Tuesday, 4 October 2022
“Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:
TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.
Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you:”
The setting of our reading is Mars Hill (the Roman name of a hill in Athens, Greece), the meeting place of the Areopagus Court (Acts 17:19,22), the highest court in Greece for civil, criminal, and religious matters. Even under Roman rule in the New Testament times, Mars Hill remained an important meeting place where philosophy, religion, and law were discussed. While in Athens, Apostle Paul observed and was provoked by the many idols he saw in the city. As was his custom, he first went to the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles and then he preached to those in the marketplace. That is when he encountered the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, who were always looking for something “new” to discuss. The Epicureans taught that happiness was the ultimate goal in life. The Stoic thinkers promoted the rational over the emotional. Both Epicureans and Stoics believed in many gods.
Hearing Paul’s teaching about Jesus, he was invited by the philosophers to come to Areopagus and elaborate on this “new”, strange teaching. Standing in the midst of the Areopagus, Paul tactfully speaks to them- he acknowledged the Athenians were very religious, having seen their many objects of worship. But one altar among the many had caught his attention on which was inscribed: “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” (V.23). In their ignorance, the Greeks had erected an altar to that “unknown god” they might have carelessly left out of the many gods lined up in their thinking. Paul didn’t miss the opportunity- he masterfully used this altar to share about the one true God. It is nothing but the wisdom of God that led Paul in this direction.
To enlighten them, Paul explained that this “unknown god” was the God of the Bible, who is the Creator of the world, the Lord of heaven and earth, who does not dwell in temples made with hands and He is Source of all life! This is the One and the Only True God they were unknowingly seeking. His name is YHWH–a name that was revealed to Moses as four Hebrew consonants and is built on the word for “I AM.” God’s name is almost always translated LORD (all caps) in the English Bible. Paul says: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)
Paul begins his speech very wisely by acknowledging that the audience as “religious”, opening a positive way for him to draw their attention to the True God. He felt commendation was always better than condemnation -which would only have closed the minds of the hearers to his message. Here is something we can learn from Paul while spreading the gospel.
Instead of his usual approach, Paul took the role of a Greek philosopher and not a religious zealot. He did not mention Jesus by name. He talks about God who made the world and everything in it (Acts17:28). He did what good missionaries and evangelists have always done: he used the language, the style and the cultural references familiar to his audience. When we proclaim the good news to the world, we should not claim that the people who have not heard this news are bad people who are destined to hell— they are simply those who have not heard this news. Instead ask the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to present the gospel in terms they can understand so that they too will hear and be saved.
Thought for the Day: “Any method of evangelism will work if God is in it.”-Leonard Ravenhill