Acts 17:22-28 Paul Speaks to the Leaders of Athens
22 So Paul stood in the middle of the leadership council and said, “Respected leaders of Athens, it is clear to me how extravagant you are in your worship of idols. 23 For as I walked through your city, I was captivated by the many shrines and objects of your worship. I even found an inscription on one altar that read, “To the Unknown God. [translates “Hidden God”] I have come to introduce to you this God whom you worship without even knowing anything about him.
24 “The true God is the Creator of all things. He is the owner and Lord of the heavenly realm and the earthly realm, and he doesn’t live in man-made temples. 25 He supplies life and breath and all things to every living being. He doesn’t lack a thing that we mortals could supply for him, for he has all things and everything he needs. 26 From one man, Adam, he made every man and woman and every race of humanity, and he spread us over all the earth. He sets the boundaries of people and nations, determining their appointed times in history. 27 He has done this so that every person would long for God, feel their way to him, and find him—for he is the God who is easy to discover! 28 It is through him that we live and function and have our identity; just as your own poets have said, ‘Our lineage comes from him.’[from his genes]
In January of 2012, I stood upon Mars Hill—the very place where, in our passage today, the Apostle Paul delivers his message to the leaders of Athens. Paul witnesses the entire city being entrenched in idolatry with manmade shrines. He uses the shrine to the “Unknown or Hidden God” in order to speak about the one true God to whom they cannot see, but is actually the Lord of everything in heaven and on earth; in fact, he tells them their very breath is a sign of his existence and sovereignty. Therefore, this God is the One they should worship. Paul reminds the Athenians, every race—including their own—flows from the lineage or gene pool of this God. And, this God has chosen to send his Son into the world to die for sin, so the people of the world could choose to serve this Savior and know peace with God.
Much like the people of Athens, many people even today think about idolatry in terms of some graven image. But, although that is an expression of idolatry, true idolatry is about the devotion of the heart. I want to share the perspective and quotes of two respected theologians that should help us understand the nature or soul of idolatry. First, A.W. Tozer taught, ”The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.” Idolatry is trying to make God fit into our finite human thoughts and understanding, as well as thinking he will dismiss our practice of sin simply because he is merciful. Second, Samuel Rutherford proclaimed, “Verily, we know not what an evil it is to indulge ourselves, and to make an idol of our will.” Our culture seems to thrive on exalting self—idolatry—but Jesus said we are to deny self. Our souls—mind, will, emotions—may hate being denied, but our spirits will rejoice as we apply the Truth, because it brings salvation and peace with God. In this way, we are offering our bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God (Ro 12:1). Let’s serve the One True Master.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for this lesson about idolatry and how easily we can fall into it. Guard my heart from demanding my own way and help me to honor your name and sovereign plan. In Jesus’ name. Amen.