In the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 17, St. Paul gives a rousing set of remarks to the people of Athens. It’s filled with good things, but my favorite sentence (and not just in this Book, but anywhere) is “For in him we live and move and have our being.”
St. Paul did have a way with words. In fact he sometimes had too much of a way and in some of his letters he leaves me confused as I try to follow his run on sentences! But that’s a story for another time. What I found interesting and even surprising was that these words, of which I am so fond, did not originate with St. Paul. I did notice that the sentence is in single quotes and Paul does even say that “some of your own poets have said” those immortal words. Huh. I never really heard that before.
So, of course I had to do a Google search of that sentence and that’s where I found that the Greek poet, Aratus, actually wrote those words in his poem Phaenomena. The editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica told me so and I have no reason to doubt them. Zeus, if my grade school memory serves me, was sort of like the ‘chief’ god of Greek mythology so I guess the Greek people of Paul’s time could sort of relate to this God who was greater than all their gods. Although Paul makes it clear that their gods are not deities at all. Because there is only One, their “unknown god,” and all of us truly do “live and move and have our being” in God almighty.
It seems some in the audience wanted to learn more and ultimately became believers, Christians, when they learned further of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Alleluia! But some could not understand the words and could not believe that this “unknown god” could be ruler of all creation. And how often is that the case still in our modern world?
But just think how amazingly brilliant St. Paul was to use the things of this very culture of the people he was trying to save to make his point? I think we can learn a lot from St. Paul. And not just from his writing, but from his ministry and his cunning use of the world around him to make his arguments relevant, to make his words truly capture the minds and then often hearts of the audiences at that time. And, indeed, to this day.
Of course, it was the Holy Spirit who inspired these words, who gave Paul the courage, the fortitude he possessed, to speak unafraid of the truth of Jesus Christ. We have that same Spirit within us. It’s the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. It’s the same Spirt that hovered over the waters at the beginning of our planet and all that God created.
We need to, I need to, surrender to that Spirit within so that nothing gets in the way of my proclaiming Jesus is Lord. I shouldn’t have to work at it. I should just accept, once I know. I don’t need to get knocked off a horse and blinded for 3 days, to see Jesus in a vision and told where to go to learn what my mission will now be. I don’t. Because it’s all there in the Book. I have my vision, I have my orders, I have my knowledge and love of the Triune God in my heart and His Spirit with in me. What’s the hold up?
I want to preach like Paul. It’s not just about the words; it’s the delivery! It’s the fearlessness and the urgency of the message. That’s what believers should still be doing. Let St. Paul be our example and let our prayer be that we can be as open and docile to the Holy Spirit’s work in us. Docile means we don’t fight it; we aren’t afraid or anxious. We are expectant and excited! Preach it, Paul! And may we learn your ways so we can preach it, too!
(Photo: Paul preaching in Athens; Artist: Raphael)