Chance Encounters

Scripture

Ecclesiastes 9:11 (NKJV) -- {11} I returned and saw under the sun that— The race is not to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor bread to the wise, Nor riches to men of understanding, Nor favor to men of skill; But time and chance happen to them all.

Introduction

Do you ever wonder what led you to a particular situation?  Have you ever looked back in time to see how you got from point “A” to where you are at the present?  How would things be different if you had never met a certain person?  ?  Sometimes things could get really scary because we realize that one person that we may have encountered by chance was the main component for our deliverance or answer.  So chance encounters I believe are something that we should consider because it may help us to gain more understanding so that we could discern things more effectively in the future.

Our scripture text above highlights something that we already know I’m sure.  Chance happens to us all.  However, what is chance?  Are these chance encounters perceived from our perspective as chance or is something else behind then such that they are not mere chance.  I noticed some very interesting things after reading Acts chapters eight and seventeen.  I noticed something that had to do with chance encounters.  I often wonder if chance encounters are really chance encounters or if God led us to those situations.

I’m sure you have had situations where all of a sudden something happens and you are saved or the like.  Out of the blue something came through for you and your worries were over.  Sometimes from out of no where trouble comes as well.  We call these chance encounters, but I wonder how much chance they really are.  What are we to make of the things that happen in our lives that seem to be by chance and especially those that happen suddenly?  How am I to reconcile those with God directing my life?
 
Well we are going to look at two situations that illustrate chance encounters where one involves Paul and the other involves Philip.  We are going to highlight these situations as recorded in the Bible and then discuss what we can learn from them.  Our topic for today is, “Chance Encounters.”

Scripture Lesson

Please read Acts 8:26-40 for the situation involving Philip and Acts chapter seventeen for the situation involving Paul.  I will summarize these two situations now.

Philip and the Eunuch

  1. An angel of the Lord told Philip to go toward the south along a road that leads from Jerusalem to Gasa in the desert.
  2. Philip encountered an Ethiopian Eunuch of great authority who was reading a passage from the book of Isaiah.  It was customary to read aloud.
  3. Philip ran up to the Eunuch and asked him if he understood what he was reading.
  4. The Eunuch indicated that he couldn’t understand unless someone would explain it to him
  5. Philip explained the gospel of Jesus Christ starting from the passage that the Eunuch was reading.
  6. Philip left the Eunuch and we must assume that the Eunuch went his way and probably told others about what he had learned from Philip.

We notice here from Philip’s perspective that he had a chance encounter with the Eunuch.  Philip was led to go onto a certain road, but not told where to go.  On this road he came across the Eunuch and approached him.  It is interesting here that Philip approached the Eunuch after hearing him read from Isaiah.  Though it was a chance encounter (even though the Spirit of God told him to approach the Eunuch) we do see that Philip was an active participant.

Things to Know

Eunuchs were officers or chamberlain in a court or household of a ruler.  They were often assigned to the women’s quarters and many of these men were emasculated (their testicles were removed).

Philip was an apostle of Jesus Christ and was placed fifth in each of the lists of the twelve after Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14).

 

Paul in Thessalonica

  1. Paul and Silas came to Thessalonica after their episode with the Romans and their prison (for preaching the word of God).
  2. Paul began to preach in the Synagogue for three Sabbaths and reasoned with the Jews proving that Jesus had to suffer and rise from the dead.
  3. Some of the Jews, Greeks, and prominent women became believers because of Paul’s preaching
  4. Other Jews became jealous of Paul’s preaching.
  5. These same offended Jews started trouble in the city and began looking for Paul, but couldn’t find him.  They went to Jason’s house (Jason had been hosting Paul and Silas) and asked for them, but took Jason instead when they could not get to Paul.
  6. After Jason posted bond and was released from prison he told Paul and Silas that they should go to Berea because of the trouble in the city.

We see here that all Paul did was preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Many were saved, but many were offended by his message.  These offended Jews caused so much trouble that Paul and Silas had to flee to Berea.

It is interesting how practical this situation was.  One could think that Paul should have stayed and depended on God to protect him.  However, I suppose that would be tempting God because things just don’t work that way.  Besides, the fact that he had to flee enabled him to be somewhere else to preach the Gospel.  Historically speaking, Christianity spread to other lands because of the persecution and resulting flight from that persecution.

