HISTORY: The Missionary - Reflections
February 22, 2018 | Timothy Peace
One of my favorite stories about the apostle Paul comes in Acts 17:16-32. In this story, Paul is taken to Athens, and he is given the opportunity to speak to the Athenian people, a people, according to Luke’s parenthetical remark in verse twenty-one, who have never heard a new idea they didn’t like.
The reason this story is compelling is that it illustrates the reality we looked into this past Sunday when discussing Paul’s conversion. Paul was an incredibly learned Pharisee, pre- and post-conversion, and his cultural awareness is on display in this story. Additionally, Paul’s zeal for His faith commitments always leads him to do bold things (again, this is true pre- and post-conversion).
Read what he says to the Athenian’s:
Paul stood up in the middle of the council on Mars Hill and said, “People of Athens, I see that you are very religious in every way. As I was walking through town and carefully observing your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown God.’ What you worship as unknown, I now proclaim to you. God, who made the world and everything in it, is Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t live in temples made with human hands. Nor is God served by human hands, as though he needed something, since he is the one who gives life, breath, and everything else. From one person God created every human nation to live on the whole earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands. God made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him. In fact, God isn’t far away from any of us. In God we live, move, and exist. As some of your own poets said, ‘We are his offspring.’“Therefore, as God’s offspring, we have no need to imagine that the divine being is like a gold, silver, or stone image made by human skill and thought. God overlooks ignorance of these things in times past, but now directs everyone everywhere to change their hearts and lives. This is because God has set a day when he intends to judge the world justly by a man he has appointed. God has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” ACTS 17:22-31 CEB
The story of his speech to the Athenian’s concludes with this remark:
When they heard about the resurrection from the dead, some began to ridicule Paul. However, others said, “We’ll hear from you about this again.” ACTS 17:32
The call to live the abundant life offered by Jesus is not about shedding our God-designed characteristics, nor is it to become something we are not. Instead, such life redeems, redirects, and reorients us to be the Christ-like, on-mission version of ourselves, as God intended.
This story of Paul makes this idea very clear because Paul speaks to the Athenians in their cultural dialect. He has an awareness of their customs, and, yet, he does not tell them to become non-Athenians (though the Judaizers of Paul’s time would continue to stir up trouble for him because he didn’t ask them to adhere to Jewish laws and customs). Instead, Paul merely introduces them to Jesus...
... just as he was introduced to Jesus.
In Paul's preaching to the Athenian's, we see the truth from our big idea on Sunday, that victory through Jesus is indeed the beginning of our life-adventure, not the end of it. Paul didn't become a different person; instead, he became redeemed, and repurposed, a man of zeal, always ready and willing to share the good news about Jesus.