This week we learned from Paul in a city called Athens as he was asked to provide a reason for why anyone might trust Jesus and become a Christian. The following is one of the most studied and discussed passages in scripture on the topic of mission and engagement. What we see is Paul contextualize the gospel for the city of Athens. He meets people where they are and, using their own quotes and ways of thinking, presents the good news of Jesus.
16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.
Paul is motivated by love and concern for these people who are misled, confused, and wrong. Everything that he says and does next flows out of his love, compassion, and concern. This is what drives mission in our lives. People are not projects. We love people because God loves people and we believe that Jesus is worthy of being worshipped by the people He loves. Like Paul, we believe that lives begin to fracture and break down the more that the one true God is pushed out and replaced.
17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.
22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,[a] 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’;[b] as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’[c]
29 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst.34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
What should we take and apply?
1. Observe the idols
What are our idols? What are the objects of our worship? Everyone is pouring out their lives for someone or something. The opposite of Christianity is not atheism but idolatry. We need to know our friends’ and neighbors’ beliefs and idols.
2. Undermine the idols
Nothing created can bear the weight of providing us with identity and meaning—only God can do that. What do our friends and neighbors believe? What are their idols and how can we help them see disconnects?
3. Show how Jesus is better
We show this to our neighbors and friends in two ways: First, by showing them that Jesus is a transcendent treasure unto Himself and second that whatever it is that they are pursuing in life, Jesus offers a better version of it. Repent and believe is always the invitation. Jesus is the only God who won’t let them down, who laid down His life for them, and rose from the dead to prove that every word He ever said was true and right.
4. Be provoked
And with all of this, we have to be provoked, like Paul was. We must be provoked by our city and the brokenness that we see. We must be heartbroken over the ways we see people trying to make their lives work apart from God. We must see our indifference as wickedness. If we love the people around us and we believe the gospel, we must figure out every possible way to communicate it effectively.