Therefore disputed he in the synagogues with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. And certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? Others said, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus….
— Acts 17:17-19
Our son Philip is a very talented singer and songwriter, who loves to glorify the Lord with his music. Because of these God-given gifts, he was once invited to take part in one of Russia’s most famous talent shows. As parents, Denise and I were thrilled that such an opportunity had been given to Philip, and we knew that this had to be a door opened to him by the Lord. What especially elated us was that he would be singing the song he had written entitled “Two Thousand Years Ago, There Was a Man From Galilee”! It is a powerful song that declares the life of Jesus Christ in a contemporary format.
On the night of the event, Denise and I arrived at the auditorium and walked into the building where the competition was to be held. We were immediately shocked at what we saw! The word “dark” doesn’t even begin to describe what we saw and felt. It felt as if we had stepped into a cesspool of depravity! Through the years, we’ve been in a lot of difficult spiritual environments, but this one won the prize! We were literally taken back by the darkness that abounded all around us.
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Walking up the stairs to the hallway that led to the auditorium, we could see dimly lit lights barely piercing through the cigarette smoke that filled the air. The smoke was so thick that we had to wave it out of our faces so we could see where we were going. Once we were seated, through the smoke, we could see prostitutes walking among the tables where the audience had been seated for the show. The prostitutes flaunted themselves to advertise their wares and to alert potential customers that they were available for business after the show. Then I looked over at the bar where drinks were being served. All the bartenders — young, handsome, muscular Russian men — had on very little clothing as they stood behind the bar so they could show off their toned bodies!
As I looked around the room that night, I told my wife, “This is a pretty grim place to be singing a song about the Gospel. I can’t imagine the spiritual opposition our son must feel here. Do you think there is any chance he can win a competition in a place like this?”
Just before Philip went to the stage to perform, he came to our table and sat next to us. Denise and I encouraged our son to sing boldly and without compromise. Soon his name was announced, and we watched as he walked confidently onto that stage. In that very dark, wicked atmosphere, Philip picked up his trumpet and microphone, and with his band playing behind him, he belted out his song, “Two Thousand Years Ago, There Was a Man From Galilee”!
Denise and I were stunned by Philip’s boldness — and astonished at the response of the crowd. The people applauded and applauded and applauded. In fact, Philip was given a longer ovation than anyone else who performed that night! Our son’s boldness, courage, confidence, and refusal to be ashamed of what he believed literally knocked his listeners off their feet! To our surprise, Philip walked out of that building that night as the WINNER of that national event! And as a result of what happened in that very spiritually dark, sinister place, phenomenal doors of opportunity have opened up to him. The acclaim he obtained that night opened the door for him to preach and sing in places he would have never before dreamed possible!
This kind of response is exactly what the apostle Paul experienced when he was preaching in the market in the city of Athens. Acts 17:17 tell us, “Therefore disputed he in the synagogues with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.”
This verse says that Paul disputed in the synagogue and in the “market” daily. We already know what a synagogue is, so I want to focus on that word “market.” This word is a translation of the Greek word agora, which is the old Greek word describing the place of commerce, trade, slave-trading, and debate. The market was a place of commerce, but like all of Athens, it was also a spiritually dark, oppressive place. It was filled with and surrounded by:
- Explicit statues depicting the Greek gods.
- The constant, nonstop, mindless banging of drums coming from the temples of various gods that surrounded the market.
- People headed to the public baths for an afternoon of relaxation and accepted forms of sexual perversion.
- Prostitutes who gathered here to offer their services to the people coming to the public baths.
- Philosophers and debaters who gathered at one central location in the market to listen and argue about their beliefs and points of view.
- Slave traders selling and buying slaves right next to those who traded and sold liv
- People shopping for their food on their way to or coming back from one of the temples in the neighborhood.
This was the “market” where Paul preached in Athens! Certainly this wasn’t the perfect atmo- sphere for preaching. But when a minister is pioneering a work or working in a territory where no one has gone before him, he sometimes has to take advantage of whatever opportunity is available to him. As Paul surveyed the city, it must have become apparent to him that the market was the best place for him to reach the people of the city — so he made the most of the opportunity!
