September 20, 2007
"Under a great show of outward profession, there is a lamentable deficiency of vital godliness in our churches. Much of the prevailing benevolence and activity of the church, are a mere substitute for spiritual religion — rather than the expression of vital godliness."
-John Angell James
There was still work to be done in Berea, but time had run out. It was no longer safe for the man of God to enter the synagogue, or preach on the street since his enemies, in a single minded pursuit to silence him, had discovered his whereabouts, and followed him from Thessalonica. As cowards are want to do, they did not attack him directly, for he was a man of substance, and could readily expose and silence them by uttering a few simple yet penetrating words. No, they did not attack him directly but rather used the crowds to do their bidding, stirring them up into a frenzy, until finally there was no place for Paul to preach in Berea, and for fear of his safety the brothers there convinced him to embark upon a journey across the sea to a place he had never been before, namely Athens.
Reluctant as he had been to leave, feeling the loneliness that comes with leaving behind such loyal friends as Silas and Timothy, Paul ventured to this new city, a city that for a man of Paul's intellect and upbringing would have been a fascinating place indeed.
Athens had been a wonder of its time, one of the most renowned cities of the ancient world, quickly growing in reputation and opulence since its inception in the third millennium, until finally eight hundred years before the birth of Christ it was made the capital of Greece. Athens was a remarkable place indeed, being a bastion for intellect and philosophy, the birthplace of such luminaries as Socrates and Plato, and the home of philosophers such as Aristotle, Epicures, and other men of intellectual renowned.
Although Athens was no longer the capital of Greece by the time Paul landed on its shores, it still held the glory of a bygone era, due to the archeologically stunning monuments, theaters, and temples, whose ruins have kept even to the present day, as a testament to those who labored and helped make it the envy of the ancient world. Taking its past fame into consideration, Rome, the ruling empire at the time, gave Athens the privilege of being a free city, governed by their own personal laws. Though much time had passed since the glory days, Athens was still the jewel of Greece, and along with Alexandria was perceived as being the intellectual capital of the civilized world.
On the surface, for a man such as Paul Athens would have been a breathtaking place, filled with wonder and knowledge, but being a man with spiritual insight, being a servant of the one true God, he saw what lay beneath the surface of the place, he saw beyond the idols and the altars, beyond the gods and the temples, and his spirit was provoked.
Although he was merely passing through, Paul would not permit himself to be a mere tourist in this metropolis where paganism had a stranglehold on it citizens. This great man of God felt with deep profundity the vanity, and worthlessness of so many sculptures, idols and temples. He knew the emptiness, the hollowness, the lifelessness of all the false gods that lay scattered before him, and unlike the men of our time, he did not attempt to understand these strange Gods, he did not attempt to make peace and placate those who worshipped them, but boldly stood on the word, and pronounced with conviction birthed of faith, that they worshiped false gods, and they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him.
We look upon the temples that men have built today, and often we are left as speechless as Paul might have been at seeing their vaulted ceilings, their marble columns, and architectural majesty, but unlike Paul our spirits are not provoked, there is no urgency in our actions, and we seem to have acquiesced to the emptiness, hollowness and lifelessness that is found in so many of them. We see the grandeur, and the magnificence, we see the abundance of temples and altars, but we never seem to look beneath the surface and see the true spiritual reality, we never seem to take the time, and see if the heart of the place is beating, if life is present, and if the God they are serving truly is the one true God, or one fashioned by men's hands, made into an image that is more consumer friendly than the original.
We can look upon this nation, as Paul looked upon Athens and come to the same conclusion, in that both are a very religious people. There is no doubt, this is a religious nation, ask anyone, but the fact of the matter, is that God did not give man religion, but rather His only Son, who died on a cross that my sins and yours might be forgiven and expunged, that we might be redeemed and reconciled unto God.
Man by his very nature is religious, and in his darkest hour always seeks the help of someone, or something, beyond his own wisdom, beyond the realm of this physical world. Any religion absent of Christ however, is only an imagined comfort in times of distress, a medicine that only numbs the pain but does not heal the disease.
The truth, painful as it may be to some, is that there is a difference between a religious person, and one who is saved, redeemed, sanctified and consecrated unto God, and when the day comes, God will not recognize of legitimize the religious person as His own, but rather only those who have been bought and cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.
The outwardly appearance of this present generation is deceitful to say the least, and looking only at what the naked eye can see, one might even say we are on the right track, headed in the right direction. With new temples being erected every day, with new pastors proudly holding up their seminary diplomas and theological degrees smiling for the camera, with new seeker sensitive churches being planted hourly, absent of spiritual discernment one might say that times have never been better for the body of Christ. Rip away the veil however, look beneath the surface of all the naked eye sees, and you will soon come to the conclusion that only rarely do you find life amidst a congregation, only rarely do you hear words such as repentance or holiness, and only rarely do you find Jesus.
Yes, I agree wholeheartedly, and echo the sentiments of Paul, 'I perceive that in all things you are very religious,' but religion has never, and will never be enough, and those who deceive themselves into believing that it is, will one day hear the most dreaded and chilling words ever spoken in any language, 'depart from me, I never knew you!'
"How many churches are flattering themselves that they are in a flourishing condition! The place of worship may be commodious, elegant and free from debt. The minister may be popular and approved by his flock. The congregation may be good, respectable, and influential. The finances may be good, and even prosperous. In short, there maybe every mark of external prosperity — until the church flatters itself into the idea of its being in a high state of spiritual health. But examine its internal state! Inquire into its condition as viewed by God! Inspect the private conduct of its members, and what a different aspect of things is seen then! Let us look beneath the illusive covering of external prosperity — and examine whether disease and decay are lurking underneath! There is often a strange contrast between the 'heavenliness', which a church professes — and the 'worldliness' of her conduct."
-John Angell James
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.