Provoked to Proclaim


Saint Paul delivering the Areopagus Sermon in Athens, by Raphael, 1515. Image credit

If anyone deserved a break, it was the apostle Paul. He just escaped under the guise of darkness from an angry mob in Thessalonica. Then, he had to be escorted out of Berea to Athens to avoid an agitated crowd. (Read Acts 17:1-15.) He could use a vacation. Now, Athens had a reputation for being a city full of beautiful buildings and artworks. But Paul’s sightseeing stirred up something other than awe for Athens.

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Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 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. (vv. 16-17, ESV. Emphasis added.)
He got provoked with what he saw so he reasoned with them. It did not say he was inspired. He was provoked. According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,  “his spirit was provoked or incensed in him.” It means he got so irritated and angry with what he saw. Our reference added, “The expression seeks to emphasise [sic] the honest anger of the apostle, and can hardly suggest that he was stirred or stimulated to preach or to win converts.”
Beautiful as were the architecture and art forms, Paul could not enjoy them because he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. The art of Athens was a reflection of its worship. The intellectual capital of the world was producing idolatry. [1]
In the same sense, the ideas of this world are producing mental idols. They may not be wood, metal, or stone idols. But they are idols nonetheless. And God hates idolatry.

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Paul’s provocation led to his proclamation. He could not remain silent. He had to speak up. As a Jew, he made the most of the opportunity to speak up, which was a privilege given to those who attended in the synagogue. He also spoke in the marketplace or the agora, “the center of civic life… where philosophers debated and presented their views”. [2] It was like an open mic session in a bar where people who wanted to sing can just walk up to the stage. Paul took every open door to share the faith. In 2 Corinthians 5, he explained his motivation.
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. … For the love of Christ controls us,… Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (vv. 11a, 14a, 20)
Are we provoked to proclaim with what we see going on around us or are we apathetic towards them? Are we making the most of the opportunities we have like the social media to persuade people or are we missing out?

Are we provoked to proclaim with what we see going on around us or are we apathetic towards them? Image credit

“Engage” Step

Allow me to borrow from the LifeGroup discussion guide of Grace Christian Church of the Philippines: “As a follower of Jesus Christ, your response to ungodly culture should be disturbance. What are some commonly accepted practices today that should be a cause of distress to God’s people? How can you emulate Paul in engaging the culture? Discuss why you should not let the world dictate the culture you live. Talk about practical examples on how you can combat the biblically wrong, worldly cultures you live in today.” (Used with permission from their senior pastor, Rev. Stephen Tan.)

[1] Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament, Eds. John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983, 1985), 402. Emphasis added.

[2] Ibid.

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