As I travel the world, I often hear people speak about how “hard” their city is to reach with the Gospel. They tell me with great confidence that their city is among the most unchurched, unreligious, occultic cities in the world. But I can assure you with even greater confidence that very few ministers, if any, are preaching in cities “harder” than Athens! There was no church in Athens, so Paul took advantage of the only place available to preach — the Athenian “market.” It was undoubtedly noisy and filled with a wide assortment of traffic and distractions. The market was a very difficult place for Paul to preach, yet he hung in there and preached “daily.” Finally his message became so well known that he was eventually invited to address the most elite group of the city on Mars Hill.
One section of the Athenian market was reserved for philosophers and debaters, who came to draw a crowd and share their ideas. Because Athenians loved wisdom and the attainment of knowledge, people would always gather in this area to listen to the new ideas that were being publicly presented. Then one day when a crowd assembled together to listen as they always did, a newcomer — the apostle Paul — ascended the stone steps to the public podium so he could take his first turn at preaching to an Athenian audience. Thus began Paul’s ministry in that city of “disputing daily” with those who gathered to listen in the debaters’ section of Athens’ market.
Acts 17:18 goes on to tell us, “And certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? Others said, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.”
According to this verse, three groups were listening to Paul that day:
Let’s find out more about these groups so we can better understand what kind of crowd Paul was preaching to in Athens.
First, there were the Epicureans. Epicureans were a group of people who didn’t believe in an afterlife. Their philosophy declared that all there is to our existence is the earthly life we are living now. Therefore, we are free to do whatever fleshly thing we desire to do because there are no eternal ramifications for any earthly actions. The Epicureans are the ones who coined the famous phrase, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.” This was a popular philosophy in Athens because it permitted every form of variance, perversion, adultery, and lasciviousness.
The Epicureans were notorious for gross sensuality and depraved forms of behavior. Because they didn’t believe in the afterlife or in any form of eternal judgment, they indulged in and encouraged fleshly excesses. Later as the influence of Christianity began to grow, they strongly resisted the Gospel message because of its demands for holy living and its declaration of a future judgment.
The second group in Acts 17:18 were the Stoics. Philosophically, the Stoics were diametri- cally opposed to the Epicureans. Whereas Epicureans encouraged fleshly indulgence and lack of restraint, Stoics taught extreme discipline, self-control, and self-denial. You could say that Stoics were the ultimate perfectionists, so consumed with self-perfectionism that they advocated suicide before failure. It was a completely self-consumed philosophy that focused on man’s ability to attain perfection on his own. Later when the influence of Christianity began to grow, the Stoics resisted the Gospel message because it presented man as a sinner, unable to save or redeem himself, devoid of hope without God. Because of their prideful position that proclaimed their ability to attain perfection on their own merits, Stoics perceived the Gospel as an affront and an insult to their intelligence.
Both the Epicureans and Stoics called Paul a “babbler,” which comes from the Greek word spermologos. This word is a compound of the words sperm, the Greek word for seed, and the word logos, the Greek word for words. But when they are compounded as in this text, the new word depicts a person who seeds a crowd with words, thoughts, or ideas. This means the Epicureans and Stoics were asking, “Who is this seed-sower who is seeding us with words, thoughts, and ideas that we’ve never heard before?”
These Greek philosophers didn’t realize how right they were when they called Paul a “babbler”! Every day, he stood in the market preaching and thereby habitually seeding that crowd with the heart-piercing truth of God’s Word. Paul stood at that public podium like a farmer, throwing his “seed-words” onto the ground of the people’s hearts, believing that in some of the hearts of those hearers was good ground. Paul knew what Jesus taught during His earthly ministry — that some hearts are stony, some are shallow, and some are good ground that will produce a 30-, 60-, or 100-fold return. Paul was preaching with the hope that some of the Word he was preaching was falling on good ground that would eventually produce a harvest for the Kingdom of God.
