Ever wondered what it looks like to address intellectuals? I recommend that you go and read Paul’s speech on Mars’ Hill. In fact, if you can stand up on a podium and read it aloud, you will really find cause to marvel at the personality of the Apostle. In him, I learnt what it means to be a versatile man- being all things to all men.
Athens was a different city from all the other cities that Paul had visited. It was a city then that was at the forefront of intellectualism. It is to be remembered that Athens was home to three great philosophers in succession: Socrates, Aristotle and Plato. They had their peculiar problems, but poverty was not one of them. It was a city whose people were proud in whom they were. It could be possible that several men on missions had come to Athens and passed simply because they felt incapacitated to talk to these men who were content in their ways. But not Paul of Tarsus. Paul was thoroughly convinced that the Gospel was the need of all mankind; hence he was willing to go to all manners of men, and not just to some manner of men.
Once he had been granted audience to speak, we see how Paul guided his statements carefully; not starting and quoting the Bible recklessly, like some of us do when we go for evangelism, but starting from a point in which they shared things in common. How many of us have seen ourselves become bored of reading a book which was compassed about with too many scriptural quotations? How much more the fact that we expect unbelievers to read such? It is important we realize that in being successful in reaching out to others, we all must imbibe the principle of adaptability.
Most of the articles I write are directed at believers, which is why I write the way I do. However, if I want to reach out to unbelievers, I must adopt certain writing styles and adjust some of my writing principles. That was what Paul did. “Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. (Acts 17:22-23 KJV). What a powerful set-induction! He appealed to a previous knowledge of spirit beings which they had, and then began to introduce to them his new theory.
Now, this is the problem: since the Athenians have so many gods and idols, why introduce another god? What makes your own special and different from what others have? This is one challenge that men have faced over the years. Why do we think that Jesus Christ is the ONLY WAY to God? Is that not a prideful statement? We have Islam, we have Buddhism, and we have Judaism and even our own traditional religions (as Africans). Why introduce another one? Why do you insist that except a man comes through Jesus, such one cannot even access the kingdom of God? To this Paul presents his answers following this line of logic:
Firstly, the God who created the Heavens and the Earth will definitely be too big to be contained in a house built by mere mortals. Now, the intellectuals of Athens were not altogether atheists. They acknowledged that there was a God who made all things; and Paul now reminds them that such a Personality cannot be contained in mere houses (be it shrines or churches). He is bigger than what man can build.
Secondly, God is not hungry. He is not in need of anything from you. He suffers no personal loss if you refuse to serve Him. He does not need our money, our energy, or our wisdom. He was God before we came, and He will remain God after we exit this earth.
Thirdly, God in His sovereignty, assigned the times and boundaries of all men on the face of the earth, and no matter the place any man finds himself, if he sincerely seeks God, he will surely find God. God is not far from anyone: be it Muslims, Hindus, etc. Anyone who seeks Him will find Him. Life is full of testimonies of people from unlikely places who have been turning to Jesus Christ because of a sincere heart which sought God and found Him. That was why Paul quoted two of Athenian poets (Epimenides the Cretan [600 BC] (who Paul quotes again in Titus 1:12) and Aratus [310 BC]) when he said, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.” (Acts 17:28 KJV)
Fourthly, Paul issued a warning that a time of judgment is coming, when God will ask all men to give an account of how they lived their lives and how they used the resources He allocated to them. Many people have lost sense of this reality. No matter what you believe about God, no matter the philosophy that guides your life, one day you will stand before Him and give an account of how you lived your life; and the ‘person’ who will be at the center-place of judgment will be Jesus of Nazareth.
Finally, Paul presents to them the reason why he thinks it is Jesus who will judge the world on God’s behalf- which is the resurrection of Jesus. Nothing gave more traction to the claims of Jesus as God and as the only way to salvation like His resurrection. When on the third day Jesus rose again from the grave, it settled forever who exactly is God’s approved road to salvation.
Of course, like many do today, the Areopagus council listened to Paul until he talked about the resurrection, then several of them laughed away and dismissed it as the ranting of an unlearned man. However, there were some from that council who believed what Paul said, and followed him. We do not know what became of these Athenian believers, though some sources credit Dionysius as the first Bishop of Athens, and the Athenian Church were said to have provided a force for the earliest traces of Christian Apologetics; though paganism continued unabated in Athens even up to Emperor Constantine.
AND SO? “In the past God tolerated our ignorance of these things, but now the time of deception has passed away. He commands us all to repent and turn to God. For the appointed day has risen, in which he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man he has designated. And the proof given to the world that God has chosen this Man is this: he resurrected him from among the dead!” (Acts 17:30-31 TPT). Whether we find ourselves among the poorest of society or amongst the richest or the most intellectual of society, the truth remains that everyone needs the Lord Jesus, and He is the answer to the insanity of humanity. We must learn from Paul never to be scared to speak out for our faith, no matter the level of advancement of any man/society. Rather we must also pray and ask the Lord for wisdom so that we will be effective in carrying out this task of reaching the world for Christ.