By Gregg Bing
The God who created the world and everything in it, the God who reigns in sovereignty over the world He created, the God who gave His only begotten Son that we might have eternal life, the only true God, is, sadly, an unknown God to most people. Many people’s lives are centered around themselves; they have no thought for God whatsoever. Of those who seek to worship God, the majority do not really know God. Why is this the case?
How can a person truly know God? The Lord Jesus provided the answer to this question in John 8, when He told the Pharisees: “I am one who testifies for Myself; My other witness is the Father, who sent Me.” When these Jewish leaders asked Him, “Where is Your father?” Jesus answered, “You do not know Me or My Father. If you knew Me, you would know My Father also.” The Jews claimed to worship Jehovah, who certainly is the true God, but Jesus declared that they did not know God the Father since they did not know Jesus as Lord and Christ. Moslems worship one god, whom they call Allah, but their god cannot be the true God, since they, too, deny the deity of Jesus Christ. Even many who call themselves “Christians,” though they belong to some church, go through religious rituals, and partake of ordinances, do not know God either, for they have never truly trusted in the One whom God sent to be their Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
What a tremendous need there is for genuine believers to share the truth of this unknown God with a world that “lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19); a world whose minds have been blinded to the truth (2 Cor. 4:4). How do we effectively share the truth of God with those who do not know Him? Paul’s ministry to the people of Athens provides an excellent example of how to confront unbelievers with the unknown God.
Paul’s ministry in Achaia (modern day Greece) began in Thessalonica. Paul ministered there three Sabbaths, but the unbelieving Jews forced him out of the city (Acts 17:1-10). Paul and his companions moved on to Berea, where the Word was received very well by the noble Bereans. However, the same Jews who had run Paul out of Thessalonica, followed him to Berea and stirred up the crowds against him (Acts 17:11-14). From Berea, Paul was to travel on to Athens, but Silas and Timothy remained behind, no doubt to help establish and encourage the believers in these two cities (Acts 17:15).
From a human standpoint, Paul might have been somewhat discouraged at this stage of his ministry. The type of troubles and persecution he had endured would lead many believers to despair, to lose heart, to give up the work of the Lord, but not the Apostle Paul. Paul traveled from Berea to Athens, the center of Greek (heathen) wisdom, philosophy, ideology, and worship—a city “completely given over to idols” (Acts 17:16). How would Paul respond? Any feelings of discouragement he might have felt were immediately dispelled as “his spirit was provoked within him” (Acts 17:16). The word “provoked” means to be stimulated or sharpened, to have the feelings aroused. Paul’s feelings for the lost of this city were aroused, as well as his feeling of love for the Lord, a love that compelled him to service (2 Cor. 5:14).
Paul continued his ministry of the Word, just as in every other city he visited. First, he went to the Jewish synagogues and reasoned with both Jews and proselytes from the Old Testament Scriptures (Acts 17:17 with 17:2). However, Paul also went to the marketplace daily and reasoned with “those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:17). While it is not likely that Paul persuaded very many, he still was there daily to share the truths of God with those in darkness.
While there in the marketplace, Paul was confronted by two different groups of Greek philosophers: the Epicureans, who had abandoned hope and sought pleasure by experience, and the Stoics, who held to their own self-sufficiency and practiced stern self-repression. Some of these philosophers publicly ridiculed Paul, calling him a “babbler” or literally “a seed picker,” one whose ideas were picked up in bits and scraps from others, in other words a plagiarist. Others were puzzled by the things Paul preached, and they conjectured, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods.” They did not understand Paul’s preaching about Jesus and the resurrection. As a result, they brought Paul to the Areopagus (Mars Hill), the highest court of the Greeks, to hear what this strange, new doctrine was that he proclaimed.
Here was an open door, an opportunity for Paul to minister the Word of God to these people. While they might have been given over to idols, the Athenians and the other foreigners dwelling in Athens “spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21). They were willing to listen to what Paul had to say. The question was, How could Paul most effectively reach these people with the gospel of Jesus Christ? We are taught in Colossians 4:5-6 to:
“Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” (Col. 4:5-6)
As Paul stood to speak, no doubt he prayed for such wisdom from God to know how to answer these who were outside of Christ.
Next month we will look at how Paul was used of God to declare to them “The Unknown God.”
(Continued Next Month)