When Paul went to Athens, Greece, he came to what would be described as the intellectual capital of the known world.
When we think of Athens we think of Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. We also think of thinking people who see beyond the obvious and who understand logic and differing arguments.
While it is hard not to be impressed with Athens of that day, it’s also not hard to see the blindness of the people of the city.
What was Athens like?
Luke in Acts 17 describes it as a place of rampant idolatry. Paul saw that “the city was full of idols.” He recognized the darkness and sadness of this once great city.
When Paul preached, the people of Athens misunderstood him and his message. They were so sated in idolatry that they assumed he also believed in many gods. Paul talked about Jesus and the resurrection. Since the word resurrection is feminine in Greek, they thought he was speaking of male and female deities as they were accustomed to.
While they were open to hearing “something new,” they were not open to hearing a worldview that differed from their own. They used derogatory speech and called him a “seed picker,” someone who had put together a number of different philosophies randomly.
How did Paul witness in this unusual environment?
First, he noted the obvious. They were very religious people, even to the point of having a monument to the unknown god. They obviously feared the gods and wanted to make sure that all of them were represented. With all of Athens’ sophistication, their gods were basically humans who they placed above themselves. No wonder the Roman empire soon accepted the wonderful and powerful message of Christ.
Second, Paul showed them the true God who wanted them to repent and turn to the truth. He declared that the God they did not know had created them all.
Paul also said that this God who is over all the world and created everyone in it is not confined to temples (there were temples all around them). Paul communicated truth while seeking to persuade the Athenians.
Paul said that this Creator God provides for our needs and not we for His. How strange this must have been to the those who heard!
Finally, Paul showed them that this is a caring and kind God who wants people to know Him. He told the people of Athens that He is not far away.
May God burden our hearts as He did Paul’s! As he walked through Athens, his spirit was provoked within him (Acts 17:16). Scholars want to describe what that means, but they have a hard time explaining the meaning. Whatever Paul felt, he had a burden that people know the truth and turn to the God of hope and peace who cares for our present and our eternity.
May we learn to witness of our faith in our hard places!
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