An Apostle’s Cultural Assimilation: Reaching One More, Part 4

Let’s play a game called, “Do You Know What Song This Is?” Ready, set, go!

  1. “All right, stop! Collaborate and listen…”
  2. “Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped turned upside down…”
  3. “I got my first real six-string, Bought it at the five-and-dime…”
  4. “Just a small-town girl, living in a lonely world…”
  5. “If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?… ”

How’d you do? My guess is that you got 5/5 (check the end of the article for the answers!)

The crazy thing about this list is that it covers a myriad of different areas. There is a TV show theme song, the title song to a movie soundtrack, a rap song, and classic rock hits! Yet, most of us know these songs by heart! This isn’t just a lesson to the power of music and how what we listen to sticks in our brains, but it’s more importantly a lesson into the effects of culture and its influence.

This is where things get a little interesting. Many people within the church have been raised to think that culture is evil. That culture equals the world, and that it is antithetical to the gospel. But when we pin ourselves against the things in our culture, we forget one VERY important thing.

We are trying to reach people who are living in that culture.

The moment we see culture as evil, the moment we miss the forest for the trees, is the moment we lose the people who we are trying to reach. And don’t get me wrong, there are values that the world holds dear that are rooted in greed and all sorts of evil. But there are also many things in culture that can used as a bridge to reach the lost. Let’s take an example from Scripture.

In Acts 17, Paul is in the middle of one of his missionary journeys when he stumbles upon the town of Athens. Athens was a very philosophical town, and was full of many different gods that the people and the leaders worshipped. When Paul started preaching about Jesus, the men were utterly confused as to what Paul was talking about. They thought Jesus and God were another idol they could add to their repertoire. So, Paul decided to use some of their own language as a vehicle to carry the Gospel.

Athens was full of gods, and there were so many of them that there was actually an altar made “To an Unknown God.” Paul saw the altar and realized that it could be used as an illustration to the God of the universe who was unknown to them! But Paul not only used this altar. He also knew that these men were philosophers, so in the middle of his message, Paul used quotes from two popular philosophers of the time, men named Epimenides and Aratus. These men were the furthest thing from God fearing philosophers. One was Cretan and one was a Stoic, and both quotes that Paul says were actually regarding ZEUS! Yet in this instance, Paul was inspired by God to reference these earthly men and their false thinking to show these men of Athens the truth behind the gospel of Jesus.

This isn’t the only instance of Paul assimilating to the culture and speaking to people within their own situations. When writing the church in Ephesus and Collosae, Paul falls in line with the rhetoric of the people and includes a household code – something only commonly included in this area of the world. When many people read this code today, they do it in isolation; but in the first-century, the people would have compared what Paul said about the household to Aristotle’s household code written in his book “Politics.” Theologian Ben Witherington writes that, “Non-Christian household codes almost always direct exhortations only to the subordinate members of the household. What is new about the code here then [in Colossians] is the Christian limitations placed on the head of household. That is what would stand out to an ancient person hearing Paul’s discourse for the first time.”

Paul repurposed a set of rules and roles for the household and showed a more level playing field for those who were under the care of the head of the household. Paul was aware of the freedom that we now have in Christ, and there are many parts of what he wrote that showed how he cared for women, children, those in the lower classes of society, and minorities. Paul quoted other philosophers in other books, but the theme stands clear – God can redeem things in our culture to bring him glory.

What songs can you quote, what books can you reference, what talk show host can you mention to show someone the love of Jesus. If we view culture as our enemy, we immediately make an enemy out of anyone living in that culture. Let’s speak their language, let’s show them the truth in their world instead of only pointing out only the falsehoods. All truth is God’s truth. So, let’s be like Paul and study what our peers study. But let’s use it to reach one more!

Oh! And here are the answers to the above questions!

  • “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice
  • “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince
  • “Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams
  • “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey
  • “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr
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The Who and Those Who Seemed – Galatians 2:6

“And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.” –Galatians 2:6

The Super Bowl is a weird national event. Millions of people watching this game, the commercials, and the halftime show. It must be hard for whoever puts the event together to find a way to satisfy all the people watching. Basically every American demographic watches the Super Bowl. I started noticing how the Super Bowl tries to promote to various age groups in their halftime show. There always seems to be a weird collage of contemporary and classic music artists. It is a rather awkward appearance, and as a result, no demographic seems to ever be pleased.

Sometimes watching the halftime is a sad sight. I know you are probably thinking of the “wardrobe malfunction” of Janet Jackson in 2004. I am thinking of a more recent show of The Who from 2010. You would think that a band with a track list like The Who would be able to pull off a great show. I mean… they are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Unfortunately for every rock n’ roll fan and every one watching the Super Bowl, The Who aren’t who they once were. They got old. They might have been great at one time back in the day, but who they once were meant nothing to those watching the 2010 Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Paul is trying to make himself seem independent of the pillars in Jerusalem while still being respectful towards them. Some may say he executed this perfectly, while others may disagree. But he does make sure the audience knows what he is doing. He does this pretty well in Galatians 2:6. In this verse, Paul starts a sentence, interrupts himself with two other completely separate ideas, then he finishes his thought. He kind of finishes his thought. Verses 6-10 of chapter 2 are all one big sentence in the Greek.

Paul’s interruption has the idea that the apostles were once important, but who they once were now makes no difference to Paul. He is playing with the idea of the past and present. He is trying to say that just because these disciples once walked with Jesus doesn’t mean that they now hold some status over Paul. He just recognizes that others hold the pillars in esteem. He wants to show he preaches the same message as them while keeping his distance. Paul knows God called him, and God shows no partiality.

Paul is trying to point out to the Galatians that God doesn’t recognize human status like many on earth do. Who someone is, how much money they make, or how much influence they have doesn’t matter to God. Paul is saying that if God doesn’t pay attention to human status, then neither should the Galatians. They shouldn’t listen to these false teachers that have come and claimed authority from those in Jerusalem. Paul is claiming his authority from God.

Do you show favoritism? When I moved from a relatively low income area, to a relatively high income area, I realized that I showed favoritism to those who were of a less fortunate economic upbringing. This might be backwards from many in America, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the wealthy. I had to learn how to get over that.

Do you treat pastors different than prostitutes? Do you open the door for some and not for others? Do you flirt with waitresses and get angry with immigrants?

God views all people equally.

How do you view people?