Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.

So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.

Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?”

Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.

And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “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.
(Acts 17:16-23)

Time To Start Asking Some Important Questions

Does it really matter what someone believes about God? That is an extremely important question, and the sound Biblical answer is: Yes, absolutely it does. Along this same line, another vital question that we should be asking today is: Why is so much of the church visible going to the warped wisdom of the world and letting unregenerate man dictate how it is to then live?

Sure the Willow Creeks and the Lakewoods and the Saddlebacks have many people in them. However, the truly discerning Christian should rather be concerned about whether or not these people have actually found the Christ of the Bible and have been born again amidst all the worldly practices of these sinner-friendly Seeker Driven attractional and postmodern Emerging/Emergent churches?

And so we must also ask: Why is it that the Christian is even attempting to walk in ways of harmony with this evil world system as does the sinfully ecumenical neo-liberal cult of the Emergent Church aka the Emerging Church? In fact, things are now so far gone in the EC that they’ve designed a quasi-universalism in their new version of Progressive Christian theology under the spiritual circus “big tent” of the Liberalism 2.0—often referred to by these rebels against sola Scriptura as Emergence Christianity.

So at this point we will do well to keep in mind that the Bible does emphatically state:

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:4-6)

Let’s turn to Acts 17 as we mull over the above questions, and focus specifically now on our main question in this article—Why Aren’t More Christians Provoked?  The events described here in our opening text from God’s Word above took place historically during Paul’s second missionary journey about 49 to 52 AD. At one time Greece was a mighty empire and Athens a great city known for its art, philosophy, and literature.

However, by the time of Paul’s arrival Athens had faded considerably; though it did still maintain a leading university, and was still well known for being the center of classic philosophical discussion. In fact the great Bible commentator Matthew Henry informs us:

A scholar that is in love with the learning of the ancients would think he should be very happy if he were where Paul now was, at Athens, but Paul though bred a scholar, does not make this any of his business at Athens. He has other work to mind: his business is, in God’s name, to turn them from the service of idols to the service of the true and living God in Christ.”[1]

The Reactions Of A Wise Man

Our Lord in His infinite wisdom sent a scholar of His own, the Apostle Paul, right into the very seat of contemporary scholarship in the ancient world, the city of Athens. A common misconception today is that in Paul’s time man was really not all that intellectual; but this was actually a time of great learning.

It is interesting note here that so-called “modern” man fancies himself as so much wiser than these poor ignorant people in the first century. I wonder then, why is it that our western world is still so heavily influenced by these ancient Greek philosophers like Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle? And why is it that our leading intellectuals still bow down to them in worship before their sacred cow of philosophy?

As all this relates to the text in Acts 17, here’s how the New American Standard reads in verse 16 — Now while Paul was waiting for [Silas and Timothy] at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. The NIV says that [Paul] was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.

The Greek word translated here as “greatly distressed” is paroxuno and carries with it the meaning of “provoked, pained, to stir to anger.” The theological term itself comes down to us from the Latin: really-ticked-off-i-cus. In other words, Paul was angry over the rampant idolatry and the prevailing philosophy of the day — “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die.”

Does that sound familiar? Well now, maybe you’ve heard it expressed this way: You only go around once in life—so go for the gusto! Or, how about: Just Do It; No Fear, Go For It. Or maybe you’re familiar with this one: Life Is Short-Play Hard, and other like phrases in so many of our contemporary ad campaigns from our would-be postmodern philosophers on Madison Avenue.

E.H. Trenchard informs us that the ancient city of Athens was “a city notorious for its liking for ‘intellectual chat’… The Epicureans formed a philosophical school which thought of pleasure as the greatest good,…”[2]; and then there’s this further bit of wisdom from Dr. Henry Morris, whose numerous writings about the creation/evolution debate earned him the title, “The Father of Modern Creationism.”

Dr. Morris insightfully points out that, “In Paul’s day, the dominant humanistic philosophies were Gnosticism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, and others—all based on evolution.”[3] Remember, as I said before, it’s a common misconception that modern man, and now postmodern man, thinks he is somehow superior to the allegedly ignorant people who lived in the first century.

So I find myself wondering if we really are so much more intelligent and sophisticated now, then how is it we are raising a whole generation of television junkies addicted to “Reality TV,” and our society has now become enslaved by the pursuit of the very same things that caused the great civilization of Greece itself to implode?

Do you seriously think that the inevitable “success” of the powerful homosexual lobby is not going to bring devastating consequences upon our countries; and even more so our churches? The truly wise person would be prudent to give this subject some very serious prayerful consideration; starting right now,

As the words of this classic adage have never rung truer than for this sorry generation: Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. One final key comment on Acts 17:16 by Matthew Henry — “[Paul] was filled with concern for the glory of God, which he saw given to idols, and with compassion to the souls of men, which he saw thus enslaved to Satan.”[4]

Thus, a few pertinent questions spring to mind: Why don’t we seem to be as concerned for the glory of God today? Where is our compassion for the lost? And why is it that now we can see so many so obviously following the “idols” of the theory of evolution and sexual immorality, and yet we ourselves appear not to be greatly distressed or even feeling our spirits being provoked within?

End notes:

[1]  Dr. Leslie Church, Ed., Matthew Henry’s Commentary [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999], 1705, emphasis his.

[2]  F.F. Bruce, Ed., New International Bible Commentary [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999], 1298.

[3] Henry M. Morris, The Biblical Basis for Modern Science [Green Forest: Master Books, 2002], 114, emphasis mine.

[4] Henry, op. cit., 1705.

See also: