Starting a recent study of the book of Romans, I saw how the Roman and Greek societies in New Testament times were quite modern compared to the Ancient Near East societies in the Old Testament. Both the Greeks and the Romans were more cosmopolitan, more advanced technologically, and had more developments in philosophy and political theory than the societies who lived in the times when the Hebrew Bible was written.
Yet what God told the Jews in their Bible has never been replaced by something “more modern”. This truth would not change: There is one God Yahweh who is ruler over all creation.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
In the more advanced Greek and Roman societies there remained pantheons of gods to worship. Only the Jews proclaimed worshiping the one true God.
And the apostle Paul, born a Jew, loved showing how Jesus was the Messiah that God had long ago promised in that very Bible, a Messiah not only to the Jews but also to the Greeks, Romans and all the peoples and tribes yet to come.
Here’s a good mind game: Imagine what it would be like if the Apostle Paul were first writing now, in the 2020’s. He would not change the core of the gospel message of salvation through faith in the crucified and risen Christ that he presented 2000 years ago.
But, as he did in his own time, he would contextualize by explaining the unchanging message of following the one true God in a way that would persuade and convince 21st century people. Indeed, successful pastors today knows how to do that. Men like Tim Keller or my local pastor Dave Gustavsen do that well today.
When Barnabas and Paul visited Lystra the Lystrans wanted to worship them because they thought that they were the gods Zeus and Hermes come down to earth in human form.
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. (Acts 14:14-15)
Nowadays we don’t have Zeus worship, but there are still plenty of worthless things that we “worship” today! Look at American greed and commercialism.
I had to laugh sadly as I read about a recent controversy in France. Businesses there usually shut down early on Sunday to allow people to rest. But one chain, Casino Group, attracted ire by wanting to keep their supermarkets open past the normal 1PM Sunday closing hour. And the criticism was that this chain wanted to turn France into a greedy commercial place like the US! Oh, the irony! The “Christian” country is greedy and the highly secular country has a more “Christian” view of Sunday!
But of course the real question, whether you live in France or the US or anywhere else, is not whether you close your shops on Sundays or not. It’s this: Do you want to follow the real God whose son is the resurrected Jesus?