Let’s continue with our passage in Acts.
Read Acts 17:16-34
What’s his opening line? How does Paul engage them?
I see that you guys are very religious. Now in the Greek this is a very vague term. Paul is not necessarily complimenting them or putting them down. He is purposely vague to see how they would respond.
In our culture, we would say something like this, “I see that you’re very spiritual.” Nobody in our culture wants to be seen as religious, but they will readily embrace being spiritual.
And then he brings to their attention an idol he saw that was to the “unknown god.” Remember this is the world of Zeus and Diana and Hermes and Apollo. This is the pantheon of Greek gods. If you wanted to go on a sea voyage, you prayed to Poiseidon to give you safe travel. If you were giving a speech, you would pray to Hermes. You would never give your allegiance to just one god. That was stupid in their eyes because you may make them mad. If you give too much attention to one god, another god might get jealous and punish you. And so in order to not live in fear and to make sure that all their bases were covered, they had the blanket “unknown god” just in case there was a god out there that they would be sure not to offend.
Paul subtly and gently confronts their ignorance. He doesn’t ream them for their stupidity and wrong-headed thinking. He tells them that he is going to make known to them the one true God.
And Paul starts with creation. While he doesn’t quote Bible verses, everything that Paul shares is directly from the Bible and paints an accurate picture of God. But he argues that there is only one God and He is the Creator, Sustainer, and Sovereign over all creation. He is the Lord of heaven and earth and he cannot be contained in a temple.
Verse 25 is very interesting. God is not served by human hands as if he needed anything. But what do we do in our culture?
We “de-God” God and dethrone God and make us the center of the universe. We want God whoever he is to serve us. We live for ourselves.
So Paul continues to articulate the sovereignty of God in creation and His providence in forming nations, and races, and boundaries of where people live. God has done all of this—He has revealed Himself in nature and creation so that men will seek Him.
Then Paul actually quotes from their own poets and philosophers. Paul knew the literature. Paul made appropriate connections to their entertainment, to explain God.
He quotes Epimenides the Cretan poet and then gives a line from Aratus who wrote a poem about Zeus.
Now we must be careful here. Paul is not saying that these pagan poets understood God and that their beliefs inform Paul’s theology. What Paul is doing is finding points of connection with his culture in order to give more truth. He is trying to win a hearing. He is trying to show that he is culturally relevant. That he knows what is going on.
I’m not advocating that you have to be an expert in culture and know everything about everything and know the latest music, and fads and see every single movie, but you need to at least know enough to engage lost people. You need to be informed, without being tainted.
Verse 29 is the key to Paul’s sermon. He now begins to address their real issue—idolatry.
There are two ways Paul could have approached this issue of sin.
He could have given them the law. He could have used the Ten Commandments as the starting point and showed them how they had broken God’s laws.
But remember, they are pagans. They don’t accept that there is one true God. They don’t accept that God has a right to give them laws. That is very foreign to them.
Instead, Paul uses something they would understand. Idolatry. There’s something more fundamental than breaking God’s laws as sinners. It is failing to worship God Himself as Paul tells us in Romans 3:23 that we all fall short of God’s glory.
Paul deals with the issue of sin in relational terms, not legal terms.
Paul says that we are indeed this One True God’s offspring. But not in the pantheistic sense that we are divine or that we have a part of God in us or that we are gods. But that we are created in the image of God. And in the fall of Adam and Eve, we ruptured this fellowship and marred this image and made a huge breach in the relationship.
Before you address the idolatry of our culture, how are you addressing the idolatry in your own heart? What idols are you clinging to in order to find security and comfort?
Is there an idol in your heart from which you need to repent?