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Sermon for May 17, 2020

Speaking Of Life 2025 | Where is Your Areopagus?

Speaking the truth in love, is easy to accept in principle but can become difficult in practice. Either passionately arguing our point disregarding the feelings of the other person, or shrinking back to avoid conflict. Paul reveals that it is possible to preach the gospel with clarity and kindness. Trusting the Spirit to continue work.

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 2025 | Where is Your Areopagus?

Greg Williams

It’s fascinating to observe how Christians engage with non-Christians in dialogue about the gospel. So often, we fall into one of two ditches when sharing the gospel. On the one side, we can accost people with tracts or abruptly tell them about Jesus even when they are not asking. On the other side, we can believe ourselves to be a “silent witness” and never share the reason for our hope even in our closest relationships. Both sides are mistaken, both ditches are easy to fall into.

Notice Paul at work.

The place where he spoke to them was the Areopagus, which was the venue for discussing legal and religious matters. This is a prominent stone platform which is still in Athens. In Paul’s day, people discussed philosophy and other world views here. He went to the place and time of day these matters were discussed. He didn’t randomly accost people on the street.

“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.” Acts 17:22-23 (ESV)

This is the beginning of one of Paul’s most famous speeches. He’s addressing the people of Athens who were constantly hearing the new philosophies that came through town.

 “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.” He approaches them with respect for their way of life and worth as seekers. He even quotes the Stoic philosopher Aratus in verse 28: “…even some of your own poets have said, ‘for we are indeed his offspring.’” This is a cultural voice they knew, and Paul quotes him respectfully.

Then the conversation takes a turn:

Being then God’s offspring, 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 17:29 (ESV)

When the moment comes to speak the truth, Paul doesn’t hesitate. He speaks the truth with pointed clarity and then let’s them react as they will. Some mock him, some want to discuss it further, and some fully convert. He doesn’t drive the point into the ground, he doesn’t remain silent, he says what he needs to and lets God take over.

Where is your Areopagus? Where can you approach those that haven’t heard the gospel and speak the truth boldly, yet with respect and love? Then when you’ve said your piece, do you let God do the work from there?

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life

Acts 17:22-31 • Psalm 66:7-18 • 1 Peter 3:13-22 • John 14:15-21

The theme for this week is proclaiming and living by the power of the Spirit. In Acts 17, Paul speaks boldly and respectfully to the officials at Areopagus in the power of the Spirit. In Psalm 66, the poet speaks of God’s power in answering his prayer and renewing his confidence. In 1 Peter 3, the apostle encourages his community to always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks about the hope that is within us. Our sermon, “Still There in the Morning—the Comforter Who Never Leaves Us,” is based on John 14. Here Jesus tells us that he will not leave us orphaned, but will send another Comforter to us, the Holy Spirit.

Still There in the Morning—the Comforter Who Never Leaves Us

John 14:15-21 ESV

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:15-21 ESV)

The classic film “Scent of a Woman” stars Al Pacino as Col. Frank Slade. Frank is a worn-out cynical alcoholic who’s looking for one last good time in Manhattan before taking his own life. At one point in the movie, Frank tells his companion (played by Chris O’Donnell) his one greatest dream in life. Frank is into hard drinks, fast women and anger, and his dream sounds along those lines. He says:

“You know what my dream is, Charlie?”
     “What is it, Frank?”
“I want to be in with a beautiful woman – ”
     “I know that, Frank!”
“I wanna be with a beautiful woman, with her arms wrapped around me…” [and then his voice fades and his eyes well up] “…and in the morning, she’d still be there.”

This heart-breaking scene touches on the issue our current age faces. Frank, who—to put it gently—pays for the women in his life, just wants a companion. He wants someone to be there after the fanfare and fireworks are over. But he wakes to being alone.

We live in a time that offers us another “solution” to life’s drudgery every month. This month it’s fitness, next month it’s fashion, next it’s a new relationship (and then another shortly after that), next it’s money, next it’s fame. But each one of these distractions is “gone in the morning,” as Frank Slade would say. They all get old, they all lose their luster, and the hunger in us that they were supposed to fill comes back all the more furious.

