So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: "Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: 'To an Unknown God.' This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I'm telling you about." Acts 17:22-23
As believers, it can be really easy to get so wrapped up in our own lives that we isolate ourselves from our culture around us. If we are not careful, we may find that we rarely step out and engage with culture because we have created our own bubbles filled with our Christian friends and activities. The glaring problem with this tendency is that if we do not step out and interact with culture, it will be very difficult to engage with our friends who do not know Christ. We will have a difficult time speaking in a way that will make sense to them. As we study Acts 17 today, we will learn from Paul's example that understanding our culture will help us better engage with our lost friends as we seek to tell them about Christ.
Paul was in the city of Athens when he noticed something that disturbed him. As he looked around the city, he saw idols (carved images that people worshiped as gods) and altars dedicated to those false gods throughout the city. He started interacting with philosophers and others who believed different things than he did. As Paul talked about Jesus and the resurrection with them, people were intrigued because they had never heard anyone say the things he had been teaching them. When he talked to them, he spoke to them in a way in which they could relate. He noticed earlier that one of their altars said, "to an unknown God." You see, they worshiped so many gods that they were afraid they would miss one if they did not create an idol dedicated to an unknown God. As Paul spoke to these men, he said, "I see you are religious. In fact, I noticed that one of your altars was dedicated to 'an unknown God.' Let me tell you about that God today." He then proceeded to tell them about our God, the true God. He even quoted poets they were familiar with as he shared his faith in God (verse 28). Paul's message of his faith that day was truly masterful. He was able to present the good news of Christ by speaking in a way that the people of Athens would understand and respond well to. Some of those people even came to believe in Christ (verse 34).
When you consider your life, are you finding yourself engaging with culture in the way that Paul did or are you finding yourself isolated from it? If you are at the point where you feel pretty isolated from culture, take one step this week to begin interacting with culture. Spend time watching or reading the news to get an idea of what is happening around you. Find a place to volunteer where you will interact with non-believers. Start having conversations with people who believe differently than you. Listen respectfully to them and respond respectfully when you present your beliefs.
Take some time right now to think about your culture. Write a paragraph describing it. What are people worried about in today's culture? What struggles are they facing? What false gods are they worshiping? After you have written this paragraph, write another paragraph describing how this knowledge of your culture around you can help you minister to those who are lost.
Read Acts 17:16-34 (NLT)
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.
He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, “What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?” Others said, “He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.”
Then they took him to the high council of the city. “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said. “You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.” (It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.)
So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.
“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.
“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone.
“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”
When they heard Paul speak about the resurrection of the dead, some laughed in contempt, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.” That ended Paul’s discussion with them, but some joined him and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the council, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.