The third group Paul preached to were called others. Whoever these people were, they were shaken by Paul’s message and said, “…He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods….” Acts 17:18 reveals what upset this group: that Paul “…preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.” These people had never even heard of Jesus!
This was the first time any Gospel preacher had ever been bold enough to venture into this environment to speak that name to these Athenians. So when these people heard about Jesus, Paul was telling them something they had never heard before. This was a very rare phenomenon, considering the fact that Athens was filled with man’s wisdom, knowledge, and education. The crowd was hearing about a brand-new god, one they had never heard of before — in a city filled with deities, statues, and idols! This was almost revolutionary!
In that dark spiritual environment, the apostle Paul climbed up to the podium, opened his mouth, and began to preach, sowing the seed of God’s Word into the hearts of that listening crowd. It wasn’t the most convenient place to do it, but the market was the only pulpit he could find. So right there in the middle of the market — surrounded by idols, the swirling smoke of incense, the banging of pagan drums in the background, prostitutes trying to sell themselves, slave traders buying and selling slaves, and people purchasing various items in the market — Paul seized the moment and made the most of his opportunity to preach Christ to the people of Athens.
By his perpetual persistence, Paul eventually got the Athenians’ attention! He seeded that crowd so regularly, so consistently, and with such great effect that Acts 17:19 says, “And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus….” Just so you’ll know — the Areopagus was the most prestigious place in the entire nation to share a new idea! Only the brightest and most astute, intelligent, and clever people were invited to speak in the Areopagus. When Paul started out in Athens, the Epicureans and Stoics found him intellectually offensive. But eventually, even the brightest minds of Athens wanted to hear what he had to say. This was a big score for the Gospel!
I want to encourage you today to make the most of every opportunity you have to preach the Gospel and fulfill your call. So what if you don’t have an ideal place to do what God has called you to do? That doesn’t mean you can’t do it — it just means you have to get creative and find new ways to fulfill your assignment! If you are willing to open your mind and explore new methods and ways of reaching people, I assure you that the Holy Spirit is not short on ideas! He will show you what to do and when and how to do it so you can seed people’s hearts and minds with the life-transforming power of the Word of God!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Lord, I ask You to help me become more aware of special opportunities that arise for me to speak Your name and Your Word to people who have open hearts. Forgive me when I get so busy that I forget to tell others about Jesus. I realize that Jesus is the only real solution to life’s problems and that I have a special responsibility to share Him with people who don’t know Him yet. Holy Spirit, I can only do this if You empower me, so today I am asking You to strengthen me and grant me a new awareness when a door of opportunity stands before me. Give me the boldness to speak Jesus’ name in a way that pierces the spiritual darkness and brings answers to those who are in need.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I declare by faith that I am bold to sow seeds of truth and love everywhere I go. I am sensitive to God-given opportunities to share the name of Jesus and the Word of God with people who are in need. Because the fruit of the Spirit is produced in my life, I think of others; I see their needs; and I look for ways to help them find the answers they need. The Holy Spirit is my Helper who is always present to assist me as I listen to Him and follow His leading. I am making the decision today to open my heart wider than ever before so God can depend on me to see and help meet the needs of others. Starting today, I am persistent and bold to walk through every open door and proclaim the name of Jesus and the Word of God to those who need to hear God’s truth, just as others once did for me!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Have you ever tried to reach someone with the Gospel who responded by looking down on you as if you were a “babbler”? When that person did this, did you retreat and stop speaking the truth, or did you press onward to sow the seed of God’s Word into his or her heart?
- If you don’t have an ideal place to fulfill your ministry right now, is it possible that the Holy Spirit has another creative way for you to reach people that you haven’t even thought of yet? Is it possible that you’ve been so locked into your “normal” mode of doing things that you haven’t been able to receive the radical, revolutionary, successful plan that God wants to give you?
- Why don’t you take a few minutes today to quiet your spirit and allow the Spirit of God to speak to your heart and show you how to make the most of the opportunities that are available to you right now?