They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Our Stuff: The Story of Acts 19

In Acts 19, Paul went to the huge seaport of Ephesus to further spread the good news of the gospel of the God of the Jews and His resurrected son, Jesus. Acts 19:10 tells us that Paul discipled there in Ephesus for over two years and during that time, all the Jews and Greeks who lived in Asia heard the gospel. Even if this is an editorial statement, it is an amazing one to think that virtually all the people in the area were reached by Paul’s preaching. In Acts 19:17-20, we see that Paul’s preaching had great effect. Many people openly confessed their sins and quit living their ungodly lifestyle. They changed their lives completely and began to follow the God of the Bible. In order to publicly show their change in lifestyle, they brought all their worldly stuff and burned it in front of their friends and neighbors. Acts 19:19 even records how much their “stuff” was worth, 50,000 drachmas. A drachma was one days wages, so if we put this in today’s monetary value, their stuff would have been worth approximately four million dollars! They would have spent 136 years collectively of their daily wages on just “stuff”! If each person had brought $400 of merchandise, then approximately ten thousand people would have participated in this event! Knowing these figures gives us a clearer idea of just how big this would have been in Ephesus. Paul’s preaching had a huge impact on the whole environment of the city. This is a fascinating story to us and we marvel at the affect the gospel had on this city and it’s citizens.

A question that comes out of this story for us as modern day Americans is, “How much would our stuff be worth if we brought it all publicly and piled it up for all to see?” As the wealthiest nation that has ever lived, we too are captivated by, “our stuff”. We are a nation of accumulators and we desperately hang on to our worldly things. When we think of God testing us, we always think of things like cancer, or bad things that happen to us and our families. But, God also tests us through prosperity. America is definitely being tested by God with the wealth that He has given us. Wealth is such a hard test to pass because when we have it all, we don’t really need God. Read the entire chapter of Deuteronomy 8. In verse 12 it says, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, when your build fine houses and settle down, and your herds and flocks grow large, and your silver and gold increase, and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, our of the land of slavery…You will say to yourselves, it is my power and the strength of my hands that has produced this wealth for me”.

As Americans, if we are honest, our “stuff” often holds us back from being an effective witness for the Lord. Think for a second, “What holds you back? What do you spend all your time doing? What keeps you from selling out?” We hang on to our retirement plans, our nest eggs, etc. and think that is where our security is. Wealth is a hard test to pass, but God warns us explicitly about clinging to our wealth and forgetting where our security really comes from. Like the crowd at Ephesus, we need to bring our stuff before God and tell him that we want to serve Him more than we want to cling to our stuff. He is where our happiness and security really lie.

The Temple to the Unknown God; Paul in Athens

Ref . Acts 17:16-34

The Parthenon in Athens

On Paul’s second missionary tour, he decided to go alone to the most famous of the ancient Greek cities, Athens. Named after the patron Greek goddess Athena, Athens is one of the world’s oldest cities, with recorded history of over three thousand years. During the time period that Paul would have visited Athens (50-51 CE), it probably had a population of fifty to seventy five thousand people and was home to many of the great Greek thinkers of the day. The city prided itself on being intellectual and had several buildings where the leading men of the city debated the great theological ideas of the time.

The city of Athens was absolutely full of temples to the various Greek gods. An ancient proverb said, “In Athens, there are more Gods than men”. There were temples to at least twelve different gods, plus hordes of statues to lesser deities throughout the city. The main attraction in Athens was the acropolis, the highest point in the city. On top of the acropolis stood one of the most magnificent structures in antiquity, the Parthenon. Already over four hundred years old when Paul would have seen it, it was one of the most famous temples in the world. With a height of over 50′ and 70 beautiful marble columns, it could be seen for miles in every direction. Inside the temple stood a forty foot statue of the goddess Athena.

With this backdrop, Paul began to debate with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, trying to convince them that YHVH was the one true God and that his son Jesus had been resurrected from the dead. Paul was taken to a meeting of the Aeropagus, a prestigious council of the elders of Athens. Here, he was asked to present his case to explain to them about this Jewish God and the claim of His resurrected Son. In Acts 17:22, Paul stands up to address the men of the Aeropagus. What follows is one of the most amazing exchanges in all of the Bible. When you read the verses, read them as if a member of the Aeropagus had just asked Paul this question – ”We are not familiar with this particular deity that you talk about sir, tell us again what he is called and where may his temple be found?” Paul then tells them,(paraphrasing) “I perceive that you are very religious here in Athens because I have walked around and seen all the temples and statues to your gods. I even found one that had an inscription to an unknown god. Well let me tell you who this unknown god is….. It is YHVH and He is the one who made the world and everything in it and He’s is much too big to live in a mere temple like these that are made with human hands!”

