16 Paul was waiting for Silas and Timothy in Athens. He was very upset to see that the city was full of statues of gods. 17 So he went to the synagogue. There he talked with Jews and with Greeks who worshiped God. Each day he spoke with anyone who happened to be in the market place. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic thinkers began to argue with him. Some of them asked, “What is this fellow chattering about?” Others said, “He seems to be telling us about gods we’ve never heard of.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus. He was telling them that Jesus had risen from the dead. 19 They took him to a meeting of the Areopagus. There they said to him, “What is this new teaching you’re giving us? 20 You have some strange ideas. We’ve never heard them before. We want to know what they mean.” 21 All the people of Athens spent their time talking about and listening to the latest ideas. People from other lands who lived there did the same.
Paul wasn’t intending to come to Athens. He had fled there from Macedonia because of opposition. He was just waiting for his friends to catch up.
Athens must have seemed the most unlikely opportunity for the gospel. They were spiritually superfici
al: Paul’s troubled by the idols to every possible deity they
could find, including one to “an unknown God” in case they had missed one. And intellectually superficial: known for being entertained by new ideas, but not for acting on them. Luke doesn’t record the usual response from the Jews and “God fearing Gentiles”, and no response from those in the public square. The only response recorded was the philosophers who dismiss him as a “babbler” and preacher of foreign gods. And now being brought before the city rulers to explain himself (a painful
experience in the past) must have seemed daunting. By any rational assessment, Paul should not waste his time with Athens.
But Paul knows his God better. “Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.” (Ephesians 5:16). He does seek out those who fear God. He goes to where the people are. He brings substance to the superficial intellectual exercises of the philosophers. He takes the opportunity of bringing the truth to the Areopagus, and though they dismiss him, at the end some do believe.
It’s easy to dismiss the pub discussion of life or even the Christian-bating argument as a waste of time, but wherever people are willing to allow us to talk about God there is an opportunity for God to speak into the most unlikely lives. (So long as we are as positive as Paul’s speech to the Areopagus.)
Father, give me your eyes to see the opportunities and your boldness and grace to take them.
Written by David Cornell