16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
Marketplace Ministry requires that we are not moving through this life as sight seers, but as soul winners. Marketplace Ministry involves your HEART, FEET, and MIND.
When Paul undertook Marketplace ministry in Athens, the city was in a period of decline, though it was still recognized as a center of culture and education. It had a famous university. The best minds went to Athens to study. But listen, you can cram your head full of knowledge and still know nothing if you don’t know the truth about Jesus Christ. Athens was given over to a “cultured paganism” that was nourished by idolatry, novelty and philosophy.
The Scripture says that when Paul went in to survey the city, he was greatly distressed. He was more than troubled over what he saw. His heart was literally broken because of the pagan idol worship that was taking place. The city was full of idols. The population was about 10,000, but there were 30,000 idols in the city. Everywhere you looked, there was an idol. Something to pray to. Something to worship. Something to honor and pay tribute to. It wasn’t that the town square had a few idols on display, but everywhere you walked, you stepped over some pagan idol.
Even though the artwork was the best of the best in the Ancient world, Paul wasn’t impressed. He wasn’t filled with admiration. Paul wasn’t concerned with the aesthetics of the city, but with the influence that these worthless idols had in the lives of the people who lived there. The Greeks were literally held hostage by pieces of stone. It sounds ridiculous, because we think we would know better. We think we wouldn’t be so shallow or idiotic to think that something made of stone could bless us or help us or curse us.
Paul was heartbroken because the gods of the Greeks were only fictional characters in stories that were unable to change anyone’s lives. Even with all of the culture and wisdom and sophistication, the Greeks didn’t know the one true God.
How many of you know this morning, that you can be so close and yet so far. Every idol demonstrated the Athenians’ hunger for God, but it also testified to their spiritual emptiness. Ignorant of the true God, the Athenians were lost! It’s not good enough to be religious. It’s not good enough to be spiritual. It’s not good enough to pursue your life’s purpose. If you don’t know the one true God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you are lost and in danger of losing your soul to Hell the minute you take your last breath.
I Cor. 1:18-24
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
These people in Athens missed true wisdom and were always in search mode, looking to this idol and that idol, to this god and that god, to try to find peace and the meaning of life. Talk about chasing after the wind!
Listen, you can be the most sophisticated artist in town, having studied the intricacies of design or you may be the most brilliant minded person, able to cram your brain full of information, but if you don’t know the Truth about Jesus Christ, your artwork is just something to look at and your philosophy means nothing!
Paul had a broken heart. He had the heart of Jesus. When Jesus looked out on the city of Jerusalem, he hurt in his heart as he watched people just aimlessly going through life. He said they were like sheep without a shepherd.
How long has it been since your heart broke over someone who was lost? Everyone is searching. Even people who say they are atheist or agnostic or whatever, they are always searching. I know that’s true because I know we’ll search for anything that makes our life better, that gives us satisfaction, or that brings us peace.
Paul didn’t go into town thinking he was going to preach. He was simply waiting for Timothy and Silas to join him there. But while he was minding his own business, while he was in a passive, waiting mode, God broke his heart for people who were so close and yet were completely missing it all.
How long has it been for you? How long has it been that while you were waiting in a line in a grocery store and saw something that tipped you off that the people in front of you didn’t know Jesus, that your heart was broken?
Judy Lindsay shared a story recently with me about a bagger at Kroger’s who shared some hurt and pain with her right there while he was putting her broccoli in a bag. While he was bagging her blueberries and loading her cart with all of the healthy stuff I know Judy buys, he was unloading his soul. Judy didn’t go to Kroger’s to preach. But before she left that store, her heart broke. And she looked at the young man and simply said, “Do you know Jesus?” I can’t remember the particulars of his response, but her question took him by surprise and brought comfort to his heart.
Marketplace ministry starts with a broken heart.