Then Paul does something in Acts 17:26-28 that really gets their attention. Instead of quoting to them from the Hebrew Scriptures to try to convince them, Paul quotes from their own Greek poets to describe the creator of the universe. He gives lines from two of their well known scholars, Epimenides and Cleanthes to present YHVH as the creator of all, giver of all, and ruler of all nations and all of history. He used their philosopher’s own words to support his claims! Then to sum it up, Paul tells these great intellects that his God is not some object made of gold or marble to look like man’s image, but that He is much bigger than a mere statue and is immortal, invisible, indescribable, and His name is unspeakable! Then Paul tells them that in the past they were ignorant of this and God overlooked it, but now that I am telling you the truth, you must repent! There is a day coming and you will be judged!

What was their reaction? Some sneered at Paul and some said,”We’ll hear more later”. It also says that a few men believed. In all, Paul doesn’t get run out of town like he usually does, but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of big changes in the hearts of the people of Athens. There is no other written evidence that Paul ever returns to Athens. Paul may be speaking to these same type of people when he wrote to another Greek city in 1 Corinthians 1: 20-31, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles”.

A Walk Through Galatia – Conclusion

As we stated at the end of our second lesson, the key to understanding the concept of faith and how it relates to works, is found in the meanings of the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated faith. As we have discussed before, Hebrew words often have so much meaning packed into one word that it is hard to use just one English word to describe it. This is definitely the case with, “emunah”, the Hebrew word most often translated faith. “Emunah” comes from the root word, “aman”, which means to support, to confirm, make firm, or make lasting. From the word, “aman”, we also get the word amen. When we say amen to something, we are saying that what was said was reliable and trustworthy and, “may it be so”. The word, ”emunah” also derived from “aman”, means faithfulness or trustworthiness. It indicates constancy, stability, steadiness, and reliability or support. In Exodus 17:12, its first use in the Bible, it is used the following way: “But the hands of Moses grew tired, so Aaron and Hur held his hands up and his hands remained, emunah till sundown.” This first Old Testament usage sets the tone for succeeding occurrences of the word. When emunah is used of God, it points to His utter dependability and unwavering faithfulness. Psalm 119:86 says, “All his commands are emunah.” Emunah is also used to describe human beings. It refers to those who have the capacity to remain stable (faithful) among the unsettling circumstances of life.

One of the most pivotal passages in the Old Testament where emunah is used is in Habakkuk 2:4. Paul later quotes this same verse in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11 to explain his position that, “The righteous will live by his emunah” or “faithfulness” (See NIV footnotes on Habakkuk 2:4). In the context of Habakkuk, the Jewish people were about to fall on hard times. God was going to send another nation to punish them and these times were going to require a deeply rooted reliance on God. A person would have needed stability and support (emunah) to survive the coming days. Emunah, then, was an inner firmness and peace, the strength and constancy of a man’s soul. (See Our Father Abraham Pg. 182-185 for a more detailed explanation of emunah).

David Stern, in his New Testament commentary, describes emunah this way: “Emunah is a heart attitude of trust, that expresses itself in righteous acts. This is the only kind of faith that God honors, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. True messianic faith means acknowledging who God is and what he has done, believing his promises, relying on Him for power to live a holy life and then living that life.” (Stern page 229)

The Greek word that scholars most often translate to the English word faith is ”pistis” (Strong’s 4102). If you look up the meaning for pistis you will find that it means either a strong conviction or belief or, “faithfulness”. In fact, the Greek Lexicon shows the meaning for pistis to be faith or faithfulness.

To the Hebrew and Greek minds then, faith was much more than just believing in your heart or an attitude of trust. To have faith was to have confidence in God and to step out into life and act on that confidence. To have faith was to live a life of faithfulness. Emunah and pistis are both faith lived out or faithfulness.

If we then understand the word faith to be faithfulness, then it all starts to make sense. If you go back and start reading Paul’s writings and the writer of Hebrews and put in faithfulness where faith is used it makes very interesting and enlightened reading. For example, Hebrews 11:1-6 says, “Without faithfulness (inserted for faith) it is impossible to please Him and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” All the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 are examples of faithfulness; they lived out a life of faith. They believed his promises, relied on Him and went out and acted on those beliefs.

