We are privy to a tremendous amount of knowledge at all times. If I need a recipe, I can look it up online. If I need to know how to make a bench I can look it up online. Everything from deciphering the tax code (as if that’s possible) to watching a video of singing pets – it’s all there waiting to be found. Our lives revolve around information gathering and sharing regardless of how irrelevant that information may be. The only difference between our society and that of the Athenians is electricity and keyboards. Well, there is also private bathrooms that I’m personally a huge fan of!
Paul is right in the middle of this post-crucifixion utopia. Everything was up for debate and all viewpoints and religions were openly accepted in support of being civilized. They even made sure that every base was covered by erecting a monument “to an unknown god”, because after all you never do know 100% ,right?
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed.
I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how different our culture today is compared to that of the early church. How much harder it is to witness in our society. How difficult it is to combat the social acceptance of sin and depravity. Yes, we have different technology and many more distractions but the core of who people are is the same. There are those who are seeking enlightenment through understanding, those who are carefully covering all bases by being open to each yet not committed to any, and those who are hungering to hear the truth that they can believe in. Just as Paul was bold enough to present the Gospel in a misguided and confused Athens, we are to be bold enough to present the Gospel to a confused and misguided city where we dwell.
Paul was the most influential missionary that ever lived. His teachings continue to this day. Over and over he established small groups of disciples everywhere he went. As modern day believers who have been given the same charge as Paul it’s pretty easy to become intimidated since he set the bar so high. But did he really? Or is it more that he took the mission seriously enough to proclaim the Gospel everywhere he went with the belief that God would do the work as long as he participated. Everyone Paul preached to didn’t become believers. He had to leave many towns secretly so that he wouldn’t be killed. Only some of those he preached to received the truth while the others sneered or took it one step further and imprisoned him.
Instead of looking at only the great accomplishments of those who have paved the way for us, we should look just as closely to the rejections and failures. The encouragement we can receive from knowing that there is a reason to stand firm and press on is more valuable than looking at the end result. “because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)