So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
Up to Acts chapter 17, the gospel has confronted zealous Jews in synagogues and the economic and political forces of the Roman empire. But in Athens, the intellectual center of the ancient world, the good news clashes with the strange world of ancient philosophy. After gaining the attention of the philosophers, Paul was given audience to address them publicly at the Areopagus. Paul brilliantly and persuasively uses the insights of the philosophers (even quoting them!) in service to his message of truth. He presents all the hallmarks of a solid worldview: the identity of God, the nature of human beings, the meaning of life and where life is headed.
Who is God? — “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything… we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.” (Acts 17:24-25, 29b) God is the Lord of the universe, a non-contingent being who gives life to all creation.
What are human beings? — “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place…for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’…” (Acts 17:26, 28a) Humans are part of God’s creation. As his “offspring,” we need God, not the other way around. God displays his sovereignty over humanity and his goodness toward us by providing for all our needs.
What is our purpose? — God placed humans on the earth “that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:27) The point of human existence is to seek and find God. This is the noblest pursuit. Humans have tried to do this through devising complex systems of religion and various rituals involving temples and sacrifices but they are merely blundering around in the dark. God desires to be found by humans and remains within our reach but he cannot be found unless he is sought on his terms.
Where are we going? — “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31) Because God is Creator and Lord of the world he is also Judge to whom all creation answers. Bound up with God’s power is his ability to control and direct history, which he is moving toward resurrection and judgment. God has ended the era of ignorance by sending Jesus to the cross and raising him from the dead. What previously could not be known about God has been revealed through Jesus. This resurrection is the evidence that judgment is coming. If God is going to set the world right then everyone must get ready by repenting and preparing for that judgment.
All the elements of a solid and concise worldview are present in Paul’s sermon; God is the Lord of creation who made human beings to seek and find him that they might escape judgment and live with him forever. Do any other worldviews compare?
A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.
The Ten Commandments gave the core of the covenant stipulations to Israel. They outlined the kind of life God called Israel to live before him (Ex. 20:1-11) and each other (Ex. 20:12-17). Jesus summarized the essence of the law with two basic commandments: to love God and to love one’s neighbor as himself (Mt. 22:34-40; Rom. 13:8-10), which neatly correspond to the first four and last six commands.
To create a healthy, loving society requires honest communication, which is why Israel was commanded, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Ex. 20:16) Lying against a neighbor could lead to their being punished unjustly which would be disastrous for society and would show an utter disregard for God’s moral character (Prov. 6:16-19; 12:22; 19:5). Paul repeats this to God’s new covenant family with more balance: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (Eph. 4:25; cf. 4:15; Col. 3:9) Of course, Jesus gets to the core of communication by tying our words to our hearts (Mt. 6:33-37; 12:36-37).
Flattery is another form of deceptive speech. Even though we may think flattery a kindness, wisdom teaches that it is dishonest and “works ruin” (Prov. 26:28). “Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.” (Prov. 28:23) Honest reproof is always preferable to flattery. While flattery may be pleasing for the moment, because it is insincere it can never bring the constructive help of a loving rebuke. Like an antiseptic, the truth may sting at first but heals later. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (Prov. 27:6) Let us not forget that our Lord was betrayed with such a kiss (Mk. 14:43-45).
Just like lying, flattery hurts everyone involved. “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.” (Prov. 29:5) The referent (“his feet”) is difficult to discern; the net could be spread for the one flattered or for the flatterer himself. Either way, flattery harms rather than helps. For example, when Jesus confronted the religious leadership in Jerusalem before going to the cross, “the Pharisees…plotted how to entangle him in his words.” They sent people to him saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Mt. 22:15-17) They prefaced their question with flattery to screen their wicked intent. But by laying their net at Jesus’ feet they only succeeded in getting tangled up in it themselves. (Mt. 22:18-22)
Gossip is the other side of flattery. Gossip involves saying behind a person’s back what you would never say to his face. Flattery is saying to a person’s face what you would never say behind his back. Paul warns us of those who cause division in God’s family. One of the red flags of a divisive person is their “smooth talk and flattery” used to “deceive the hearts of the naive.” (Rom. 16:17-18)
Whenever Paul announced the good news about Jesus he was very careful that his appeal to repent and believe did not spring from “error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but,” he writes, “just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness.” (1 Thess. 2:3-6) The aim of his charge of preaching was “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Tim. 1:5) Let us be genuine in our praise of others and remain loving in our criticisms. No matter what, “speak the truth in love.” (Eph. 4:15)
…And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
The majority of people in the world today identify as Christians. But what exactly is a ‘Christian’? It is a slippery term in our culture because it means so many different things to different people. There are other words and phrases which correspond to it, such as ‘believer,’ ‘disciple,’ ‘follower of Jesus,’ ‘child of God,’ and so on, but they all share the same nebulous cultural definitions as ‘Christian.’ When pushed to define the meaning of the term some offer the postmodern response, “What the word ‘Christian’ means to me is…” and their subjective definitions run the gamut.
