At times the servants of God have been all alone, without fellow believers around. In this study you will read what happened when a Spirit-filled Christian, namely Paul, was in this situation in a highly idolatrous environment where pagan philosophies abounded. At this point in Paul's ministry, he was alone in Athens, that is alone in Athens for awhile without Silas and Timothy, his co-workers.
Paul Was Alone In Athens
The brothers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. The men who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible. (Acts 17:14,15)
At this point, Paul fled persecution and was brought to Athens. Silas and Timothy stayed behind in Berea presumably to strengthen the new Christians there or to do some other work related to the kingdom. But now Paul is all alone in Athens as he waits for Silas and Timothy to arrive. How did that Spirit-filled Christian spend his time?
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 the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. (Acts 17:16,17)
Being a loving and God-fearing man, as Paul was, he became distressed at the sight of the many statues that were all around Athens. It is common for the righteous to be distressed in that way. (Lot too was tormented in his soul by what he saw and heard while in the wicked town of Sodom, 2 Pet. 2:7,8.)
To rectify that horrible spiritual problem in Athens, Paul did not try to get some new law passed to forbid idolatry, as some religious people in our day seem to think is the cure-all. Instead, Paul battled that spiritual problem with a powerful spiritual weapon—God’s word (truth).
Since idolatry is associated with lost souls, deception and ignorance, the remedy is learning truth and reality, which is only found in the word of God (the Bible). Hence, Paul declared the truth of Scripture in the synagogue and in the marketplace. Since the marketplace is where every kind of person, religious or not, would walk through, Paul was getting the word out to a wide variety of people. What he did there was similar to witnessing on a busy city sidewalk in our day.
A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute 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. (Acts 17:18)
It was Paul by himself against a group of ungodly philosophers! Some were insulting to the point of calling the man of God a babbler. Paul’s message centered around the Lord Jesus, the remedy.
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 want 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.) (Acts 17:19-21)
This time those people were going to hear the most important message they would ever hear and might never have heard a second time. The medicine they were presented and desperately needed for their souls centered around the Lord Jesus. Paul’s message to those non-Jews was different from the type of salvation sermon he preached in a synagogue where Scripture was believed, but both there and everywhere else his message would focus in upon Jesus. Compare to Acts 13:16-41.
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.” (Acts 17:22)
The Amplified Bible gives this interpretation, which is also backed by the Greek:
... you are most religious (very reverent to demons).
Paul’s opening statement is a mind-blow when read in the Greek. He said they were religious to demons! [Scripture informs us that demons are associated with idols (1 Cor. 10:19-21)! ] That is not the way preachers in a day of compromise, like ours, preach. Paul was bold and didn’t mince words, even when all alone.
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. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. (Acts 17:23)
Their worship of something unknown was what Paul was going to start his message with. He would use that to bring up Jesus’ resurrection, but he first starts with God.
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 hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. (Acts 17:24,25)
Paul cited three elementary facts about God tailored for them: (1) He is the creator of everything and everyone, (2) He does not dwell in temples, and (3) He is not served by human hands.
This second point is a devastating blow to the Catholic idea that God does dwell in a man-made tabernacle in the form of the unconsumed communion wafers, which they call the Eucharist and worship as God.
From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. (Acts 17:26)
Paul, referring to Adam, shows he believed he was a literal man and not representative of a group of people or something else strange like that. Paul literally interpreted the Scriptures, which is shown all through the New Testament by the Lord himself and his disciples.
God determined when and where you would be born physically, but has given all mankind free-will to accept his truth and receive eternal life or reject it to their own harm and damnation.
God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. (Acts 17:27)
God did that so people would seek and reach out to him. Seeking God and reaching out to him is something a spiritually dead person can do, unlike how Calvinism may portray him. (Again, Calvinism is shown to be false. In fact, the sooner you realize Calvinism is demonic the better it will be for you.)
As someone said, God is a prayer away. That is true if the prayer is sincere, repentant, humble, asking God for mercy and placing a submissive faith in Jesus (Luke 18:13,14; Rom. 10:13; Lk. 8:21; Acts 20:21; etc.).
“For in him we live and move and have our being.” As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.” (Acts 17:28)
If we have the true God, as Paul just described, we have it all. He is essential for everything and without him we have nothing of real value and worth.
Paul actually quoted heathen poets here. That would be like a Christian in our day quoting some false prophet and deceiver like Joseph Smith, Jr. (of Mormonism), Charles Taze Russell (of the Jehovah’s Witnesses), the Pope (of Catholicism), etc. Paul knew who the devil was using in that hour and what they were saying.
Paul quoted their pagan poets to help them learn about the true and living God, as opposed to their darkened and deadly concepts. He chose a common point of agreement.
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 man’s design and skill. (Acts 17:29)
Verse 29 describes the kind of religious statues they had in Athens. Just like in the Old Testament, idols were adorned with gold and/or silver. Surely, those idols in Athens were well-made and looked beautiful, but they were still a tool of the devil to lead people into idolatry and damnation. Some might think those idols had value because of the gold and silver, but that is only what the devil used to help snare one’s soul through those idols.
In Moses’ day, Aaron made a solid gold idol in the form of a calf. Notice how Moses treated that solid gold idol, which could have had much worth money-wise just for the gold content. Moses wrote:
And the LORD was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too. Also I took that sinful thing of yours, the calf you had made, and burned it in the fire. Then I crushed it and ground it to powder as fine as dust and threw the dust into a stream that flowed down the mountain. (Deut. 9:20, 21)
That is how Moses rightly disposed of that sinful thing.
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30)
Idolatry is always a reflection of spiritual ignorance. This doesn’t mean, however, that intelligent people can’t be caught up in this, for many are. It just shows the lack of spiritual understanding such have.
Paul’s gospel was destructive to idolatry and idol-making. As the truth is spread, idolatry decreases:
A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: “Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all.” (Acts 19:24-26)
For God to command all people everywhere to repent is clear in showing God has not predestined some to damnation, as Calvinism teaches. That statement also disproves the fallacious idea that one can find salvation without repentance. If those two dangerous concepts were totally eliminated, the religious world of our day would be a much better place.
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 all men by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:31)
Paul now refers to Jesus, without mentioning his name. Jesus is the God-man. Here Jesus is referred to as man, but elsewhere he is also shown to be deity (John 1:1; 20:28; Acts 20:28; Phil. 2:6-8; 1 John 5:20; etc.). BTW, the false prophet Watchtower Society of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who aggressively attacks the deity of Christ, does this by focusing in upon the humanity of Christ, distorting Scripture, misrepresenting what Christians believe about this and avoiding relevant verses of the Bible. Again, Jesus is both God and man.
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. (Acts 17:32,33)
The mention of Jesus’ resurrection was enough to cause some in that group to sneer. Others wanted to hear more at another time. (There is no record they ever got that request!) That was the abrupt end of Paul’s salvation message to people who didn’t accept the Scriptures, as the Jews did.
A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others. (Acts 17:34)
When Paul was alone in Athens he preached the good news of the kingdom and that resulted in some coming to salvation. Of that number was a woman named Damaris and a member of the Areopagus (Dionysius). That man might be considered an amazing salvation conversion. He heard the truth once and responded, even though he was in a position like that. We never hear of him again and there is no mention of a congregation starting in Athens. Only in the kingdom will we know if they endured to the end to be saved (Mt. 10:22; Heb. 3:14; Rev. 2:10,11). Certainly great good came from the apostle Paul being alone in Athens.
Text Sermons (Expository and Topical) by Dan Corner of Evangelical Outreach
Whole Counsel Of God
The Fear Of Man
False Prophets and False Teachers
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