And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now God commandeth all men everywhere to repent.
— Acts 17:30
“I’m an agnostic,” the man seated next to me on the plane answered proudly after I asked him about his religious affiliation. The two of us had been seated by each other for hours during that flight, talking openly about our political views, our different professions, and our educational backgrounds when suddenly the conversion shifted to the subject of religion.
This successful, wealthy man smugly told me about his impressive educational achievements, which were many. I listened carefully, and honestly, I was very impressed with his level of education. He then asked me about my own educational background and listened with great interest when he learned that I was an author and had knowledge of Classical and New Testament Greek. After hearing this, he wanted to talk in greater depth about history and the influence of Greek culture on today’s world.
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It was just before the plane landed that the conversation moved to the subject of religion. That is when I asked him about his faith, and he proudly answered, “I’m an agnostic.” I sat back, looked at him, and exclaimed, “Really, an agnostic!” He asked, “Why is it so amazing to you that I’m an agnostic?”
Since he opened the door, I decided to walk through it, and I answered him, “Do you know what it means to be an agnostic?”
“It means I’m not interested in religion!” he told me.
I responded, “I’m really shocked that a man as educated as you does not really know what it means to be an agnostic. You ought to know what you’re talking about if you’re going to use a term like that.”
He answered, “All right, tell me what you think it means to be an agnostic.”
Since the man was impressed with the fact that I knew Greek, I reached into my arsenal and pulled out a word that would help me reach this man’s heart. I said, “The word ‘agnostic’ is derived from a specific Greek word, and if you really knew what that Greek word meant, I don’t think you would want to use it to describe yourself.”
He pleaded, “Please tell me what the word ‘agnostic’ means!”
So I looked him in the eyes and said, “In Greek, the word gnosis is the word for knowledge. When you put an a on the front of it, it turns it into the word agnosis, from which we derive the word agnostic. That little a on the front of the word dramatically changes the meaning. It no longer means knowledge; rather, it means stupid, unintelligent, or unknowledgeable.” He looked at me in shock as I told him, “To be honest, every time you call yourself an agnostic, you’re actually claiming to be stupid.”
His mouth fell open and he said, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
I looked at him and said, “Nope, that’s exactly what you’re saying every time you claim to be an agnostic. You might as well just say, ‘I’m stupid’ because that’s what the word means.”
He said, “Well, I’m not stupid, and if that’s what the word ‘agnostic’ means, I’m not going to claim to be an agnostic again. I’m not stupid! In fact, after this conversation, I think I’m going to start studying so I can find out what I should believe about God. I refuse to be stupid about anything!”
Before we left the plane, I recommended reading material to help him start his spiritual search. The books I recommended would lead him directly to Jesus.
In Acts 17:30, the apostle Paul found himself with a group of intellectuals who wanted to hear about his faith. As he stood before them, Paul knew that God had opened a great door for him to share the truth with these learned men. Paul fearlessly told them, “And the times of ignorance God winked at; but now God commandeth all men everywhere to repent….”
When Paul began to speak to these Greek intellectuals about ignorance, it must have been quite a shock to them because these men were venerated scholars. Paul freely communicated in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, but because he was standing before the greatest living minds in Greece, he communicated with them in the Greek language. Just as I had delved into my verbal arsenal and extracted the word agnosis in order to reach the heart of this highly educated man sitting next me on the plane, Paul used the word agnosis to appeal to the minds of the Athenian judges and scholars who were seated before him.
Paul told them, “…The times of ignorance God winked at….” The word “ignorance” in this verse is the word agnosis, which, as we saw, is the same word from which we derive the word “agnostic.” Again, the root of this word is the Greek word gnosis, which simply means knowledge. But just as I related in the story about the man sitting next to me on the plane, the meaning of this word is reversed when an a is attached to the front of it. Therefore, agnosis doesn’t mean knowledge, but rather refers to a lack of knowledge, a lack of intelligence, ignorance, or even stupidity. Think about how bold it was for Paul to talk to these brilliant and educated scholars about ignorance and stupidity!