The solution to our problem is, of course, to allow the Bible to define its own terms. So long as we are approaching this question from the vantage point of culture, we are doomed to be tossed about by its ever-changing winds. While the world is in constant flux, and language and ethical fashions fluctuate with it, “the word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Pet. 1:23-25; Isa. 40:6-8; Mt. 24:35).
The real question to ask is how the Bible defines a Christian. We may be surprised to learn that the word ‘Christian’ only appears three times in the Bible (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16). Each appearance reveals something about its meaning.
“In Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26). Luke records this because ‘Christian’ had become a familiar term in certain areas when he wrote the book of Acts. The suffix of the word (ιανοσ) was attached to proper nouns to give a diminutive form. As ‘Herodians’ (Mt. 22:16) were those loyal to Herod’s family, 'Christians' are loyal to ‘Christ,’ a title meaning “anointed one.” Note also that they were “called Christians.” This implies it wasn’t a title they made up for themselves but a nickname given them by the people of Antioch. Christians preferred to use other names for themselves, such as ‘disciples,’ ‘saints,’ and ‘brothers.’ Therefore, a Christian is someone who is loyal to Jesus and shows their loyalty by following him in a way that is plain for others to see.
The word ‘Christian' appears next after Paul gives his defense before king Agrippa. Agrippa responds, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28) This, in fact, is exactly what Paul was trying to do. But understanding Agrippa’s response is difficult. Was he expressing his amazement that Paul would try to convert him after such a short speech? Or was he expressing his amazement that he was, in fact, almost converted in such a short time? Either way, while he was confident of Paul’s innocence (Acts 26:32), Agrippa was not yet persuaded to become a Christian.
The last time we see the word ‘Christian’ in the New Testament is in the context of suffering innocently. The apostle Peter encourages saints to share in Christ’s sufferings “that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet. 4:13). While suffering for doing wrong is just and cause for shame, “if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Pet. 4:16), that is, in the name of Christ.
Therefore, a Christian, is not merely a title one wears to confess one’s identity. People identify as all sorts of things but saying so doesn’t make it so (Jn. 8:39). Nor is a Christian merely a believer in Christ. Those who were not willing to step out of the shadows and follow Jesus were “believers” but not Christians (Jn. 12:42).
So, what is a Christian? A Christian is a follower of Christ. A Christian’s loyalty to Christ should be plain for all to see (Acts 11:26). This requires a change in life (Acts 26:28) and a willingness to continue following him even if it means suffering for it (1 Pet. 4:16). If someone accused you of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
A “friend” is someone who loves you at all times (Prov. 17:17), gives good advice (27:9-10), sticks by you (18:24), helps you when you are down (Ecc. 4:9-10), supports you physically and emotionally (Ecc. 4:11), and fights to protect you (Ecc. 4:12). Sometimes a friend has to be tough and call you out when you are wrong (Prov. 27:5-6; cf. 2 Sam. 12), but he is always kind (Job 6:14). A friend is someone who earns your trust by his loyalty (1 Sam. 20; cf. Acts 9:26-27) and helps you mature (Prov. 27:17).
Jesus embodied this teaching on friendship throughout his life and, supremely, in his sacrificial death (Jn. 15:13-15). Though his friendship with sinners earned him scorn from the self-righteous (Lk. 7:34, 39), he never apologized for his associations. After all, what kind of doctor refuses to see sick patients? (Lk. 5:31) Many reviled him because they thought this righteous man would be contaminated by such association with sinners. But they were wrong. Jesus purified those he came in contact with instead. We see this illustrated in Jesus’ healings of the ritually unclean; instead of their uncleanness rubbing off on him, his touch purified them! (Mt. 8:1-4; 9:18-26, etc.)
People reviled Jesus and they will revile us if we follow his example. But to befriend sinners requires us to have more confidence in Christ’s power to cleanse than fear of contamination from the world.
With this being said, we must take seriously the command to keep oneself “unstained from the world” (Jas. 1:27) and the warning that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (Jas. 4:4).
