The longer Paul waited in Athens for Silas and Timothy, the angrier he got–all those idols! The city was a junkyard of idols!
He discussed it with the Jews and other like-minded people at their meeting place. And every day he went out on the streets and talked with anyone who happened along. He got to know some of the Epicureans and Stoic intellectuals pretty well through these conversations. Some of them dismissed him with sarcasm: “What a moron!” But others, listening to him go on about Jesus and the resurrection, were intrigued: “That’s a new slant on the gods. Tell us more.”
These people got together and asked him to make a public presentation over at the Areopagus, where things were quieter. They said, “This is a new one on us. We’ve never heard anything quite like it. Where did you come up with this anyway?” Explain it so we can understand.” Downtown Athens was a great place for gossip. The people hanging around, natives and tourists alike, waiting for the latest tidbit on most anything.
So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, TO THE GOD NOBODY KNOWS. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with” Acts 17:16-23, The Message
This passage brings up different aspects of the culture in which the gospel was spreading through those who had come to believe in Jesus and live in the truth of the good news of the gospel. Paul had, by the time he got to Athens, been living and growing in his love of Jesus for around 16 years since his experience on the road to Damascus. In Athens, the culture expressed itself in idols and lots of conversations on philosophy about how to live and worship.
Culture, by simple definition, is a society’s way of life, customs, traditions, heritage, habits and values. Some of the cultural things that show up in this passage are not too different from now, such as ethnicity, worship styles and ideas about how to live life.
Paul’s attitude and actions may help us as we navigate similar situations in our own lives. For instance: Paul wasn’t angry at particular people. He was angry about the delusion that the idols represented. He went first to discuss it with the Jews and other, “like minded” people. He built a relationship with people he met as he walked around the city and agreed to present what he had to say in a basic and clear way. He acknowledged their commitment to religion and worship. He was courteous in his introduction of the true God and appealed to their intelligence. He didn’t nag or pass judgement on them if they disagreed.
How would you define the culture you live in and possibly prefer? Who do you know that has different, or very different ideas from yours? Are there people who can give you counsel about how to approach the situation or person? Pray about the situation, the people and your desire for Christ in their life.
By Carolyn Schmitt