In his missionary journeys Paul at one point had reached Athens. We know Greek culture, particularly Athenian civilization, as the cradle for the most significant developments in society, including democracy, political thought, philosophy, science, and the arts. Nevertheless, at the time of Paul’s visit, it was a pagan culture, devoid of Christian influence. We might call it “A dry land”, where Paul saw an opportunity to plant the seed of the Gospel. Given the opportunity to address the Areopagus (the cultural and political elite), Paul preaches Christ and the resurrection. Christians today, like Paul, are faced with the challenge of relating to and responding in light of our faith to a non-Christian culture. But is Paul’s presentation of the Gospel still relevant today? Should it be adapted to the contemporary culture and worldview?
There are several reasons why Paul’s message remains highly pertinent, even in today’s culture.
God has not changed, and neither has the Gospel. God, the Almighty Creator and Sustainer of all, has not changed (Heb 13:8). God’s character & attributes are constant (His perfect righteousness, His absolute sovereignty, His immeasurable power). God’s purpose for us is constant and remains the same (eternal life through Jesus Christ).
Humankind’s spiritual predicament has not changed. The individual, then and now, is faced with a spiritual divide. On the one hand, there is the loving God, almighty, perfect, powerful and righteous. On the other, the individual – limited, flawed, weak and unrighteous, separated by the partition of God’s purity and man’s impurity. The love of God displayed in Christ offers direction, purpose, certainty, eternal hope, and assurance.
In addition to these two reasons, we must note the strong similarity between the Athenian culture in Paul’s time and the culture everywhere in the world today: a predominantly pagan, idolatrous culture, “a pluralistic society”, trite and superficial, marked by attitudes of superiority, arrogance & pride.
So what do we learn from Paul’s address and how can we apply it in our lives?
Mindset. “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 was provoked deeply not by a revulsion to the carved idols, but by the Athenian worship of those idols.
Here is a test of our Christian’s sensitivity to the culture we live in. Are you, am I, perturbed, disturbed, broken-hearted, propelled to pray, when confronted with: abject non-Christian behaviour and blasphemy in our society. Do our hearts ache for Christians in parlous conditions and those suffering for their faith? This would reflect our mindset – the distinctive God-centred Christian mindset. Here then is the key and challenge to our living our lives in today’s God-denying culture: “To view everything from God’s perspective”.
Be ready to give a reason. Paul was called upon to set out/explain the basis for his faith, and he was prepared and ready. We are encouraged to be prepared, when questioned to set out, the unshakeable grounds for our faith and the source of the joy that is ours in Christ. We are to be prepared, to be ready. Meeting the challenge will focus our mind, encourage our faith, grant vitality and vibrancy to our witness, and serve to bless our souls and others.
The address to the Areopagus. Paul begins by stating: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 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.”
Paul relates to his listeners and draws their attention to the fact that they have only partial knowledge & understanding. Today, two millennia later, standing upon the shoulders of all the accumulated knowledge and understanding, we are still lost in uncertainty, disavowing that personal knowledge of God is possible.
Additionally, Paul feels compelled to proclaim and declare His Existence, as should the Church and all Christians. He proceeds to declare the attributes of God, and His nature & character. Paul declares that God is knowable, He is with us and we are His. He is evident in nature. He is with us (v 28), we are His and He is real. Paul then addresses God’s personal character. Not only is God knowable in nature, He has entered history and revealed Himself in Jesus Christ: God Incarnate.
Where do we Stand?
Paul’s address to the Areopagus resulted in two kinds of responses. There are those who heard and mocked or who prevaricated, and in effect continued to serve idols of the mind or of their own making. On the other hand there were those who joined him & believed.
Paul’s attitude and address in Athenians is striking and notable today because it confronts individuals, then and now, with their state of uncertainty & lack of hope, as well as their need to repent and follow the one true God.
How do you and I respond? Do we mock or prevaricate, and try to entertain ourselves with new or novel trifles, OR are will we henceforth humbly, penitently, and gloriously FOLLOW HIM?