Now let’s go back to Galatians and read Chapters 2 and 3. Paul says that we are not justified by keeping the law but by faith. Galatians 3:2 says, Did you get it by observing the law or believing? Then, in Galatians 3:11 he states that the righteous will live by emunah (the Hebrew from Habakkuk 2:4) or pistis Greek in the NT). The million dollar question is, what is faith? Faith lived out is faithfulness. Obedience is part of what the nature of faith is.

We know that by His unearned love (grace) that we have come to know Him, and it stems from nothing that we can do in and of ourselves (see Ephesians 2:8-9). It’ s all God, but by believing these truths, which is faith, we are to live out a life of obedience. How could we not, knowing what He has done for us? If God has truly gotten a hold of us, we will have a passion to walk as he did. Our faith will be expressed in loving God and our neighbor. James 2:14-26 says, that faith without actions is dead. 1 John 2:3-6 really puts the icing on the cake for this subject. “We know that we have come to know Him if we obey his commands … whoever claims to be in Jesus, must walk as Jesus walked”. Our faith comes from God as a gift; we can’t earn it, but living it out is the natural response to His love towards us.

This was the problem in Galatia, people were pushing the Gentiles to do Jewish things as a way of earning their spots in the community. You had to be circumcised, eat kosher, etc. Paul was saying, no! None of this is of any value. The only thing that counts is faithfulness, expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6). Now read the book of Galatians, the book of grace, and substitute faithfulness where the word faith is found and see if the conflict between grace and works isn’t resolved.

A Walk Through Galatia – Part 2

In our first session, we looked at the land, the people, and the stories of the Roman province of Galatia during the time that Paul would have visited in 45-47 c.e. After visiting the towns of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra, Paul later wrote a letter back to these churches (the Book of Galatians) trying to instruct them in their new faith in the God of the Jews and His son Yeshua, the promised Messiah.

We were fortunate to be able to spend two full days in Galatia, walking where Paul walked and concentrating on the text of Acts and the Book of Galatians. Just being in the land, seeing the people and listening to the stories in their original setting gave us a unique perspective on these Bible texts. There have been countless works written on Galatians and on the concept of grace over the years.

This lesson will in no way attempt to be a scholarly presentation of all there is to know about grace or some new idea that has never been presented before. It will simply be my attempt to write down what I learned about this subject while I was there in Galatia. Hopefully, I will share something with you that might help you in your struggle with understanding the concepts that Paul presented in his wonderful letter. As my rabbi began to develop the struggle between faith and works, it started to become much more clear to me what I believe Paul was trying to say. As it turns out, the concepts of grace and works are inextricably intertwined.

First of all, there has been tension between these two ideas since Christianity began and there is some comfort in knowing that the subject was being debated even during Jesus’ day. The pendulum has swung back and forth throughout church history, from grace to obedience and back. Every generation seems to lean too far either one way or the other. The keys to this subject are this: What does it mean to “have faith”? What does it mean to be righteous?

To most present day Western Christians, faith is mainly an activity of the mind. To, “have faith”, or “to believe”, is to intellectually agree or to have a belief in some statement or idea. However, the Eastern thinking Hebrews looked at faith much differently. To a Jew, righteousness or faith was not someone in a certain condition, but an action to be performed. So they debated, “How do you become righteous?” They asked, “What does the Text have to say about righteousness?” One school of thought pointed out what happened in Numbers 25:5-13 with the story of Phineas, the grandson of Aaron. Psalm 106:28-31 speaks of this incident and says, “Phineas intervened (took action) and this was credited to him as righteousness.” Phineas got his righteousness from God by taking action. Another school of rabbinical thought, however, pointed out what it says in Genesis 15:6 as to what righteousness was. In this passage, God told Abram to go look at the stars and this will be how many children you will have. Verse 6 says, “Abram believed the Lord and He credited it to him as righteousness”. So it seemed that Abram got his righteousness from just believing. They debated back and forth and both camps had the Scriptures to back their position up. If they debated this question it should be legitimate for us to also ask, “Does righteousness come from doing something (an action) or does it come from just having a belief in what God says?” Or, is it somehow, both?

The key to understanding this concept comes from looking at what the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated “ faith” in the Text. The Hebrew word is, “emunah” (Strong’s H530) and it’s Greek counterpart is “pistis”. Please carefully examine the definitions of these two words by clicking on the links. In Part 3 we will explain these words and how their definitions are such a key to understanding what Paul was saying in Galatians when he said, “The righteous will live by his faith”.