Athens

Are We Brokenhearted Over Our Societies’ Idolatry?

Are we brokenhearted over our societies’ idolatry? The Apostle Paul was. 

Paul was in Athens and he saw that it was full of idols (Acts 17:16). When he saw that there were idols everywhere, he was cut to the heart. Paul was visibly grieved. He was greatly troubled.

In Paul’s day, Athens was home to a stadium and a large concert hall. Athens’s most prominent feature, however, was its numerous pagan temples.

One author around the time of Paul said that it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens. There was a great temple to Athena (the Parthenon), a temple dedicated to multiple deities, and the temple to the goddess Roma. There were other pagan sacred sites that have been found as well.

Then, as now, there is a lot of idolatry. There is a lot of suppressing the truth about God for a lie. There is a lot of worshiping what is created rather than the Creator who alone is worthy of worship (Rom. 1:25).

So, how did Paul respond and how do we respond when we see rampant idolatry?

Paul was not consumed with anger or with amazement as to how stupid people are for their idolatry. No. His heart was broken for them. He had compassion for them.

And his compassion pushed him to winsome conversation…

“So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:17).

Paul apparently shared in a winsome way. People were interested in hearing from him. We see this because they took him to the Areopagus and said, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?” (Acts 17:19).

Paul had a heart for the lost and won a hearing with the lost.

It says that Paul walked around and looked carefully at their objects of worship. And something he saw gave him an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus. He saw “an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’” So, Paul was able to say: “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23).

In sharing Paul even quotes from two of the “rappers” of the day. They actually were long since dead but his audience would have been familiar with them.[1] Paul took the time to meet people where they were.

Paul had a heart for the lost. He wept over their idolatry. And he also studied how to effectively speak into their lives. He “looked carefully at their objects of worship” and could even quote their authors.

Yet, he did so not just to be on the in with them, but to point something out. He wanted to see what they see so he could show them how to see.

We too deal with idolatry today. It’s perhaps all the more insidious because it’s less apparent. We have no temple to Aphrodite;[2] but we carry the equivalent in our pocket on our phone. Idolatry is alive and well. We just don’t see it well.

Do we have broken hearts over societies’ idolatry? And are we willing to wisely, winsomely, and lovingly wade into the fray? Are we willing to reason in the religious meeting places as well as the marketplace? Are we willing to be “in the know,” so we can help people to know?

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[1] Epimenides of Crete (c. 600 B.C.) and the Stoic poet Aratus (c. 315–240 B.C.).

[2] Aphrodite was known as the Ancient Greek goddess of beauty, desire, and all aspects of sexuality. Aphrodite was known to be able to entice both gods and men into illicit affairs because she was so attractive. Aphrodite was honored as a protector of prostitutes. 

*Photo by Douglas O 

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