Some people believe that everything has its origin in blind chance. Others believe that there exists an over-ruling providence, a living center of all government. Why it is that many intelligent people believe unproven theories?
While preaching the gospel on his missionary journey from Thessalonica to Berea, Paul found that the people in Berea were Bible students. He said, “These [people] were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). When people honestly desire to know what is right, they will check what they have been taught by the Scriptures and it will produce a result similar to that found in Berea. However, too many people today are just the opposite of the Bereans. They may not be able to controvert the doctrine that has been presented to them from the Bible, yet manifest the utmost reluctance to even investigate the evidence that has been presented in its favor.
Often the assumption is that even if it is the truth, it is really a matter of little consequence whether it is accepted as such, believing that if the faith and customs that they have was good enough for their fathers to follow, it is good enough for them. So why change? But the Lord has sent out His ambassadors with a message to the world, and will hold the people responsible for the manner in which they treat the words of His servants. God will judge us according to the light that we have had the opportunity to receive. It is our duty to investigate, like the Bereans, to see whether it is true or not.
Jesus said, “That servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:47, 48).
So much has been committed to the people of our generation. The Bible is more accessible to people in first world countries than it has ever been before. Are you taking advantage of this opportunity? The prophet Hosea delivers a strong warning: “My people [the Lord’s people] … are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hosea 4:6).
If people today were like the Bereans and checked the Bible to find out the truth, there would be thousands of people loyal to God’s government and His law, where now there is only one. Many who profess to love God have no desire to change from error to truth and they cling to the pleasing fables that the Bible predicted would abound in the last days.
Error blinds the mind and leads from God, but the truth is light to the mind and life to the soul. Error cannot sanctify.
Paul left Berea to escape from the Jews and went to Athens, a city that was the metropolis of heathen religions and philosophy. There he spent a period of time alone. This city was completely different from Lystra where Paul had been stoned. Lystra was home to an ignorant, credulous populace, but in Athens, there were people who were famous for their intelligence and education. The city was adorned by the many statues of their gods and deified heroes from their history. There were poetry, paintings, architecture, and images all over town that represented the glory and popular worship of heathen deities.
The Bible says in Acts 17:16, 17, “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.”
A tremendous amount of money and wealth had been expended in producing all of the sculptures, shrines, and the vast gallery of art. The average person’s senses are taken in with pleasure at seeing such a spectacle of wealth—the beauty, the grandeur, and such beautiful displays of human workmanship. But when the apostle Paul looked on this city full of idols, he was stirred with jealousy for God, whom he saw dishonored on every side.
The second commandment, Exodus 20:4–6, which is also the second longest commandment of the ten, strictly prohibits any kind of idolatry. God hates idolatry. In Revelation, the Lord pronounces that there are going to be certain people who will not be able to enter the kingdom of heaven but will be left on the outside. It says, “Outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie” (Revelation 22:15).
In Athens, the people were intellectually great, but they were given over to idolatry. Paul perceived that this human art deified vice and made falsehood attractive and understood that the joy and splendor of these riches would never give eternal life. To him, all earthly pomp and glory was valueless if you failed to receive eternal life. Jesus said, “What will it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul” (Mark 8:36, literal translation)? Looking at the magnificence of the city and costly displays, Paul saw the seductive influence over the minds of those who were lovers of art and science. Paul had a job to do; he understood that he had been given a life mission just as Christ has given a commission to all of His followers (see Matthew 28:19, 20). That mission is to bear the tidings of salvation to people who had no intelligent understanding of God and His plans.
Paul was not in Athens to gratify a desire to see new things or have new experiences. He was there on a mission from God, and was grieved as he saw idolatry abound everywhere and sought to reason with the people. Paul realized that the religion of Athens, of which they made great boast, was of no value, because it was destitute of the knowledge of the true God. Like much of the religions of today, their religion consisted of art worship, beautiful music, a round of dissipating amusement and festivities, and religious rituals, but lacked the virtue of true goodness. Genuine religion of the heart and mind results in victory over the sinful nature, victory over sinful habits. (See Romans 6 and 8, John 8; 1 John 3.)
If your religion is merely intellectual and wanting in the realization of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in your life, it will not be able to raise you above the sinful desires of the sinful nature so that you can enjoy victory over sin and live in harmony with the law of God. Paul preached in Athens about the resurrection from the dead. With all their philosophy, they did not have any system of religion that could bring deliverance from death, and they knew it.