But having a heart for people, being moved in your heart, isn’t enough. It isn’t marketplace ministry if you are just touched by someone’s pain or moved by someone’s bad situation. That’s not marketplace ministry. That’s pity. Or worse, that’s indifference. You see, you can be moved in your heart when those commercials come on about starving children that need to be sponsored and you can turn the channel and shut off your heart just as quickly as your heart was moved to begin with. You can be moved in your heart when you see someone holding a “Will work for food” sign at the Teays Valley exit, but as soon as the light turns green, you’re on with your day. “Out of sight. Out of mind.” You can feel for the sixteen year old girl who finds herself pregnant and abandoned by parents who are ashamed, but if it’s not your daughter, not your sister, it’s not your responsibility. How many of you know it’s that easy? I’m guilty too.
Paul became emotionally committed to these people in his heart to the point that he let his feet take them deeper into their city. Our Acts 17 passage says he sauntered into the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks. He moved into talking mode. He started to get a handle on what was going on by talking to some of the religious leaders, but he didn’t stop there. He moved into the marketplace and started talking with those who happened to be there. He let his feet take him where his heart had already gone.
And when your feet take you beyond the temple, beyond conversation with people who are connected to God, deep into the marketplace, you’ll see that marketplace ministry is messy. All kinds of people reside in the marketplace. You don’t control who comes to the marketplace. They don’t all dress like you, smell like you, talk like you or do what you do for entertainment. But when your heart is broken for someone, you don’t require they take a bath. You don’t demand an explanation for the way they are living. You don’t come up with a series of hoops that they have to jump through in order to be your friend. You simply start sharing the part of your heart with them that moved your feet in the first place. It’s love and compassion and mercy and a desire for them to be saved that makes you put one foot in front of the other and not anything they do to convince you they are worthy of your time.
I know this will sound a bit odd and might be perceived by some as risky, but I want to submit to you this morning that I think one thing that has gotten in the way of marketplace ministry is our holiness heritage. We’ve been taught that in order to be holy, we have to seclude ourselves and sequester ourselves and separate ourselves from anything that doesn’t look holy. Bologna. I want you to know that was never the intention of Jesus.
Look at John 17 with me. John 17:14 begins this way, “14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”
For what purpose have we been sanctified? (Sanctified just means “made holy.”) For what purpose have we been sanctified? Are we sanctified so that we can come together and huddle together and become some kind of Christian commune wherein we hide from the evils of the world? No, Jesus said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.” In other words, “Greater is He that is in us, than He that is in the world,” REFERENCE and we are sanctified, made holy, not to hide from the world, but we are sanctified in order to be sent into the world to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And the same God that saved me and sanctified me by His Holy Spirit can protect me from the evil one so that when I am downtown in the marketplace, or on lunch break in the workplace, or at a wedding reception where people are doing things I don’t do, I don’t have to wrap a cocoon around me and be afraid that some kind of unholy, sin cootie bug is going to jump off of them and on to me.
Listen, if we are called to be light, where is the only place that light works? If we are called to be salt, where is the only place that salt is effective? It’s effective in the lifeless, bland places of life, right?
If we sequester ourselves and huddle ourselves together, forming some kind of Christian clique, afraid of the world and the devil, we’re just a bunch of salt shaking hands, a bunch of salt hugging each other, a bunch of salt singing songs, and a bunch of salt taking notes on a Bible lesson. We just become a salt blob. Yuck. That’s about the most unappetizing thing I can think of right now. A big salt blob. But when you and I, listen, when you and I get out of this shaker we called a sanctuary and start allowing ourselves to be poured out in places that need the flavor of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the marketplace will start to look more like this place. But as long as we’re together, holding our candles up high, we’re just blinding ourselves to the darkness that truly is trying to take over our world! We have the light. We have the salt. We must make our feet take it to the marketplace without fear.
I’m not telling you to run to the nearest bar and start making it your weekend hangout, but I’m telling you that we cannot and must not hide from non-Christian people out of fear when we have the antidote for their sin problem. If you think you’ll be tempted to sin, pray first and take a Christian friend with you, but go, go, go. You’re the only hope some people have of understanding that their stone idols, their worthless pleasures, will not save them.
John 17 tells us that Marketplace Ministry was Jesus’ desire. He prayed that we’d be protected through sanctification and that we’d be sent on His behalf into all of the kinds of places that Jesus walked into and ministered in.
