16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 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. 18 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. 19 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? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
Paul didn’t intend 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 superficial: Paul was troubled by the idols to every possible deity they could find, including one to “an unknown God” in case they had missed one. And they were intellectually superficial: They were 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 must have seemed daunting. (Remember the painful experience in Philippi.) 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 workplace discussion of life or even the Christian-baiting argument as a waste of time. Still, wherever people are willing to allow us to talk about God, there is an opportunity for God to speak into the most unexpected 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