered.” From the “EasyEnglish Bible Dictionary”: a false god that people made out of wood or stone or metal. Two of these three definitions fit the ancient idol above. But, apart from certain churches, what idols fill our cities today?
Nicholas T. Batzig is the organizing pastor of New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Richmond Hill, Ga. He wrote a provocative blog, “Sophisticated Temples of Modern Idolatry” (http://feedingonchrist.com/sophisticated-temples/, well-worth reading in its entirety.
Here’s his opening paragraph . . .
“For decades, the consumeristic and narcissistic culture in which we live has served the unsuspecting and unconscious worshippers of North America with extravagant buildings in which to showcase the idols of a sophisticatedly synchronistic (coexistent) and paganistic society.”
In plainer English. we live in a consumer-centered, self-centered culture. We don’t suspect, and we are unconscious of this sophisticated and pagan society that has drawn us to worship its idols showcased in its extravagant buildings.
Batzig identifies these “extravagant buildings”—the mall (now supplanted by the internet?), the university, the movie theater, the stadium and the gym.
The Mall. We go to buy necessities, but also luxuries. As we do, we see other items we’d love to have. So here our desires for more are fed—desires that can never fully be satisfied.
The University. We attend to learn for a career. But in the mix we also study and imbibe all sorts of ungodly worldviews. These exalt the individual mind while displacing God.
The Movie Theater. Here’s where the worldviews of the university are set out in narrative form to entertain us while subtly showing us how these worldviews can be lived in exciting, challenging , bigger-than-life ways.
The Stadium. We spend millions to build new sports stadiums, scream like banshees for our football team, wear their shirts, shout their praises, celebrate their victories, groan at their defeats. We identify with them. Their victories and defeats become ours.
The Gym. Here, amidst the long lines of workout equipment, we worship our bodies and, by extension, ourselves. Bike faster. Lift heavier. Stretch further. Keep at it longer. Look younger, tighter, leaner. We fight off age itself.
We’re not wrong to shop at the mall, etc. But we should at least consider the possibility that these buildings are modern temples and what they contain are modern idols. And beware accordingly. Lest we unsuspectingly fall into 21st century idolatry.
Pastor and author J.D. Greear offers one further definition. “An idol,” he writes, “is anything that promises a life of security and joy apart from God.” He goes on to ask, ” What do you so desperately need that you can’t imagine a fulfilled life without it?” (Go to http://www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/2014/07/5-insights-into-idolatry.html for Greear’s blog.)
Ugh! A right to the gut! No. A knife to the heart! Does that make good health (no more Primary Lateral Sclerosis) my idol? Are my wife, children and grandchildren idols? If Greear is correct, idols aren’t limited to certain churches or ancient cultures or even those “extravagant buildings” Batzig writes about. They may very well be unconsciously set up in our hearts.
Paul’s sermon to the Athenians (coming next time) will help us root them out. For today, let’s hear the words Paul wrote months later to the Thessalonians . . .
” . . . you turned to God
to serve the living and true God,
and to wait for his Son from heaven,
whom he raised from the dead,
Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
(1 Thessalonians 1:9b,10, ESV)
This calls for a heart-mind self-examination. Do any of these buildings in my city contain something I imagine my life can’t be fulfilled without? Do I treasure my health, my family or anything else more than God?
“Show me, O God, if I do. And then, enable me to do what the Thessalonians did. Enable me to turn from these idols to you, the living and true God. What I can buy at the mall, learn at the university, enjoy at the movie theater, celebrate at the stadium or improve at the gym isn’t life-fulfilling, isn’t worth giving my life to, and will not come to save me from your coming wrath on this world. Keep me, O Lord, from the empty idols of this world to find fulfillment in you alone.”