Ministry in the Marketplace

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After the Jerusalem council, Paul returns to Antioch and begins another journey out west. He begins by returning to the places he visited the first time, and that is where he meets Timothy, the one he calls his son in the faith. They build an intensely close relationship. Timothy joins him on his journey and they begin to head in new directions. But they are kept from going to certain regions by the Holy Spirit. Paul receives a vision of a Macedonian man pleading for help, so Paul goes to Macedonia. From there, he visits Philippi, Berea, and Thessalonica. In Thessalonica and Berea, the typical scenario took place yet again. The unbelieving Jews stirred things up and ran Paul out of the city. Timothy and Silas stay in Berea, but Paul goes on to one of the most famous cities of all time: Athens.
Acts 17:16–34 NASB95
Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? “For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.) So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” So Paul went out of their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
Paul’s trip to Athens shows us the essence of what it means to do ministry in today’s world.
Athens was one of the greatest cities around in Paul’s day. It was the birthplace of western philosophy. It was home to famous philosophers Socrates and Plato. Even Aristotle spent time there. It was a hotbed of activity. If a magazine was published in the first century showing the top ten cities in the world to live, Athens was on that list. Because it was so influential in western philosophy, it became home to schools that specialized in it. These were not community colleges or even schools on the level of UT or Texas A&M. We’re talking Ivy League. Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Brown, Cornell, all in one place. This is the city Paul now finds himself in.
Only one characteristic stood out to him. The city was full of idols. Remember the Greeks and Romans were polytheistic and they had statues or images of the gods they served everywhere. The city is named after Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war. Athens is known for the Acropolis, the high point of the city where the famous Parthenon stands, but the location Paul was going to, the Areopagus was just outside that. Many of the buildings had carved images of gods and goddesses in them and this may have been what Paul was seeing. When he saw what they were worshipping, he had to speak.
There are a couple things I notice when I read this account.

Paul didn’t wait for an invitation...

He was in the synagogue and the marketplace every day. Paul wasn’t invited to show up; he just showed up. But he went to the synagogue and the marketplace for one reason: that is where the people are. For decades the church growth model has been centered around the Sunday morning worship hour. Much time, money, and energy has been spent on making the worship hour the greatest it can possibly be. Now, I believe that we should strive for excellence in our worship experience, but it cannot be the thing we focus all our time and attention on. For a very long time the church has done anything it can to get people to come to the building and experience what the church is doing. Come see the music. Come hear the pastor. Those things are not bad and I don’t mean to downplay them, but those things void of marketplace ministry fail to achieve God’s purpose for the church.
So many times we ask ourselves what it will take to get people in when the real question we need to be asking is how do we get us out? We must go where the people are. In an effort to accomplish this, we begin today to prayer walk this city. But this cannot be the only thing we do. I don’t have students in the schools, nor am I a big fan of football. But during football season I try to make it a point to be at the field Friday nights because that is where the people are. Just a week ago we had a county fair and we participated in the parade. We have done that for two years now. I don’t particularly like waking up early on Saturday morning, but I do because that is where the people are. Paul went where the people were and he did not wait for an invitation.

…but when he was invited, he didn’t pass on the opportunity.

It is though his marketplace ministry that Paul is invited to the Areopagus to speak in front of what was probably some of the most brilliant minds in Athens. He is placed before a mixed audience of Stoics and Epicureans. These are two schools of philosophical thought. Stoics had a way of emphasizing virtuous behavior through courage, wisdom, and moral living. Epicureans sought to end pain through the avoidance of desiring things that ought not be desired. In the avoidance of pain, there is the pursuit of pleasure. This is a very rough summation of the two, but there they are in a nutshell. What they both enjoyed was hearing various perspectives and opinions.
What I want us to see is how Paul dealt with two audiences. In the marketplace, you had more common folk. They were your everyday people who lived in the real world handling real business. The men at the Areopagus are the Ivy League professors who spent their time debating and discussing the finer points of philosophy. They were extremely educated and very influential. Some might be intimidated by such an audience, but not Paul.
Paul took note of what was important to the people of Athens. They were deeply religious. The city was rife with idols. But he also took note of something more particular. He brought their attention to an altar made out to an unknown god. That was his bridge to the gospel. Paul introduces these men to the God of heaven and earth who does not dwell in temples made by human hands. The God they did not know does not live in a temple like the Athenians believed. He is the creator of all things and is entirely self-sufficient, not needing to be worshiped by anyone. But it is from Him that all men have life. This is an affront to the Greek gods. Paul is claiming here that God is the true creator of everything in existence and is solely responsible for man’s existence. And then, He is the establisher of every nation, knowing precisely the time of their rise and fall. He provided ways and opportunities for these nations to seek after and find Him.
But now that Christ has come and God has set a time when He will judge the world through Him who has risen from the dead, the message is loud and clear: repent. The Stoic’s emphasis on virtuous behavior and the Epicurean’s emphasis on seeking pleasure at the elimination of unwanted desire are both met in Jesus, who is the model of virtuous behavior and the perfect picture of overcoming unwanted desire. Last time I told you Christ was the embodiment of the Law of God, which reveals his character and nature. He also knows what it is like to be tempted by sin, a desire for the things we should not desire, and overcome. Paul craftily presented the gospel by reading his audience and the thing that sticks out to me the most is that he went to them. They didn’t go to him.

God has called all His followers to engage the culture in the marketplace because that is where the people are.

There were many who heard Paul’s claims of the resurrection and they laughed him out of the room. But there were others who said they would hear him further. The gospel will always get mixed results but we must recapture the practice of marketplace ministry.
For decades, the church growth model has been centered around the Sunday morning worship hour. We might call this a come and see model. Much time and energy was spent on making the worship service the best it could be. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with that except that the model is part of a bygone era. We now live in a post-Christian culture that cares very little what we do on Sunday morning. The church growth model must shift back to an emphasis on marketplace ministry, and we accomplish this through sending ourselves out to where the people are to tell them of the coming day where God will judge the world through the Man He appointed having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.
We only have this life to decide what we believe about Jesus and God has positioned you and I here at this moment and in this time to bring the gospel to the people. We must get out where they are. Only through evangelism and missions can we go where they are so that they might end up where we are. Let us be diligent in bringing the gospel to the marketplace so that all may hear.
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