Paul in Athens
Scripture reading: I Corinthians 1:18-31
Today we are going to study Acts 17:16-34 together. In this passage we will find Paul, who was supposed to be "lying low"
preaching Christ in the once influential city of Athens
-Paul's second missionary journey of three
-Paul accompanied by a faithful team (preaching about Jesus- his mission, death, resurrection, calling people to repentance
and faith, encourage the new Christians, establishing church's)
-Paul and team being led by the Holy Spirit
-Wherever they go there is fruit and some form of persecution (with the result that Paul was often snuck out of town-- as such
was the case leading up to Paul's visit to Athens)
-A perceived safe resting place for Paul
-Paul escorted here by believers who felt Paul would be safe from persecution and who left him there hoping that the
persecution he was encountering would settle down
-Once a great city (400 years earlier), now a city in decline, no longer a city of political importance
-Former home of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Euripides (all being people who have had a big influence over the
centuries on the way people have thought and approached life)
-A city full of idols--- roughly 30,000 at the time. Petronius, an ancient historian said that it was easier to find a god in Athens
than a man.
The two groups of philosophers that Paul engaged while in Athens
Epicureans -- Atheists who advocated the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. There motto was "Eat, drink, and be
merry, for tomorrow we die". Advocates of every form of lust
Stoics-- Pantheists who believed that everything is god. To them, everything was determined by fate. Their mentality was a
"grin and bear it" one. They prided themselves on their ability to take whatever came their way. They thought themselves as
good as God and hence were given to great pride
Things to observe as we read:
1. How Paul engages the people of Athens, being non Jews with the Gospel.
2. How Paul responds to something he found to be incredibly offensive- the idolatry of the people of the city of Athens
LESSONS OF THE TEXT
1. We need to be upset by the things that upset God v.16
In v.16 it says "While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the
Paul was deeply troubled because the second of the 10 Commandments says; "You must not make for yourself an idol of any
kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them,
for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods" Exodus 20:4-5
Paul was deeply troubled because he understood that behind every idol was an evil spirit (1 Corinthians 10:14-22)
Paul was deeply troubled because he saw peoples search for God dead ending in the worship of man made idols
Paul was deeply troubled because he perceived how spiritually blind the citizens of Athens were-- while all the time they
thought themselves incredibly wise (See 2 Corinthians 4:4, I Corinthians 1:18ff)
Paul's being deeply troubled reminds us of Lot and how he lived in Sodom and Gomorrah. In 2 Peter 2:7-8 it speaks of how
distressed Lot was by the filthy lives of the lawless men who lived there, his being tormented in his soul by all he saw and
We need to be upset by the things that upset and anger God (homosexuality, abortion, lying, filthy language, the worship of
false gods, stealing, murder, the oppression of the poor).
Furthermore: We must not allow the culture to "cow" us into silence or inaction. Paul did something with his distress. We are
not to be like the Stoics who would have said, just grin and bear it.
Kudos to the Campaign life coalition for standing up against abortion. Kudos to the Evangelical Fellowship for taking up the
cause of Christ and the morality of the Bible in Ottawa. Kudos to people who sign petitions and write letters of protest to the
school boards that are so bent on promoting homosexuality as a acceptable life style.
Do we have sensitive hearts that are grieved by sin or do we just try to ignore sin or say "There's nothing I can do, that's the
way it is"
2. As distressed as we ought to be by the sins of those around us, we need to engage people with Christ and
the Gospel in a respectful and gentle way
a. We need to engage people in a respectful and gentle way
In 1 Peter 3:15 it says; "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who
asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect"
In reading of Paul's experience in Athens and the level of his level of distress I'm amazed at how respectful he was as he
engaged the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers.
a. After engaging the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, Paul was invited to speak to them further about Jesus and the
resurrection v.18-19 (as disrespectful as they were-- for they called Paul a 'babbler')
b. Given the floor, Paul began his address with "Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way" v.22. Given
Paul's feelings about their idols and there philosophies of live, one doesn't get much more gracious, and yet what Paul says is
very true--- they were incredibly religious----- yet very lost and misguided.
b. We need to engage people in a respectful and gentle way without watering down the Gospel
As respectful as Paul was, he did not hesitate in the slightest to declare the glory of God and Christ. the message of
repentance and the warning of the judgment to come.
Note what Paul says about GOD in the shadows of the gods of Athens v.24-31
i. He is the one who made the world and everything in it v.24 He is all powerful
ii. He is Lord over all. His is the dominion and power v.24
iii. He does not live in Temples built by human hands. He omnipresent
Jerusalem Temple a house of prayer, not God's residence
iv. He is self sufficient and lacking in nothing. v.25
v. He gives life to all people and all creatures. He is our creator v.25-26
From one man has come all people. There is only 1 race-- the human race.
vi. God is sovereign over all things and people- determining where we were born and how much time we have v.26
vii. God designed and created the world and universe for a purpose--- to lead people to Himself v.27 this is why people are
'religious'-- as Paul pointed out
viii. God is knowable v.27
ix. Creatively, God is our Father v.28
x. God is not honored when he is reduced to an image made by human hands v,29
xi. God is gracious v.30
xii. To enter into right relationship with God, repentance from sin is required v. 30
To repent involves acknowledging and confessing ours sins (that we have broken God's laws and are guilty before Him).
Furthermore, repentance necessitates a renouncing of sin and a turning away from it
xiii. God has set a day for judgment-- a day on which He will judge all people by his perfect standard of justice
xiv. God has given the task of judgment to Jesus
In John 5:22 Jesus says of himself, "Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son,"
xv. The authority of Christ to act as the judge of all people rests upon God's raising Jesus from the dead
OBSERVE THE RESULT OF PAUL'S PRESENTATION v.32-34
Some sneered at the mention of the resurrection
Remembering that the Epicureans were atheists. Reminding us of Paul's words in I Corinthians 1:18 which says; "For the
message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God"
In Acts 13:48 it says; "When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were
appointed for eternal life believed." The same thing happened here in Athens.
As you may have noted, when Paul talked to non Jews (people not brought up with the Word of God) his approach was
different, YET the message about Jesus and the way of salvation was clear and the same.
The sins of those around us, ought to upset us and move us to action and witness.
When we engage people with Jesus and the teachings of God, particularly when we are stirred up inside, we must always be
respectful and gentle--- yet never backing down from presenting the full Gospel of Christ
Our task is to faithful in the presentation of the Gospel, leaving the results to God, who prepares peoples hearts to receive