On the surface, this may sound contradictory. How are we to love the world and be separate from it at the same time? In John’s writing, the word “world” is used in two different senses. Viewed as people, the world is to be loved (Jn. 3:16). Viewed as an evil system, organized under the domain of Satan, we must not love the world (1 Jn. 2:15-17) but live distinct from it (Jn. 15:18-19; Rom. 12:2).
What made Jesus so effective and magnetic to sinners was his love on the one hand and his holiness on the other. Jesus, our high priest, is “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Heb. 7:26). And yet he who was “above the angels” took on a status “below” the angels by joining our ranks and suffering with us (Heb. 1:5-14; 2:1-18; Phil. 2:5-11). For this reason, he is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” because he “was tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
Jesus neither condoned sin, left people in their sin, nor showed any disdain for sinners. And his love was not passive. He did not just wait for people to get their act together but called sinners to repentance and held out the free gift of God (Jn. 4:1-26). In short, Jesus was a friend of sinners but no friend of sin.
We must not think of relationships with non-Christians primarily as dangers but as opportunities. Instead of avoiding them for fear of contamination, we are to befriend them and pray for their conversion believing that “he who is in [us] is greater than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4).
In Matthew 5:13-16, we are called to be salt and light. The very thing that makes salt and light effective is that they are so different from the thing they effect. For Christians to change the world we must be radically distinct from it. At the same time, we must remember that salt can only influence by contact with the world. May God help us befriend sinners and have no friendship with sin!
“Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook or press down his tongue with a cord?
Can you put a rope in his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook?”
The mysterious Leviathan raises its frightening head(s) a few times in the Old Testament (Psa. 74:12-19; 104:25-26; Isa. 27:1; Job 3:8; 41:1-34) and, perhaps, once in the New Testament as the “beast from the sea” (Rev. 13:1). What is this mysterious, untamable, water-dwelling, fire-breathing, multi-headed monster?
The word “Leviathan” most likely means “the writhing or twisting one,” which suggests a snake-like body. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the word translated “Leviathan” is drakon in Job 41, the serpentine creature from which our English “dragon” is derived. In Job 3, however, the “Leviathan” is ketos or Cetus, a Greek dragon with a pig’s snout. The Bible describes Leviathan as a kind of tannin or “sea monster” (Psa. 74:13-14; Isa. 27:1; cf. Gen. 1:21), which, in ancient Near Eastern mythology, symbolized an aquatic, evil chaos-monster.
In Psalm 74:13-14, Leviathan is depicted as an enemy of the LORD which the LORD conquers and feeds to the creatures of the desert. In the surrounding context, the psalmist describes God defeating chaos and disorder within creation, echoing Genesis 1 when God shaped what was “formless” and filled what was “void.” God’s triumph over Leviathan is another display of his power over darkness and evil which strengthens the faith of the psalmist.
In Psalm 104, the Leviathan is categorized as one of the swarming creatures of the sea (Gen. 1:20f) which God formed for a particular purpose. This is similar to the reference in Job 41 which speaks of the power of Leviathan and another mysterious creature, Behemoth (Job 40:15ff). God created both creatures which no man can tame.
The reference in Isaiah 27:1 is symbolic. There, “Leviathan the fleeing… twisting serpent” becomes a cipher for Israel’s enemies whom God will punish. This apocalyptic description is picked up and made even more grotesque in Revelation 12-13, where the image of a devouring, multi-headed dragon is used to symbolize Satan, “that ancient serpent” (Rev. 12:9; cf. Gen. 3:1ff). This iconographic motif of Satan as a defeated serpent continued in early church history through the middle ages.
During the enlightenment, attempts were made to defend the scientific accuracy of Scripture which resulted in Behemoth and Leviathan being identified as the hippo and crocodile. But these animals simply don’t fit the descriptions in Job. A hippo’s tail cannot be described, even poetically, as “a cedar” (Job 40:17) and a crocodile doesn’t seem large enough to fit the description of Leviathan. Both creatures are probably best explained naturally as extinct reptiles; Behemoth could have been a Sauropod and Leviathan something akin to Mosasaurus.
This terrifying creature of immense proportions continues to captivate imaginations today. For example, the second season of Disney’s The Mandalorian features a creature called a krayt dragon that eats bovine animals called banthas (= Behemoths). The dragon is eventually called a Leviathan. After it is conquered, its flesh is divided and eaten as a delicacy by the native Tuskans (Psa. 74:14!).
While Scripture doesn’t give us a clear zoological classification, the Leviathan was both a physical creature formed by God and a symbolic creature. As a symbol of chaos and strength which no mere human could ever tame, Leviathan was used by the biblical writers as a means to speak about the greater power of God. What is untamable by mere humans is easily constrained by our Creator.