Summary: The phrase that defines all of mankind, for all time.
As I began to study this portion of scripture in preparation for a sermon, a phrase jumped out at me as one that could be used to define all of mankind, in all of history.
“...if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him...”
Now before I go any further with that, let me make clear that the title is not ‘Searching For God’.
Paul quotes the Psalmist in Romans chapter three, and he says there is NONE who seeks for God.
“...all have turned aside, together they have become useless.” There is no one who seeks for God in his own nature; by his own desire.
But history itself proves that man was created for God and therefore, when man is godless, he gropes for a god to fill that void in his life.
The Athenians were very strong evidence of that truth, and Paul talked to them in the book of Acts. He was before a group of philosophers that used to gather here on Mars Hill in Athens daily, for the purpose of hearing new philosophies, new ideas, different religions - and they were a little society, with rules and guidelines for all who came to speak to them.
One of those rules was that the speaker was not allowed to compliment this austere gathering in any way. The purpose for that rule was so that they could listen with an open mind, not having been influenced by any ego-boosting from the one who was there to convince them with his argument.
That’s the extent of my knowledge about this group at the moment; but this is what Paul was facing as he presented his case in Acts 17.
Historians tell us that Athens was the very center of philosophy and religion in the ancient world. They were considered very religious, not only by Paul, but by anyone who knew about their culture, because in Athens men sought to learn about every new god, every new philosophy that came down the pike.
The major streets leading into Athens were lined with shrines, built to every god that every visitor coming to their city proclaimed to them.
To be sure to hit all the bases, there was even an altar to ‘the unknown god’. Now this was not a shrine to honor the ‘God that we do not yet know but would like to’; it was a shrine built to appease any god that they might have missed and did not want to offend.
How do I know this? Because the Bible says, “no one seeks for God”.
So in so many words, Paul says to them, “Since you have confessed your ignorance of the Divine Nature, I’m here to clue you in.” (He wasn’t going to be guilty of complementing them, was he?)
Follow me in your own Bibles. We’re just going to move down through these verses, starting at verse 24, and see how throughout his sermon to the Greeks, Paul focuses on the ONE, PERSONAL, TRUE GOD, ALIVE, OMNIPOTENT, FULL OF JUSTICE, AND ABOUNDING IN MERCY.
In verse 24 He is presented as CREATOR.
In verse 25 He is PROVIDER,
In verse 26 He is APPOINTER
In verse 27 He is MEETER (or AVAILABLE)
In verse 28 He is CONTAINER,
In verse 29 He is FATHER,
In verse 30 He is DECLARER, and
In verse 31 He is JUDGE.
Now I’m basically just going to be doing a running commentary on these verses; I won’t be going back and reading them often, so I invite you to keep your Bible open and refer back to it often as we go along. It won’t be difficult to follow.
Note first of all, that Paul was not addressing men of Israel. This was primarily, if not completely, a Gentile crowd.
They created gods. They liked to have their ears tickled. If you’ll look at verses 20 and 21, it says, “For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; we want to know therefore what these things mean”. (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)
They liked to hear of different gods and philosophies and they liked to play mix-n-match.
The natural man will always gravitate toward the created god, because the created god does anything man wants him to do. That’s precisely why we must be careful to reevaluate our own theology often. It’s why David said, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee”.
It is why it is imperative that we seek a closer, personal walk with God; because left to its own devices, our natural man will always try to twist the truth of the true God in our minds and our hearts, until we’re worshiping an idol of our own making, while convinced that we’re still worshiping the God of the Bible. And of course we end up congratulating ourselves on how intimately we know our God, because when we drift away from the truth of God, our god becomes more like us. And the more our god becomes like us, the more intimately we think we know him, while in reality our god has become a god with a small ‘g’.