Acts 17:16-34 (ESV)
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. 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, 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’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
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.
Day 1: Loving God
Since we have been created by God, the objects of our creation cannot be God. Where did the idols and statues of gold, silver, and stone originate? They are products of the human imagination and human craftsmanship. How, then, can these things possibly be God! There is a world of difference between the man-made gods that the Athenians worshiped and the God who made the world! In what ways are we also guilty of worshiping a “god” that we have fashioned with our own minds and hands? In what ways have we tried to domesticate God? Reduce Him to amulets, pendants, and talismans, as if we can put God in our pockets and carry Him around like a trinket? Compartmentalize our lives and act like we can restrict God and His demands to Sunday mornings only? Relate to Him like a genie that we turn to only when our own purposes and priorities are thwarted?
Furthermore, it says in verse 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.” The Greeks served their gods by building temples, statues, and altars, offering sacrifices to them, and parading their idols throughout the city, but God declares that he is actually not “served by human hands,” because there is nothing that He needs. God says in Psalm 50:12 that he doesn’t need our sacrifices, He says, “If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.” The true God does not need to be carried from place to place by human servants. The true God does not need to be fed with sacrificial offerings. There is no deficiency or insufficiency in God. This is what we call the doctrine of divine aseity, God’s self-existence and absolute independence. God did not create humanity because he needed us, because he was insecure about himself and needed our love and worship, or because he was shorthanded and needed some extra hands.
Do you live like God needs you? Are you working hard with blood, sweat, and tears to repay God for what He has done for you? There is nothing to be repaid, because salvation we have is a gift from God, not a loan. Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28; cf. Mark 10:45). The gospel is not a service you render to Jesus, but a service that Jesus has rendered to you! Have you received this gift freely, saying to God, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling … Naked, come to Thee for dress, helpless, look to Thee for grace”!
Are you trying to obey and serve God in your own strength as if it all depends on you? 1 Chronicles 29:14 says, “For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” We can only give to God what we have received from Him! 2 Corinthians 9:8 says, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” When do we “abound in every good work”? When God makes “all grace abound to [us]”! Every good work we do is a result of God’s grace. This is why 1 Peter 4:10-11 says this, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” All that we do for God, we do out of the gifts we have received from Him, out of His varied grace toward us. We do everything with a conscious, prayerful dependence on Him, as those who have been united with Christ, as His mouth, as His hands, as His feet, so that in everything He is glorified! In this way, genuine Christian service is never self-aggrandizing, it’s always self-effacing and Christ-exalting.
Confess the ways in which you have put God in a compartmentalized box of your life, or had small thoughts of God and big thoughts of yourself.
Pray for deeper humility and prayerful dependence on God, so that you might serve God in the strength that He supplies.
Pray that God would fill you more with the Holy Spirit and make you more zealous for His glory.
Day 2: Loving One Another
After Paul’s address at the Areopagus, it says in verse 34 that “some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.” The word “join” is a word that means to “bind closely,” and its literal meaning is to glue something together. Luke often uses this word to describe new believers joining the fellowship of believers (Acts 5:13; 9:26). What does it look like for us, as a church, to be “eager to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3)?
Pray that our church would be glued together with the bond of peace. Pray for those who are new to our church or feel like they are on the fringes to be deeply integrated into our church family and rooted in love.
Pray that we would be a church that is quick to confess our sins to, and forgive, one another.
Pray that all our members would persevere in faith and obedience, especially those who are struggling with various hindrances and doubts.
Day 3: Loving Our Neighbors
Even while waiting for his missionary companions to arrive at a prominent city known as the “cradle of Western civilization,” notice that Paul is not wandering around as a tourist, awestruck at the sight of the acropolis, admiring the ornate sculptures, lining up to visit Plato’s or Aristotle’s famed schools of philosophy. No, “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” Paul was disturbed. He was distressed. He was provoked to holy anger, because everywhere he turned, he saw idols. That meant the LORD God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the one, true God, the Savior of mankind, was not worshipped by the Athenians. That meant the Lordship of Jesus the Christ, God’s only Son, the Great Redeemer, was not acknowledged there. And that meant that the people of Athens were perishing apart from Christ, reduced to futility, worshiping idols that can do nothing to save them from sin and death. And this provoked Paul!
How many times have we sat and eaten at Asian restaurants, where altars dedicated to idols are prominently displayed, without being provoked! How many times have we toured Islamic mosques and Hindu and Buddhist temples and pagodas without being provoked! How many times have have we strolled through Times Square in New York City, staring at the brightly-lit billboards dedicated to the gods of money and sex without being provoked! Don’t think that “idols” are limited to statues of false gods and goddesses. An idol is anything that occupies the functional center of your life, anything that governs your purposes and priorities more than God does. This is why Colossians 3:5 calls “covetousness … idolatry.”
Paul could not stand the blasphemy and idolatry. His spirit was provoked within him to see his Lord not honored as He should have been, and for that reason, he could not help but speak up. He “reasoned” not only the Jews and Greek God-fearers in the synagogue, but also with anyone “who happened to be” at “the marketplace,” the Athenian agora, which was the center of city’s civil activity, “every day.”
Pray that we would be “provoked” in our spirit by the idols all around us, and be motivated by our zeal for the glory of God to share the gospel.
Pray that God would send out more laborers into the harvest, both here and abroad, especially, this month, for Afghanistan, a nation we have been praying for throughout September.
Pray by name for your unbelieving family members, friends, and neighbors. Pray that you might be filled with the Holy Spirit to bear bold witness to Jesus.
Pray that the Spirit of God would direct our church as we plan outreaches, evangelize, and send missionaries. Pray for the Spirit’s leading for Bailey, Mariah, and Mattea, as they take steps toward full-time, foreign missions work.