The apostle Paul shared his transforming testimony wherever God directed him. One of his most memorable oratory moments happens in the intellectual capital of Athens. After preaching in the synagogue and marketplace, Paul is brought to the Areopagus, which is like their supreme court. (Fun fact: Socrates was condemned and arraigned there.) But Paul isn’t on trial. A mix of Epicurean (atheist) and Stoic (pantheist) philosophers ask for an explanation of his teaching. Well, first they call him a “pretentious babbler” (Acts 17:18), the Greek meaning of which gives the image of a bird pecking seeds. They are basically implying that Paul isn’t a true philosopher but just piecing together ideas, trying to pass them off as profound.
Despite two directly opposed groups coming together against him, Paul embodies confidence in his assignment. Based on his past experiences (surviving shipwrecks, stoning, and imprisonment), Paul models for us the type of assurance we can carry into our various platforms.
Having toured the city, Paul notes how its residents are dripping in idol worship. Consumed with seeking favor of the gods, they even cover their bases with an altar labeled “To an unknown god” (v. 23). After acknowledging their religious dedication, Paul makes the “unknown” God known to them.
The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. (vv. 24-25)
Not only does this statement contradict the Epicureans, who believed matter was eternal and had no creation, it also contradicted the Stoics, who believed God was part of everything and therefore couldn’t have created Himself. Paul also rightsizes the Athenians with the truth of who God is: He is served by none. He cannot be contained. He gave life to the philosophers who were trying to make sense of the world He made.
Our God-Given Place
Beyond their excessive idol worship, the Athenians viewed themselves as superior to other communities. So Paul reminds them of their God-given place. “From one ancestor he made all peoples to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live” (v. 26). No person is better than another because we all came from one ancestor. No place is better than another because this God sovereignly ordained people on His timeline in their specific spaces.
Paul tells them why God would do this: “so that they would search for God and perhaps fumble about for him and find him — though indeed he is not far from each one of us” (v. 27). In looking for our purpose, we will search for and find God. This God can be known personally.
Then Paul quotes a sixth century BC philosopher-poet: “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’ ” (v. 28). Not only is God omnipresent (everywhere) and imminent (near to creation), but our belief in Jesus’s death and resurrection gives us positional security — in Christ. While the pagan poet is referring to another god, Paul is claiming this phrase for our God.
I want to remind you of the same truth. When you feel insecure in occupying your next assignment, remember, in Christ you live and move and have your being. He gives you eternal life (soul security). He directs your path (a God-listening heart). He knit you together uniquely, for this present moment, empowered by His Spirit (your God-given space).