Acts 17:16-21: In the market place.
“16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the market-place day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, ‘What is this babbler trying to say?’ Others remarked, ‘He seems to be advocating foreign gods.’ They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.’ 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)”NIV UK
‘300-500 years before Christ’s time, Athens was the greatest and most important city in the entire Western world. It was also the capital of the Greek Empire. The Western world’s most famous philosophers lived in Athens. The idea of democracy was first conceived in Athens; thus Athens is still called the birthplace of democracy. Then in 146 B.C., the Romans conquered Athens and extended their authority over all of Greece. But they let Athens remain a free city. Indeed, the Romans admired Greek culture; thus in Paul’s time, Athens still remained one of the cultural and intellectual centres of the Roman Empire. In particular, many famous teachers and philosophers still came to Athens to teach and to debate (verse 21). The Greeks worshiped many kinds of gods. In Athens there were temples and images of these gods everywhere. Paul was distressed to see this great city full of idols. The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 10:20).’ Tom Hale: ‘The Applied New Testament Commentary’, p.486.
How’s your heart? Do you care? Do you feel things as deeply as you should? Are you profoundly moved by things that matter, or have you become de-sensitised in some ways? Has your heart grown hard; or cold? Have you got used to sin? I can’t read (16) without feeling its challenge. Paul was moved, at a deep down level, by the paganism he saw in this great city. He didn’t view it through the eyes of tourism.
I am also struck by Paul’s refusal to waste time as he waited for Silas and Timothy (17). ‘One purpose consumed the apostle. ‘’One thing I do,’’ was the thread on which the many beads of his experiences were strung. Persecuted and rejected today, he is at his favourite work tomorrow. How different this intense earnestness from the trifling of the so-called philosophers of Athens!’ F.B. Meyer, ‘Devotional Commentary’, p.494.
He was distressed, but he didn’t despair. He found himself in another part of the mission field, and he sought to engage with the people there. Paul didn’t speak only in Jewish synagogues; in accordance with Greek custom, he also operated in the ‘’market-place’’.
The ‘’market-place’’ is where we belong as Christians; not sheltering (cowering?) behind the walls of some church building. It will often feel alien and comfortable there; we will regularly feel vulnerable and out of our comfort zone. Yet let’s do it! Let’s get out into the market place and engage with the people who have all kinds of philosophies, and idols, and strange beliefs. Our message of the gospel has no equal, and it carries its own irresistible power. Don’t be ashamed. You may be mocked by many, scoffed at and rejected. Nevertheless if there is an opportunity to get a hearing, let’s take it.