“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:16,17).
- Moses was “outraged” when he came off the mountain and saw the people worshiping a golden idol. (Exodus 32)
- Samuel was “outraged” by Saul’s disobedience. (1 Samuel 15)
- Various Bible prophets were “outraged” at the idolatry they dealt with.
- Jesus was “outraged” at the carnal activities of the temple money changers. (John 2:14-16) Some may take offense at “outrage” used here but indeed He was.
But what struck Paul, recorded by the historian Luke, was his being “greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols“. Other versions state, “his spirit was being provoked within him” (NASB), “his spirit was greatly angered” (Amplified), “his spirit was greatly upset” (NET), “he was deeply troubled” (TLB). When we walk in the light we should be distressed by darkness. The verses that follow reveal that this distress did not lead Paul to despair but to a bold proclamation of the truth that brings light.
Paul saw the city from a spiritual perspective. Being grounded in his knowledge of the Law of God he was “greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (v.16). I understand these idols are now among the tourist attractions of Athens but to Paul they were a stark reminder of man’s ignorance and disobedience to God. Rather than being impressed Paul was distressed. As we walk with a spiritual perspective this should be our reaction as well, even to the many wonders of our modern day “Athens”. Like Athens of old many feel so superior in their wisdom and intellectual giftings but we must remember Paul’s solemn word to the Romans, “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (Romans 1:22,23).
Paul did not remain silent or intimidated, but “reasoned”, first with the religiously inclined “in the Synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks”, and then to everyone “in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there”. The word translated to “reason” is “dialegomai” from which we get “dialogue” in English. It means “to say thoroughly, i.e. discuss.”
We need to realize that in God’s providence He has placed each of us where we are and His will is that we walk and speak out as His witnesses. Today look for appropriate times to speak out and express your faith. Many will ignore or mock you. Paul experienced that, “some began to sneer” (v.32a). Others will say, “we want to hear you again on this subject” as they did in Athens (v.32b). And some will believe (v.34).
Today we encourage you to check your distress level concerning the darkness that surrounds you. Like Paul, let us boldly speak out while God’s light shines brightly through us! It isn’t enough to speak the truth, for we must also live in the truth of God’s Word.
Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber
Daily prayer: Father, there are numerous subject matters that are troubling to the believer and can even cause distress and outrage as darkness continues to spread throughout our land. What a blessing to know that the darkness of sin cannot overcome the light of Truth revealed through Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But we, as believers, must be very careful that our distress and even outrage at times leads us to a faithful witness even as Paul demonstrated in Athens. Help us not to distort, dilute, or digress from Your Biblical instruction. We ask that those walking in darkness will see the light of Christ shining through us. It is in Jesus’ name that we pray. Amen.