Paul gave one of the most scintillating and intellectually challenging discourses that you will find in all the Bible. He was in a very dangerous situation and knew that if he should make a direct attack on their religious beliefs, his life would be in danger. Paul used a very interesting technique here, and approached them with great tact as he exposed the futility of their religion. The Bible says, “Certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,’ because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.’ For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:18–21).
Paul stood on the top of Mars Hill, at the most sacred place of the city, the Areopagus, and said to them, “ ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious’ ” (verse 22). This was true; the city had all kinds of idols and shrines, religious paintings, and sculptures everywhere. He continued, “ ‘… for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you’ ” (verse 23).
He told them that they were already worshiping the unknown God, one they did not know that they honored with an idol, and that it is the God they didn’t know that he was going to tell them about.
Who is this unknown God? Paul said, He is “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands” (verse 24). There were many temples in that city, but Paul told them that the God of whom he spoke made the heavens, the earth, and everything in it, and does not need a man-made temple to dwell in.
In fact, Paul said in verse 25, first part, “Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything.” He’s not worshiped by objects of art or manmade sculptures or anything that can be made by our hands, “since He gives to all life, breath, and all things” (verse 25, last part).
Then Paul said in verse 26, concerning this God, “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.” This is a very interesting statement. As human beings, we are tempted to have racial prejudice, political prejudice, religious prejudice, and national prejudice, but the apostle Paul says, that God has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth. We are all related to every other human being by blood.
O, friend, the Bible does not teach that we are to look down on some other nationality, some other race, or people of some other religion. All are created in the image of God, all are made of one blood, and therefore we should look at all others as brothers.
He says, “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (verses 26, 27, literal translation). He challenged them to consider their purpose, to seek and find this Lord, the One who’s made heaven and earth, the One who gives to all life, and breath, and all things; He can’t be worshiped by something made by human hands, as though He needed anything, because He is the One that gives all, gives life, and breath, and everything they have.
“For in Him we live and move and have our being” (verse 28, first part).
Paul showed them that he was familiar with their religion and their heathen authors when he said to them, “As also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring’ ” (verse 28, last part). He says, “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising” (verse 29). He showed them that these idols they were worshiping were actually useless, because they were controlled by human power. They could only move as human beings moved them showing that those who worshiped them were in every way superior to what they worshiped. He appealed to them that they should not think that the divine nature is something like this. Man was created in the image of God and was blessed with intellectual power, a perfect and symmetrical body, so we should not think that God can be likened to something that man can make.
Finally, this very interesting excuse was given for their ignorance of the true God. “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (verse 30). O, friend, have you ever thought through that text? God has overlooked the time in your past life when, maybe, you didn’t know any better, but when you find out the truth, the Lord says that you need to repent; you need to change your mind. Also, we know from this verse that there is no human being that is infallible, because an infallible being does not need to repent, but it says, “God commands all men everywhere to repent.”
Repentance is one of the first steps toward being saved. It is one of the first steps in the plan of salvation. When John the Baptist came, he preached to the people that they should repent. When Jesus began to preach, He said to the people, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). When Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost he said, “Repent” (Acts 2:38).
When Peter preached to people who did not know the truth, he explained that there is a God in heaven who made everything and doesn’t need anything from us. We cannot do anything to add to His power or glory. He explained that in the time of their ignorance, God overlooked, but now He commands all men everywhere to repent.
Paul said, “God … now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained [Jesus Christ]. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30, 31).
God has appointed a day, a certain time in the future, when He is going to judge this whole world in righteousness.
O, friend, are you ready for the judgment? You will never be ready for the judgment unless you have repented of your sins. Have you surrendered your heart to the Lordship and sovereignty of Jesus Christ, or are you worshiping other gods? It may not be a god of gold or silver. It could be a philosophical god. Some people worship their own or other’s intellect, neglecting to worship the One who made it. There were few people who accepted the apostle Paul’s teaching and became Christians. The majority refused having too much confidence in their own philosophy.
The Bible says, “In the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).
O, friend, it is the same today as it has been in all ages. Those who think that they are very wise do not accept the wisdom that comes from God alone.
How is it with you? Are you wise in your own sight, or are you willing to accept the knowledge of God that He has revealed in His word? The choice is yours.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.