This chapter has one of the most important speeches in the New Testament, and it is instructive for us. The apostle Paul spoke with the folks in Athens about God – attempting to convince them of the existence of the God of Israel by examining the very existence of creation and humanity.
There’s a lot to say about Paul’s message in Athens. But my mind was caught by something else in this chapter: The mob kept following Paul around.
We’ve seen this happen before (Acts 14:19). When the the mob decided it didn’t like Paul, it didn’t let him rest. It hounded him from town to town. Just when Paul started to get a hearing with a new set of listeners, the mob would show up and wreck things.
We can think about the mobs in our own day – what we’ve seen over the past few weeks on television and in social media. Mobs operate as living things – they are unpredictable in that way – and are driven by an ideology that completely rejects anything to the contrary. And mobs are relentless. They don’t stop.
And the mob decided Paul and the gospel message of Jesus Christ was something that needed to be stopped. And the mob rallied itself in Thessalonica. It got so bad, the believers there realized it was time for Paul to go. “The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away.”
And Paul and Silas ended up in Berea. Things went pretty well there. But the mob followed them there – “agitating and stirring up the crowds.” Again, it got bad enough the believers there realized it was time for Paul to go. “Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way.”
And Paul ended up in Athens, trying to persuade some of the smartest minds on the planet about the truth of the gospel.
It struck me that trials and tribulations force action. They create opportunity. Paul likely moved from place to place faster than he normally would have because of the opposition he was receiving. Sometimes that opposition was violent. But it was this opposition – this difficulty – that drove the gospel forward.
Sometimes, we encounter opposition that stops us in our tracks. We stop and say, “How unfair! How wrong!” And we don’t move. We sit down in the mud and wallow. But perhaps God is showing us here we ought to just accept the opposition and difficulty as it comes. Difficulty comes with living in a fallen world, after all. And we should accept the opposition and difficulty and recognize it for the opportunities it presents.
I’ve never had a perfect record on this. I can get pessimistic and grouchy when faced with opposition. We’ve all been facing opposition and difficulty during these past few pandemic-filled months. I’ve noticed we’ve all tended to gripe and complain about it.
But maybe there’s something more here for God’s people to do when things get difficult like this. Perhaps we ought to look at the opportunities that these difficulties present – opportunities to serve in new ways, to work in new ways, to worship in new ways. Rather than gripe and complain, I hope we are learning to ride the wave of these difficulties to new places – rather than get swept under.
This is sometimes called “over-accepting.” We don’t just accept the fact that things are tough. We over-accept by persistently looking for the opportunities bound up in these tough times.
Personally, I’m beginning to see some real positive movements of God within the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the life of our church – and on me. I hope you are, too.
A question for your day: What’s a difficulty in your life right now that you might need to “over-accept” and find the positive opportunities to pursue within it?