The short passage we have today is from the beginning of Jesus’ farewell discourse in John. He spends these chapters telling his disciples what life will be like in this new community after he is ascended back to the Father. The important theme of this passage is verse 18: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

People in Jesus’ time, as people in our time, had been given false hope by false prophets many times over. Every one of these prophesied movements or “messiahs” disappeared quickly—they were crushed by the Roman state or they showed themselves to be the charlatans they were. On this last evening, Jesus was assuring his disciples that though he wasn’t going to be around forever as they knew him, he promised to be with them in a different way, and they would figure out this new life together.

Col. Slade in a few words tells the painful reality of a life lived for momentary pleasure and thrills. He lays bare the reality that all those things, that every new distraction in life eventually is gone, leaving us alone and disappointed yet again. Jesus’ message is that he will be with us, not just in our memories or in the memories of the community, but in the person of the Holy Spirit. He tells us that he will not leave, he will not fade, he will not let us down.

I will not leave you orphaned; I will come to you.

Let’s talk about what this short passage means for us today, and how it applies to God, which should always be our first question before applying it to ourselves. This passage tells us about the Holy Spirit, who is our:

  • Companion
  • Connection
  • Coach

First, the Spirit is our companion.

We’ve already been talking about this a little bit. This is Jesus’ promise not to leave us orphaned, not to abandon us. The Spirit, throughout Scripture, is God’s personal presence. In the OT, he appeared infrequently, enabling Joseph to interpret dreams or the prophets to speak truth in dark times.

But through the cross and resurrection, which were to come shortly after Jesus spoke these words, Jesus healed our connection with God. Now the Holy Spirit lives in us as a community and as individual believers. The re-creation of the universe starts with us as God’s healed people, spreading his love through the world.

And that means, over against the spirit of our age, that Jesus is here with us guiding, supporting and helping us. In the person of the Holy Spirit, he is reforming us into his image. He is “there in the morning” in the sense that he walks through life with us. Through all the dull gray and empty frustration that life hands us, we are not alone.

And isn’t that our worst fear? That’s one of the most common, almost cliché, images in a horror movie—alone-ness. The bad guys always find you when you’re alone. It’s a universal fear.

Sometimes we experience the Spirit’s company as a calm assurance in our own hearts that we aren’t by ourselves. Sometimes he speaks his love for us through people who appear at the most uncanny times to remind us that we aren’t forgotten. Sometimes he speaks to us right out of the Word, as if Jesus has been reading our mail and knows exactly what we were looking for.

But the message is impressed on us over and over. Jesus is present and active in the world, and so powerful and awesome that he has each of us in mind all the time, and he touches our lives through his Spirit on earth.

So, the Spirit is our companion. “I will not leave you orphaned; I will come to you.”

Second, the Spirit is our connection.

The five-dollar word for the study of the Holy Spirit is “pneumatology.” This comes from the root of “pneuma,” which is associated with wind or breath, as in pneumonia or pneumatic drill. This is the admittedly mysterious presence of God who “hovers over the face of the waters” in Genesis 1, and who comes and goes throughout the Old Testament.

Wind. Air. Or the Hebrew word “ruach”—breath. As we’ve just talked about, Jesus re-connected us to the life of God. He went through life as the sinless person and made humanity “right” so that relationships could be restored.

The Spirit doesn’t come into the community once every few centuries with a brief word or spectacle, but lives in us now and is especially strong when we’re together in unity as the body of Christ.

Jesus speaks about this later in the farewell discourse:

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. (John 16:7-8 ESV)

The helper here is the Holy Spirit, who convicts the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. The Holy Spirit speaks to us about the way to life, the standards of living as God’s chosen people in the world.

