The Apostle Paul, several times in the New Testament, reminds believers and unbelievers of the glory of knowing God the creator. This certainly was the situation when Paul was at Mars Hill in Athens, Greece as recorded in Acts 17:16-34. Let’s begin to study this narrative by beginning with Acts 17:16-18a.
“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.” (Acts 17:16-18a).
First of all, we see here the reality of human religion. Paul arrived in Athens, Greece following the persecution he encountered, along with Timothy and Silas, at Thessalonica and Berea by the Jews because of the gospel (Acts 17:1-15). As he waited for Timothy and Silas to join him, he began observing the idolatry which filled the city. The test says that “he saw that the city was full of idols.” There were statues of Greek gods and goddesses in the Parthenon, in the temples as well as in the public and commercial centers.
Included in this idolatrous atmosphere were the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers. Dr. R.C. Sproul explains, “Epicurus (342-270 B.C.) taught that the purpose of life was pleasure and freedom from pain, passions and fears. On the other hand, the Cypriot Zeno (340-265 B.C.), sounder of Stoicism, stressed living in harmony with nature and depending on reason and other self-sufficient powers. Both schools stressed the quest for peace of mind. Zeno viewed God pantheistically as the world soul.”
When Paul witnessed this unbridled idolatry, whether religiously or philosophically, it upset him thoroughly. He became severely and emotionally concerned about the condition of the Athenians souls.
The text brings to our attention an obvious truth: man is incurably religious. The Westminster Larger Catechism asks the question, “How does it appear that there is a God? The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God;” Fallen, sinful man may endeavor to deny the existence of God but even as he does, he finds incalculable and countless ways of being religious. The problem in the world is not the absence of religion, but rather the absence of religious truth, which is contained most specifically in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
John Calvin writes, “Since the perfection of blessedness consists in the knowledge of God, he has been pleased, in order that none might be excluded from the means of obtaining felicity (happiness), not only to deposit in our minds that seed of religion of which we have already spoken, but so to manifest his perfections in the whole structure of the universe, and daily place himself in our view, that we cannot open our eyes without being compelled to behold him. His essence, indeed, is incomprehensible, utterly transcending all human thought; but on each of his works his glory is engraven in characters so bright, so distinct, and so illustrious, that none, however dull and illiterate, can plead ignorance as their excuse.”
The Apostle Paul addresses this in Romans 1:18-23 when he writes, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”
The failure of fallen, sinful man in knowing God as creator is not because God has provided no revelation regarding His existence. Rather, God has revealed Himself in creation and in His Word, the Bible. Fallen man, however, has chosen to reject this revelation from God of His person and work and has substituted worship for God for a worship of idols. See Isaiah 46.
Man is a worshipful being. The question is not whether man will worship, but rather who or what is man worshipping? For those who truly know God, nothing else and no one else is to be worshiped as equal to, or in place of, the One, True God.
Take time today to evaluate those things, and people, in your life who you may be prone to honor and worship instead of God. I had some friends who so worshiped their child and were subsequently devastated when their child was killed in an automobile accident. They never fully recovered from their loss. I’m not saying we should not love our kids, but they can never be a replacement for our worship of the One, True God of heaven and earth.
Some people worship what they possess or own. It may be a car, truck, house or boat. It may even their job. To worship anything, or anyone, in place of, or equal to, God is idolatry.
Confess and repent of those things or people in your life who you tend to worship rather than God.
Soli deo Gloria!