The Apostle Paul Sought to Engage Culture – Acts 17:24-34
Celebrity pop culture has infiltrated much of America. Media has largely become “celebritized.” Even local news and national news have caught the disease. One can hardly watch the news on Television without hearing about some celebrity’s love life or wrong-doings. Modern media phenomenons such as Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter help people from all walks of life become famous for being famous. In a culture obsessed with popularity, what must the church do? The answer is that the church must give the culture the truth. What good is it to gain the whole world and lose our souls? The church must remind everyone that they cannot take money, power, and fame with them when they leave this earth. Understanding the Apostle Paul’s approach to the idolatrous culture of Athens will help the church respond to the current idolatrous culture we live in today. America is drunk on the idols of money, power, and fame, and the only sobering solution is for Christians to engage culture with truth, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul told his Culture the Truth (Acts 17:24-29)
Paul told the Athenians that God created everything, is omnipresent, and is in need of nothing. Not only was Paul burdened for the Athenian culture and not only did he recognize their inconsistencies, he was also intentional in telling them the truth. Being burdened and recognizing inconsistencies is not enough. If the church is to reach the American people with the good news of Jesus Christ, then we must tell them the truth. Idols are often visible and/or tangible objects or feelings. Whether it is money, material things, power, intelligence, popularity, or the applause of men, Christians must tell the people in their culture that these things are not God, and these things neither provide physical nor spiritual life.
In response to the physical nature of idols, Paul tells the Athenians where all things come from, that God is everywhere, and in need of nothing. Idols in Athens were fashioned by men, could only be in one place at a time, and were in need of constant care. Paul sought to correct their thinking with the truth. The church today must do the same. We must tell our culture that worshiping tangible things is to worship the gift instead of the Giver. We must also tell them that God is not found in these passing things; nor is God in need of constant care or building up like these false idols. Christians serve a God who is Creator and autonomous.
Paul told the Athenians that God is the sovereign life-giving, life-sustaining Deity who created mankind for the purpose of bringing Him glory. Paul, in continuing his response to the Athenians’ inconsistencies told them that God is the life-giver. In the Athenian worship system, Athenians were the ones who were fashioning their idols. They were the creators and sustainers of their idols. In response to their culture the church must tell Americans that the objects they worship, created by their own hands, do not give life or sustain it. Also, Christians must share that these idols are not the reason these people are alive. Although many people in our culture live like money provides and sustains life, it cannot create or sustain life. Millionaires still die. Not only do they die, but they leave everything they worked their entire lives for, the things they worshiped, behind for someone else to vainly enjoy. Christians must share that God is the giver and sustainer of every person’s life. Furthermore, God created mankind for the purpose of glorifying Him. Mankind was created with an intrinsic need for God. To live for any other reason is to live for that which is not of eternal value. Moreover, to think that the Creator was and is created by His creation is ridiculous; and through pointing to God as Creator God, Paul annihilates the Athenian view that gods are fashioned by men.
Paul Gave His Culture the Gospel (Acts 17:30-34)
Paul told the Athenians that God is calling all men to repent for there is a day of judgment coming at the feet of Jesus Christ. Paul, in continuing to give the truth to the Athenians seeks to make them aware of their inescapable judgment before their Lord. Their belief in Christ does not make Him Lord. He is already Lord and the world has the choice of acknowledging His Lordship or facing His judgment. The church must tell the world of their coming judgment. Their judgment is coming whether they believe it or not.
I own a Miniature Jack Russell dog. Her name is Allie. One day I came home from work and she had tore up a bag full of trash. Trash was all over my apartment. Now, this dog believes she “rules the roost.” She believes she is autonomous; however, reality states that I am her boss and I can give her away to another family in a heart beat (Although it must be noted that if someone fed me, gave me water, and picked up my poop daily, I would believe I was the boss as well). Whether Allie believes I am the boss or not does not change or validate the truth. Whether Americans believe there is a judgment or not does not prove or disprove Paul’s claim. The truth is that God has provided One Way of salvation, and His name is Jesus Christ. Americans must either repent today while mercy is offered by Jesus or repent one day when they stand before him for judgment. If they wait until judgment day to repent, there will be no mercy offered. A serial rapist who repents today can receive Christ’s forgiveness, but a law-abiding citizen who repents at judgment will be sent to hell. Repentance is a privilege today that may be gone tomorrow.
Paul told the Athenians that God raised Jesus from the dead. Paul continued in sharing the Gospel with the Athenians. He did not care if the Athenians thought the physical resurrection of Christ was a foolish thing. He simply wanted to communicate the truth to them.
Paul knew the Holy Spirit is the One who is responsible for the salvation of souls. He also knew that it is absolutely necessary to believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Christians must always include Jesus’ resurrection when they share the gospel. Jesus’ resurrection is the main truth about His life that separates Him from other messiahs of history. Christianity is founded on the fact that the dead God-Man physically rose from the dead. Christ’s resurrection also validated His worthiness to be the judge of all nations on the day God has fixed.
Christians must engage culture, for it is our responsibility. We must see it as our privilege. Our goal should not be to form a Christian sub-culture or counter-culture. Paul’s goal was to be burdened for the culture, to recognize its inconsistencies, to give them the truth, and to make sure he gave them the gospel. The church’s goal, in being parallel to Paul, should be to bring the culture to its knees in repentance at the feet of the Lord of Glory Jesus Christ. Christians must be so jealous for God’s glory that we actively and intentionally engage our culture until all peoples praise His name. Although there were probably few converts won in Athens, the Apostle Paul continued on, taking the gospel with him wherever he went. The church today too must leave the results up to God, but take responsibility and seize the privilege to carry the gospel with us wherever we go.
 Clint Heacock, “Text and Culture: Bringing the Biblical Worldview to Bear on the World: A Biblical-Theological Study of Acts 17:16-34”, 65-66.
 David M. Ballast, “Contextualizing the Gospel: Comparing Paul’s Methods in Athens and Corinth”, 20.
 Ibid., 24.
 Ibid., 26.
 Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed., 289.