Paul, the greatest apostle the world has ever known, was a man of action. As a result, he simply could not stomach people who were full of bluster. His letter to his spiritual son, Timothy, exhorted him to ‘Have nothing to do with pointless and silly myths’ (1 Timothy 4:7).
Peter, too, warned us to stand clear of people who bragged about themselves with empty foolish boasting, describing them as dried-up springs, mists blown away in the wind, incapable of contributing anything of value to us (2 Peter 2:17-18).
Perhaps this’s why Paul had no interest staying in Athens. Once the centre of Greek civilisation from which the great philosophers Plato and Socrates hailed, it had devolved into a place where people ‘spent their time doing nothing else other than listening to the latest ideas and repeating them’ (Act 17:21 ISV).
By the time he moved to Corinth, he declared his feelings openly: ‘For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power!’ (1 Corinthians 4:20)
Paul was not perturbed only by Athens either. He also castigated Crete and Ephesus for their blabbering. It makes me wonder what he’d think if he came to Singapore!
No less than five of Paul’s epistles contain rebukes of foolish and vain jangling. In writing to both his spiritual sons, Timothy and Titus, he again admonishes them to shun/avoid such ‘unprofitable and worthless’ rabbit-hole discussions (Titus 3:9; 1 Timothy 6:20).
Rather, he instructs them to insist that believers ‘devote themselves to… things [that] are good and helpful to other people.’ (1 Timothy 3:8 ISV). He might as well have said: “Get out of the house, brothers and sisters! Go visit someone in need, someone who’s lonely, or an old friend.”
In fact, this is a major theme of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. After a brief intro, verse 4 warns Timothy not to ‘give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification.’
People had ‘turned aside to idle talk’ (verse 6); they sounded smart, even convincing, but Paul decried such foolishness: ‘They don’t know what they are talking about!’ (1 Timothy 1:7 NLT) He ends his letter reminding him again to stay away from idle babbling.
I was listening to a podcast this week and a man said he was at first encouraged that he was adding so many new subscribers (more than 2.000 per day), until he discovered they were all bots and all of them were actually attacking him!
Since I was studying this subject, I reflected on how Paul would have viewed our social media-frenzied world. If Athens upset him, TikTok would have sent him into orbit! Talk about frivolity! How about distraction, confusion, and a waste of time?!
How much more do we need to encourage one another to go beyond idle banter, to extract ourselves from fruitless chat groups and chain-linked videos, feeds, and clips.
Collectively, with grit and determination, let’s put ‘things [that] are good and helpful to other people’ back in vogue. We quite likely live in the most impersonal, dehumanised, generation of all time.
Christians who make an effort to connect with others – who are physically present, who ‘lay their hands’ on people who are hurting – are walking in the footsteps of the Master, and uniquely positioning themselves to impact lives.
2,000 years ago, God showed us His heart and His way when Jesus came and lived among us. Word became flesh. Truth-swollen ideas, concepts, and principles were on full display in and through all the things the Son of God did.
Talk is cheap. Let’s put on Paul’s mindset and take up his mantle. Beloved, let’s devote ourselves to the things that truly lead to godly edification. Let’s be men and women not just of talk, but of action.