When this connection starts to work, it can be uncomfortable. Many Christians tell the story of coming into the family of God and not being able to re-connect with the old sins like they used to. Suddenly, the blackout drunk doesn’t make you forget like it used to. The gossip isn’t quite as sweet. The licentious relationship shows itself for the pathetic thing it is.

There’s a bigger soul at work within you. Your connection with heaven is healing and this is the work of the Holy Spirit.

C.S. Lewis, the great British theologian, described the beginning of the Christian life beautifully in his book Mere Christianity:

It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.

Listening to that other voice—that larger, stronger, quieter life that is coming through. This is the Holy Spirit, who will bring you to greater depth and strength than you ever thought possible. From the most amazing work being done in deep jungle orphanages to the suburbanite who learns to finally listen to his wife, the Spirit is at work in the world.

So, the Holy Spirit is our connection.

Finally, the Holy Spirit is our coach.

Every culture has sports. Every culture has a coach or some similar figure. Usually a rugged person who might be a little tough on you, but really wants the best for you in the end, who you may not always like, but you know loves you. (Sometimes only after years of reflection!)

“If you love me, you will keep my commands…” Jesus says in verse 15 here and several other places. It can be helpful to dig into the Greek at this point. The word “keep” doesn’t just mean obey, as if the only person who truly loves Jesus is the person who never sins. If that’s the case, then the only person who loves Jesus is Jesus!

“Keep” here in Greek is tereo which means something more like “hold dear” or “regard.” A model prisoner could “keep” the rules of the prison and hate every one of them and the guards who enforce them. But tereo means you love the ways that Christ is showing you by the Holy Spirit and in his Word, and you see in them the secret to life.

Back to Colonel Slade for a moment, you can see how there is more to life than the temporary pleasures and diversions that he lived for. You know there is a better, stronger, freer way of living than living for yourself.

You try, by God’s Spirit and strength you try, to live that life. But the blessing is that it doesn’t depend on you. God can’t love you any more or less than he does right now. So following God’s way isn’t about winning God’s favor, it’s about living the best life. it’s playing the game the coach’s way.

Jesus is telling the disciples about the future. Life is about to change drastically again. It’s a transition of considerable force—the kingdom is coming and it’s going to come through you.

Because I live, you also will live.

Jesus made the way for us, but then didn’t leave us to just figure it out on our own. The big Greek word here is “Paraclete.” One way to translate this word is the “one called alongside.” The Holy Spirit is the advocate and comforter who was called alongside us.

He walks with us, alongside us as companion, connection and coach. Jesus is with us by the Spirit to bring about the new life of the kingdom, and we will never be the same.

Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for Speaking of Life: Where Is Your Areopagus?

Watch video to start

  • We talked about how Paul approaches the Greek intelligentsia with respect, even quoting from their writing and thought. Why is this important? How do we convey the gospel— which will disagree with some people’s worldviews—with respect, even love?
  • Where is our Areopagus in our culture and society? Is there a place where we can speak the gospel well and have it heard? Are there places—maybe social media, community gatherings or otherwise—where we can speak into the exchange of ideas?

Questions for the Sermon: Still There in the Morning—the Comforter Who Never Leaves Us

Read: John 14:15-21

  • In the sermon, we talked about the Holy Spirit as our companion. Have you ever thought about the Holy Spirit this way? Is that comforting, or is it uncomfortable? How does it change your life to think of him as your companion right there at your elbow?
  • We also talked about the Holy Spirit as our connection. The larger, better life of Christ starts to flow through us as we are in touch with God’s Spirit and not our own frantic, self-centered voice. Have you experienced this connection? How do you tune into it?
  • Finally, we talked about the Holy Spirit as our coach. As Jesus says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (verse 15). This word “keep” has more dimension than “follow perfectly,” which is not Jesus’ expectation. “Keep” means to cherish and see the life in those commands. Our moral, ethical, and emotional lives change when we are in touch with the Spirit. How have you seen this change in your own life and the lives of others?

Quote to ponder:

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.

The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

~~TS Eliot, Little Gidding

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