Marketplace Ministry starts with a heart commitment followed by a feet commitment and finishes with a commitment to learn and know about the people that God is sending us to. When Paul visited this city, it was a time when people passed the time by having a good debate. They loved to sit around and reason and talk about the deep things of life. Had Paul visited this same group of people in 2009, I imagine they’d be sitting around watching reruns of Jeopardy trying to beat each other by shouting out every answer.
Paul preaches this sermon to the Epicureans and the Stoics, to those who were sitting around philosophizing and discussing the meaning of life. Epicureans were about pleasure and happiness. Their goal was to balance their lives in such a way that they could minimize or avoid pain, thereby only experiencing pleasure and good things in life. They sought the “finer things” in life in every sense of the word.
The Stoics were pantheists, and their emphasis was on personal discipline and self-control. Pleasure was not good and pain was not evil. The most important thing in life was to follow your own reason and be self-sufficient, unmoved by inner feelings or outward circumstances. Of course, such a philosophy only fanned the flames of pride and taught men that they did not need the help of God. It is interesting that the first two leaders of the Stoic school committed suicide. The Epicureans said “Enjoy life!” and the Stoics said “Endure life!” but it remained for Paul to explain how they could enter into life through faith in God’s risen Son.
The Council of the Aeropagus was responsible to watch over both religion and education in the city, so it was natural for them to investigate the “new doctrine” Paul was teaching. They courteously invited Paul to present his doctrine at what appears to have been an informal meeting of the council on Mars’ Hill. Paul was not on trial; the council members only wanted him to explain what he had been telling the people in the agora. After all, life in Athens consisted in hearing and telling new things, and Paul had something new to say!
Paul used his mind in his message by engaging the people right where they were. He started by referring to their altar dedicated to an unknown god. He entered into their world. He didn’t show up with his swagger and defense on. He showed them he understood their culture. He understood where they were coming from. He engaged them on their level at their point of interest. Once he connected with them culturally, he began to explain who God is and what He is like. He even started his comments with a compliment. “I see that in every way you are very religious.” Acts 17:22
He tells them that this unknown God can be known and that he is the God who created everything, verse 24. Paul spoke of the goodness of God, that He is our Provider, verse 25. He went on to describe the government of God, and that He rules over everything, verse 26 through 29. He helped them see that God is not a distant deity; “He is not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27). Therefore, men ought to seek God and come to know Him in truth. Here Paul quoted from the poet Epimenides: “For in Him we live, and move, and have our being.” Then he added a quotation from two poets, Aratus and Cleanthes, “For we are also His offspring.” How brilliant is that? He quoted one of their own poets to help people see the “Fatherhood of God” in that we were all created in his image. How could he quote some of their poetry? He had read it. He had learned it. He had invested himself in understanding the culture and in knowing how the Athenians thought and why they had come to the conclusions they had come to.
There were different responses to the message. Some laughed and mocked and did not take Paul’s message seriously. Others were interested but wanted to hear more. A small group accepted what Paul preached, believed on Jesus Christ, and were saved.
I’m going to go out on a limb here with this next statement. It is absolutely fundamental that we know what we believe and that we can articulate that, but perhaps more important in this dark, agnostic and atheistic society is that we know what our non-Christian marketplace friends believe so that we have a starting point in conversation with them. Through your mind, you have to show interest in where they are.
Marketplace sinners need to see that we receive them and accept them where they are, without judgment and condemnation. After all, we don’t have any condemnation or judgment to hand out. That’s God’s job. Our job is to reflect the love of Christ and to tell the truth about what God has done for us, but people won’t care what we know or have experienced until they know we love and care for them.
I don’t know of anyone better at this Marketplace Ministry than Pastor David. I’m here to tell you he can walk into a hospital waiting room filled with people, knowing no one and walk out with seventeen new friends, three of which he is a distant relative of, two more that he’ll either marry or bury and several that he’ll lead to faith in Jesus Christ. Why? I’ve seen it firsthand. He begins to work into the conversation and fabric of the room in a non-threatening, non-judgmental, loving way and offers to be of assistance in any way possible. I’ve seen him take a twenty dollar bill out of his pocket more than once to help someone in a waiting room. It might be that he gives someone a ride. It might be that he comes back to the hospital to visit the patient that the whole family had gathered in support of and begins to simply befriend the family in a way that leads to a long term relationship that will result in ministry opportunity after ministry opportunity. He may appear that he’s just “blending in,” but don’t be fooled, he’s brilliant in meeting people where they are in such a way that they don’t even know they are being “set up!” The next time you see Pastor David walk into a hospital waiting room, you just need to yell, “It’s a set up,” because before those people know what hit them, the love and life of Jesus Christ will be hand delivered to them.