Paul went on to say that there was a time in the past when God “winked” at stupidity and ignorance, but now that day was over. The word “winked” is the Greek word hupereidon, which is a compound of the words huper and orao. The word huper means over, and the word orao means to see. When these two words are compounded, they form the word hupereidon, which means to overlook, to disregard, to discount, to ignore, or to take no notice of a thing. In fact, an accurate rendering of the word hupereidon could be to deliberately shut one’s eyes or turn one’s face to avoid seeing something. By using this word, Paul was plainly telling his listeners that the days of God closing His eyes and overlooking the ignorance of men is long past.
After Paul told his educated audience that God no longer ignored ignorance, he continued by courageously declaring, “…Now God commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” This word “command” would have been a difficult word for the Greek intellectuals to accept because they didn’t want anyone forcing a new religion upon them. It is the Greek word parangello, which means to instruct, to command, or to order. What was the order that God now gives to every man? As Paul unashamedly told those learned scholars, God commands all men — including them — to “repent.”
As we discussed in the last few days of Sparkling Gems, the Greek word for “repent” is metanoeo, which is a compound of the words meta and nous. The word meta means to turn, and the word nous refers to the mind. When these two words are compounded, the new word describes in its most basic sense a change of mind or a complete conversion. In the New Testament, metanoeo is used to denote a decision to completely change one’s thoughts, behavior, and actions.
Since metanoeo is a Greek word and Paul was addressing Greek intellectuals, the notion of a change of mind must have been very interesting to them. Paul was appealing to their intellect and reasoning with them to make a complete turnaround from the worship of idols to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He boldly told them this was God’s order and made no apology for the truth.
Acts 17:30 concludes by saying that repentance is God’s requirement for “all men everywhere.” This phrase is all-inclusive, which means there are no exceptions to God’s commandment. All men are commanded to repent! The word “everywhere” in this verse makes this point even stronger because it is the Greek word pantachou. This Greek word literally means every place and excludes no person, ethnic group, skin color, or nationality. The message of the Cross and God’s command to repent is for mankind in every part of the earth!
There was a time when God winked at people’s ignorance, but that time has long past. Jesus paid the ultimate penalty for our forgiveness with His own blood on the Cross, and on that day, the time of ignorance came to a grinding halt. Today God no longer winks at or overlooks stupidity. Instead He commands men everywhere to repent — regardless of their nationality, background, social status, educational degrees, or skin color. There is no option or way out from this command! This is God’s requirement for every person on planet earth if he intends to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
If you consider yourself a committed Christian, it is needful for you to recognize that you have a God-given responsibility to present the truth to people who are without Christ. Just as I shared the truth with the man on the plane, and Paul fearlessly presented the truth to the scholars in Athens, the Holy Spirit wants to use you to reach into your sphere of influence and bring the light of the Gospel to people who are still uninformed and sitting in darkness.
If you’ll let the Holy Spirit use you, He will speak through you to bring salvation to your family, friends, and acquaintances. It may be difficult to get started, but the Holy Spirit knows exactly how to appeal to every person’s heart. If you’ll listen to the Spirit and follow His directions, He will use you to put the key into every man’s heart to unlock it for Jesus Christ.
So ask the Lord today: Whom do You want me to reach in my sphere of influence with the good news of the Gospel?
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Lord, please help me remember that there are people in my sphere of influence who need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb. I ask You to help me love them enough to tell them the truth. I know that You have the key to every person’s heart, so please give me the key to unlock people’s hearts with Your words of truth so Jesus can come into their lives. I am so thankful that someone was loving and bold enough to tell me the truth so I could repent. Now it is my turn to do it for someone else. I ask You to help me get started reaching people today.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that the power of the Holy Spirit is working mightily in me and that I am a bold witness for Jesus Christ. I walk in His wisdom, and I am not afraid to open my mouth to proclaim the truth because it has the power to set men free from the darkness that binds their souls. When I speak the truth in love, people open their hearts and listen to me. Because they see Jesus in me, they readily want to know how to come to God and commit their lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- What person in your sphere of influence does the Holy Spirit want you to personally share the Gospel with in order to bring him or her to Jesus Christ?
- When you pray, how often do you pray for unsaved people? Do you feel a sense of urgency for people who are unsaved, or do you forget that they are in need of salvation?
- If you were an unsaved person, how would you want someone to approach you about Jesus Christ? Why don’t you take a few minutes to write down some ideas about effective ways to share the Gospel with someone who doesn’t know Jesus?