Paul in Berea

  1. Paul begins to preach Jesus to those in Berea
  2. The Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians as they searched the scriptures to see if what Paul was saying was true.
  3. Many Jews, Greeks, and prominent women became believers because of Paul’s preaching
  4. However, the Thessalonician Jews discovered that Paul was in Berea and went there to stir up the people against them.
  5. Paul was therefore sent to Athens by the brethren in Berea

 

This is interesting because Paul ended up in Berea because of the persecution in Thessalonica.  He preached the word again in Berea, but he received a much better reception than the Thessalonians.  What is interesting here is the Bible's contrasting of the Thessalonians and the Bereans.  The Bible says that the Bereans were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica (more noble). 

Now the Bereans searched the scriptures.  They welcomed Paul’s message, but still wanted to confirm what he said to them in regards to Jesus Christ and salvation.  Many became believers because they found that what Paul had preached to them was indeed true.

However, trouble followed Paul from Thessalonica at the hands of the offended Jews.  Remember that Paul did nothing wrong in Thessalonica.  He only preached the word where so many were saved that the religious folks (some of the Jews) were offended and opposed Paul.

Things to Know

Berea was an ancient Macedonian city.

Thessalonica was the chief city of Macedonia and the seat of Roman administration in the century before Christ.

 

Paul in Athens

Now things get really interesting as we see how Paul becomes an apologist in Athens.

  1. Paul came to Athens as a result of fleeing from the Jews from Thessalonica that followed him to Berea to cause trouble there
  2. Paul noticed that Athens was full of idols
  3. Paul begins to reason with the Jews and God-fearing Greeks in the synagogues and marketplace
  4. Paul was mocked by Stoic and Epicurean philosophers
  5. Paul was taken to a meeting with the Areopagus where they asked him about his teaching (see 17:19).  The Athenians spent a lot of time listening to the latest ideas.
  6. Paul explained himself and told them about the one true God using their “Unknown god” as a starting point. 
  7. Paul met them where they were and indicated that they were very religious.
  8. Paul even used a quotation from the poets to further connect with his audience in regards to God.
  9. Paul led them to the resurrection of Christ where some sneered at him for that, but others wanted more and asked if he would come back to tell them more about Christ.
  10. Some became believers and became followers of Paul

 

Things to know

Areopagus was a hill northwest of the Actopolis in Athens overlooking the marketplace (Acts 17:19).  It also referred to the Athenian council or court that met there.  The irregular limestone outcropping was also known as Mars Hill where Mars was the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Ares.

Stoics were a school of Greek philosophy and they believed that humans should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submissive to natural law, calmly accepting all things as the result of the divine will (the Logos).  They taught that people were part of the universe, which is dominated by reason (the logos).  The stoic would accept things as they were since they believed that they could do nothing about the course of events, which were controlled by the logos (the divine reason).

Epicureans were those who followed the teachings of the Greek philosopher Epicurus (352 – 270 BC).  The Epicureans were empiricists, which mean that they relied on sense experience for knowledge.  Things could only be known by what could be sensed (touched, seen, etc.).  They did not think favorably to reasoning as they considered such things abstract.  The Epicureans were more concerned with natural evidence and practicalities over and above reason.

The Epicurean judged the value of an act or thing in terms of the pleasure or pain it brought.  This is not to say that Epicureans sought pleasure as some have come to believe.  Epicurus did not promote lasciviousness, but rather tranquility.  Epicurus actually sought what we would now call happiness.  The pleasure of tranquility and of peace could be found in the absence of pain.  He avoided pain more than he sought pleasure.

Epicurus thought that the belief in gods was a serious threat to the tranquility that he sought.  This was because gods were thought to be insecure powerful beings who meddled in the affairs of humans.  This caused strife and not peace.  Epicurus taught that the gods were actually peaceful and basically avoided contact with humans so they were nothing to be afraid of.

Paul preached the gospel of Christ to people starting where they were.  He didn’t blast them about their idols or condemn them about their religions.  He used the fact that they had a place for an unknown God and proceeded to tell them who that God was.  He met them where they were.  He acted as an apologist and evangelist as he preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them from a point that they could relate to.

Things Learned

Here are some things that we can learn from these chance encounters.