As I begin to close, let me say that Marketplace Ministry is painful. Some people won’t ever get it. They will refuse to accept the free gift that God offers. Like in Paul’s case, some will laugh at us. They’ll call us “Holy Rollers” or “Religious Freaks” or even chalk it up to the fact, “Well they attend that church with the lady preacher. You know the one!” Some will act like they’re with us only to take advantage of the practical kind of help we might offer. Eventually they’ll drift away and hit up the next church that will open their arms.
But, friends, the good news I have for you this day is that some will get it. Some will receive it. Some will own it and some will take Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, never to look back to their hollow way of life. That’s what happened with Paul. Hear Acts 17:34, “34 A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.” And I’ll bet that after some of those scoffers saw the change in Dionysius and Damaris, they also accepted Christ. That’s why we allow ourselves to become emotionally invested. It’s never easy.
My arm has bothered me since April. I don’t know what I did to it. We’ll say it was a “piano injury!” At least that sounds holy. I had the Wednesday night Bible study pray for me and I thought for a while it was better, but the pain returned. I couldn’t lift a gallon of milk or even push down with my index finger to put my gel or mousse in my hair. How many of you know that’s tragic? I told Thom last week that I was giving it until September 1st and then I was going for an MRI.
Tuesday night before the camp meeting service, in the prayer room, I prayed that God would do something that could be recorded. You know. Written down, like all the miracles in the Bible. After the service, late that night, when the kids were asleep, I was looking over notes for a conference I was leading and all of the sudden, my arm popped. I heard it, and I felt it, and I wasn’t even moving it. My arm was healed!
I slept with it under my pillow as I had always done before. It was glorious! I got up and called Thom and Pastor David and told both of them that I had been healed. I told Hannah, and she rejoiced with me. In about three hours my arm was hurting again. I thought, “Lord, was I not healed?” Then I thought, “Lord, why would you heal me just for a few hours?” As the day went on, I heard God clearly say, “When something has been dislocated as long as your arm has, when it is put right there will still be an adjustment. Right won’t feel right. There will be a pain that comes from setting it into the right place. Give it time.”
I heard God clearly say, “That’s the way it is with Marketplace Ministry.” People who come to Christ will still have aches and pains in their lives. They’ll still have habits that linger and words and phrases that carry over into their new lives. They’ll be put right the instant they claim Christ as Savior and Lord, but you’ll have to help them through the transition and the aches and pains that often come from starting a walk with Christ. Give it time.
Your heart feeling compassion. Your feet getting close to them. Your mind showing interest and communicating value. That’s Marketplace Ministry.
I say all of that to say, “Teays Valley Church of God,” I want us to be Marketplace Christians. God wants us to be Marketplace Christians. To be anything else, I believe, is disobedience.
Okay, Pastor, so what? This is what. Some of you need to start with your own families. Some of you have talked around Jesus for years. You’ve danced around the topic of Christianity and church with your family members and friends for years. I’m telling you it’s time to get serious. Some of you need to go home and call your sons and daughters. Some of you need to call your parents. Some of you need to start developing some relationships on purpose with non-Christians so that you can flavor their lives with the Gospel. If they are technologically savvy people, connect through Facebook. If they are lonely people, invite them over to dinner or ask if they want to go to breakfast. If they are young people who don’t have a lot of support from home, start going to their ballgames and hand them a five dollar gift card to McDonald’s after the game to let them know they did a good job. Eventually, you’ll find yourself just naturally saying, “Can I give you a ride to church?”
How about you? Will you commit your heart, feet and mind to Marketplace Ministry this morning? Pray with me.