“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
Yesterday, we considered the importance of being in the ‘’market-place’’, as threatening as it can feel at times. It can be an intimidating place; but it’s also exciting and stretching. It’s where the action is.
Contact in the market-place (17b). There can be no communication without contact. Paul went to where the people were. His own ‘type’ were in the synagogues, although, truth to tell, many of them gave him a hard time. But he didn’t stay within the relative comfort zone of his own sort. He rubbed shoulders with people who were unlike himself. This is the Christ-like way. Jesus left the ultimate comfort zone of heaven. There has never been a comfort zone like it. He came down to the ‘market-place’ of this world.He became one of us to communicate most meaningfully with us; to show us what God is like in terms we understand. He became a human-being and speaks our language – the language of flesh and blood.
Communication in the market-place (17a). Someone said to a well-known preacher, ‘Thank you for your sermon, it moved me.’ He asked pointedly, ‘Where to?!’ Paul’s inner distress (16) moved him to where he could encounter people of other beliefs and strange ideas. He opened his mouth and he ‘broke the sound barrier’. He spoke ‘’about Jesus and the resurrection’’ (18b). In fact, I once read that the people thought that Paul was referring to two gods – possibly Jesus and His wife! Yet it is obvious that Paul was not ashamed to speak about Jesus and that he emphasised His resurrection. We must not be surprised if we are misunderstood when we attempt to share the faith that is so dear and meaningful to us.
Controversy in the market-place (18). The ‘’Epicurean’’ philosophers, were followers of ‘Epicurus’, who was born about three hundred years before Christ. He said, ‘Enjoy yourself. Meaning in life is to be found in pleasure.’ The ‘Stoics’ said the opposite. Their message was, ‘Discipline yourself.Be strong and endure pain and hardship.’ So the market-place was filled with controversy and confusion and conflict. Some called Paul a ‘’babbler’’, meaning, in the Greek language, someone who goes around like a bird, picking up scraps of knowledge. They probably recognised echoes of bits and pieces of their own systems in what he said. After all, truth is true wherever you find it. ‘All truth is God’s truth.’ However, to advocate ‘’foreign gods’’ was a serious crime. Socrates had been accused of the same, in Athens, some 450 years earlier, and it had led to his death.
So, Paul had the courage to engage with the diverse crowd in the market-place, and it led to a further significant opportunity (19,20). The ‘’Areopagus’’ is actually the name of a large hill in the middle of Athens. The council of rulers and elders used to meet on top of that hill. Later the council itself became known as the ‘’Areopagus.’’ They had great authority over all that went on in the city. In Paul’s day, they used to question all new teachers who came to the city.
Regarding (21), Warren Wiersbe writes: ‘How like our world today! The quest for novelty overshadows the search for reality.’ In fact, it is said that one of the main reasons the Romans were able to conquer the Greeks was because the Greeks spent more time talking than they did fighting. Come to think of it, that rather reminds me of many parts of the church!