  1. Sometimes we should just do what we have the opportunity to do and not think so much as to why we are there (Chance encounters) – Paul experience chance encounters with several groups of people.  However, Paul never heard from God to go to those respective places.  Instead, he came to those places because he was getting away from persecution at a previous location.  One thing we see here is that Paul preached whenever he had the opportunity.  It was almost as if the reason for his circumstances didn’t factor in.  He could have said that he was in trouble for preaching so he would lay low for a while.  Instead, he preached when the opportunity presented itself and he spoke up for the sake of the spreading of the gospel of Christ.  Paul used his chance encounters and situations to preach the Gospel.
  2. Sometimes God only tells you what to do next or where to go next and not necessarily where you are going to (Directed chance encounters) – Philip had a chance encounter with the Ethiopian, but his encounter was directed.  He was told to go to the road though he wasn’t told where he was going.  He only knew to go to the road and that was enough.  We should take note of that and realize that God will not always tell us the end.  He could simply tell us what to do next and all we need do is obey not being over concerned about where we are going.
  3. Have knowledge of the Gospel of Christ – Neither Paul or Philip would have been effective if they had not known well the Gospel of Christ.  We need to know and understand salvation so much that we could explain it to someone just after waking up from a deep sleep.  The truth of salvation should be engrained in our minds as well as our hearts so that we could minister that Gospel to anyone when the opportunity arises.

    This is why it is so important to read and study your Bible.  It is important to discuss Christian doctrine with others to help you gain understanding and filter out any strange doctrines that may arise in your mind. 

  4. God’s lead is not always evident by the circumstances – You never really know where God is leading you because, as I said earlier, you may not know what the destination is.  God may tell us just enough to get us to a certain place and we don’t always know where that certain place is.  Philip only knew to go to a particular road and Paul went where the brethren had sent him.  However, God was behind the scenes orchestrating everything for the sake of the spreading of the Gospel of Christ.

    We may be in a particular situation and not realize that it is for the blessing of someone else or even ourselves.  We can’t merely look at a situation and determine it’s purpose merely from the situation.  A bad situation may bring about a great good or blessing and a good situation may be what we should avoid in order to accomplish God’s will.  We can’t judge God’s will by convenience.

  5. The Road to minister is not always easy In Paul’s case he was chased by a mobbing city, sneered at ay philosophers, and mocked.  Philip had to travel on a desert road not knowing where he was really going.  Ministering to others may spawn various types of hardships especially from those who call themselves religious or even Christian.  We should just realize that and do what God directs us to do and not neglect an opportunity just because it is inconvenient.

    I can tell you many stories of how I was persecuted in church organizations because I refused to give in to local doctrine, questioned those in authority, made mistakes, and preached what I had learned from the Scriptures.  I found that many times people simply do not want to hear the truth and that some church leaders do not want the congregation to hear the truth as that would free them from bondage and control.

    So don’t think that ministry is an easy road.  Sometimes it may be very difficult from those that you would call brethren, family, and non-Christians.

  6. Chance encounters involve us doing our part – Paul didn’t sit around waiting for instructions.  Instead he went out there and ministered to the people and debated with “church leaders.”  He evaluated the environment when he was at Athens because the Bible says he noticed their objects of worship as he was walking around.  We could say that he was looking for a launch pad to present the Gospel to them on their own terms so to speak.

 

Conclusion

We talk about being guided by the Holy Spirit so we should realize that the Holy Spirit will guide us if we would only follow.  There are many encounters that we have in our lives that were directed by the Holy Spirit.  Even some bad experiences were guided by the Holy Spirit.  However, I should say here that we cannot say that everything that happens to us is due to the Holy Spirit’s guidance because sometimes we do our own thing and get our own self in trouble.

The people you meet and the people that meet you could very well be due to the direction of the Holy Spirit.  It is a case of being at the right place when you were supposed to or meeting the right person at the right time.  You have met people and have made a difference in their lives and people have met you and made a difference in your life.  We touch each other in one way or another and those moments culminate the activities of the Holy Spirit for a particular purpose.

Don’t neglect the importance of chance encounters because they are not necessarily mere chance.  From our perspective many things happen by chance, but we should realize and be conscious of the fact that God leads is by various methods.  Sometimes the events that occur during his leading appear to us as chance encounters.  The Bible says to acknowledge God in all of our ways and that is something that we should be sure to do (See Proverbs 3:6).  Remember that the next time you have a chance encounter.  Amen.

 


Chance Encounters
By Pastor William R. Cunningham
For Sunday September 3, 2006