The Wisdom of Paul’s Apologetic
Acts 17:23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
Acts 17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands,
Acts 17:25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.
Acts 17:26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live,
Acts 17:27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.
Acts 17:28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we too are his offspring.’
Acts 17:29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.
Acts 17:30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent,
Acts 17:31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Paul is now in Athens — that great city of ancient days. Many brilliant scholars had come to this city to study at her famous university. As a whole this community enjoyed talking and debating philosophical matters and now Paul was invited to speak to those who had gathered. How do you present Christ to a crowd like this?
Listening and observing Paul had been assessing his context. How would he address these people? They seemed to worship many gods and found great intrigue in them. Paul used their desire to know different gods and helped to point them in the direction of the true God. He honored the people for their desire to worship. Then, he pointed them in the direction of one of their altars which was dedicated “To an unknown god.” He used this as the platform on which to build his apologetic. He could explain to these people who the unknown god was!
Then, in just a few brief sentences Paul was able to speak of the God of all creation who is greater than any human edifices. No, the Parthenon could not even contain him! This unknown god — was a living God and from him we have all been created. That is why he can’t be a creation of mortals. He is our Father and therefore we are his offspring.
He went on to explain that while humanity had been ignorant of this fact for a long period of time, an era of revelation had now come. It was time for humanity to recognize the true God and repent, turning from their worship of idols. This living God would judge humanity, but at the same time provide a way of salvation and eternal life.
His message stunned the crowd and brought further invites for him to speak. This concept of a living and breathing God with the power over death spoke right to the core of the crowd. Some became believers almost immediately.
I’ve had the privilege of ministering in many parts of the world. One of the worst things someone can do is enter a situation and bring with them their own culture and ideas and expect the people there to adapt to your point of view. Instead, one must do what Paul has done in this situation. We must seek God’s wisdom and leadership when it comes to our own apologetic; sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.
Paul was constantly wanting to share Christ everywhere he went, but as we notice, he doesn’t do it the same way everywhere he goes. Each situation has its unique issues and we must be sensitive to what God wants to accomplish in each place — and to the ways in which the message about Christ are to be received.
Unfortunately we have often only thought that it is “foreign missionaries” who had to think in this way. They obviously were taught to go and learn a new culture and figure out the wisdom of their apologetic in that place. However, with our rapidly changing culture, every follower of Jesus Christ needs to be asking God for this type of sensitivity. All across the world we find different nuances of culture that need to hear about Jesus — but the methodology cannot be the same! Paul’s methodology adapted everywhere he went. So should ours!
The people of Athens were hungry to hear what Paul had to say. When we are sensitive to the needs of the culture we may just discover that people are more hungry to hear about Jesus than we think. We have to ask God to remove our preconceived notions of delivery systems and allow God to work in his way in and through us. It could be that we have become the stumbling blocks to the spreading of the gospel when we expect to share about him in preconceived ways.
Paul’s emphasis was on the living God. The people of Athens were stuck on the gods they could create with their own hands. Maybe we have done the same thing by putting God in a box. We must allow the living God to breathe through us and into the world. This becomes the wisdom of the apologetic.
Lord, please give me your wisdom today. Amen.