Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. ~ Acts 17:22-23
I have always enjoyed this passage, which describes Paul’s first visit to Athens. The Scripture describes Athens as a “city full of idols” and says that this greatly distressed Paul (verse 16). Athens was a city of philosophers, seeking the latest and greatest ideas. Seemingly leaving nothing to chance, they even erected an altar dedicated “to an unknown God” (verse 23). Paul declares that the god they worship as unknown is, indeed, knowable. Paul’s speech to the philosophers at the Areopagus is one of his most eloquent. He beautifully describes the nature of God and His desire for relationship with us. Falling largely on skeptical ears, we are told that “some” believed and became followers of Paul while others said they would like to hear more.
The Athens described in this passage reminds me in many ways of the United States today. We consider ourselves a “progressive” nation – a nation that accepts a diverse group of religious beliefs and cultures into its borders. Sadly, many in our nation also accept the notion of relative truth: what is true for me is only true for you if you accept it as true; in the same way your truth is completely true if you believe it to be so, even if it is not true for me. For many in the United States nothing is true of its own volition, including Scripture. I suspect that most of the philosophers whom Paul visited in Athens would have agreed with this philosophy of relative truth. This is very dangerous ground indeed, and it opens the door to sin, which in turn can destroy a society as it destroys us individually.
We Christians must read and study Scripture. We must seek God’s truth – which, by the way, is eternally true for both the believer and the unbeliever. We must lovingly convey God’s Truth to our neighbors and, just as Paul tailored his message to his audience at Athens, we must witness to the Truth in a manner that resonates with our audience while preserving the wholeness of God’s Truth – just as Paul did.
It sounds daunting, but we are in good company: When God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, one of Moses’ greatest concerns was that he would not have the words to convey to Pharaoh why he must let God’s people go. God said to Moses, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (Exodus 4:11-12). If we are doing God’s Will and if we are speaking God’s Truth – God’s Universal Truth – this promise extends to us as well.
Ponder this: Have I fallen into the trap of accepting relative truth? How would God have me address this in my world?
My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, there are so many falsehoods proclaimed as truth today. It’s easy to ignore those and go about my business, and for the times I’ve done that I ask Your forgiveness. Tune me into these falsehoods, Lord, and guide me in lovingly responding to them according to Your will. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
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