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Extreme Compassion
Acts 17:15-34


In his book, The New Absolutes, William Watkins cited several studies and then concluded, "Roughly three out of four Americans claimed they embraced relativism and opposed absolutism." (p. 26)

Is our culture correct? Is it correct to say there are no absolute truths? In my opinion, the statement itself is a contradiction. Isn't it a statement that purports an absolute truth while denying its existence? To be truly politically correct, shouldn't the proponents of relativism say, "From my perspective and understanding there doesn't seem to be any objective truth, but from your perspective and understanding there could be?"  (From Fresh Illustrations)

At first glance, relativism appears to be compassionate. It never tells anyone they are wrong, except, of course, for those who believe in absolute truth. Believe what you want, say what you want, do what you want-it doesn't matter, the relativist say, your right to believe, say and do is as great as anyone else's right, express yourself.

Is it compassionate to know truth and allow others to perish without it? Some things really do make a difference. It matters whether you breathe water or oxygen. It matters! If you breathe water you will drown, it is an absolute truth. Is it compassionate to avoid hurting someone's feelings at the risk of allowing them to drown?

The Apostle Paul confronted a relativistic culture in Acts 17, this morning we'll read the text and discover his response:

"Now those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.[16] Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was beholding the city full of idols. [17] So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. [18] And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. And some were saying, "What would this idle babbler wish to say?" Others, "He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,"-- because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. [19] And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? [20] "For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; we want to know therefore what these things mean." [21] (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.) [22] And Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. [23] "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. [24] "The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; [25] neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things; [26] and He made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation, [27] that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; [28] for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His offspring.' [29] "Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. [30] "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, [31] because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." 

[32] Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this." [33] So Paul went out of their midst. [34] But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them." (Acts 17:15-34 NASB)

In verse 16, Paul was upset by what he was seeing-intelligent, educated people seduced by the lie of relativism. A city filled with idols, each person paying homage to multiple gods. They were so afraid they might offend a set of beliefs that they erected an idol to "the unknown god" to be totally inclusive.

Paul did not react and pop a cork, instead he followed a definite plan of action. He went to the synagogue, a familiar place and began reasoning with the Jews and God-fearers, then would go into the market place and presented the gospel to whomever would listen. 

In one place, he proclaimed an absolute truth that was in conflict with another absolute truth. To the Jews, who believed Jesus was a criminal worthy of crucifixion, he preached, "Jesus is the Messiah, whom God raised from the dead." Why? Paul believed Jesus was the power of God unto salvation. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." (Romans 1:16 KJV) He preached it to the Jew first, but also to the Greek. 

Paul left the synagogue and preached in the marketplace, to an audience that did not recognize the validity of absolute truth. What was his message? It didn't change. It was still "Jesus and the resurrection," all that changed was his approach.

He found a place of common ground--their "unknown god" and he proclaimed that God to them. He quoted their poets, but he talked about his God. What happened? Most turned away, but verse 33 gives the names of some that believed.

Paul's message didn't change, all that changed was his approach. With all due respect to the majority opinion in our society, there is an absolute truth. Jesus said, " . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." John 14:6 KJV

The compassionate thing to do is to proclaim that message, whatever the costs. Pastor Kim is active sharing his faith, leading 25 of his peers to Christ over the past year. No, he didn't lead 25 pastors to the Lord, he led 25 prisoners to the Lord. Kim Stanislav, Pastor of the Chilchik Christian Church is serving a three and a half year prison sentence for trumped up charges leveled against him by the Uzbekistan government.

Even though he suffers severe beatings for sharing his faith, he continues to bring the light of Jesus to the darkness of the Tabaksai Prison. Like the apostles of old, Kim and other evangelistic Christians cannot stop sharing their faith. " we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:20 NASB)

Pastor Kim is showing unusual compassion, even under the threat and reality of beatings, he continues to share his faith. Why? Because it does matter what people believe and telling them when they are wrong is the compassionate thing to do.
(From Fresh Illustrations)

When I go to the doctor, I want him to prescribe me the proper dosage of medication I need. It wouldn't be compassionate for her to say to me, "Take as much as you want." Too much could kill me, not enough wouldn't help me-I need the right dosage.

When I get ready to board an airplane, I want the counter person to tell me the correct flight to board, I don't want to hear, "It doesn't matter which plane you get on, they all will take you somewhere." I want to know the truth-the absolute truth.

It is not our message we need to change, but Christians should watch their tone. Recently I heard Dieter Zander, the pastor of the first GenX church in America speak at a conference about reaching people in the age of relativism. He cited a Barna study that asked people to use single words to describe Jesus. They responded, "wise, accepting, compassionate, gracious, humble." Then he asked them to use single words to describe Christians, they said, "critical, exclusive, self righteous, narrow and repressive."

"There is a difference between knowing the good news and being the good news, Zander said. "We are the evidence! How we live our lives are the evidence. Everything counts--all the time."

"With previous generations, a strong preacher could give a good message, even if the church was hypocritical and critical and people would still get saved," Zander continued, "but not any more. I'm seeing a change in what seekers are looking for. Not something they can relate to. They are looking for a transcendent God. They don't want to be entertained they want to be transformed."(From Fresh Illustrations)

Paul called the gospel, the "power of God unto salvation." That gospel power can transform people's lives, if we will boldly proclaim it, with compassion.

Impact Preaching: A Case for the
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