Summary: We tend to dismiss idolatry because we think only of those who have visible forms of idols. This is still a part of our world, and it is amazing that people in the modern century have been just as foolish as were the pagans in the days of the prophets.
Does it ever bother you that good things that should happen don't, and bad things that shouldn't
happen do? Dr. Larry Crabb whose book Inside Out was a great seller tells of the parents who
decided to enroll their 13 year daughter in a Christian school. One of the teachers introduced their
daughter to drugs, and she went on to develop a major drug problem which threw the whole family
into chaos. Dr. Crabb tells of the respected elder in the church who molested his niece and caused
her to grow up with all kinds of problems in sexually, which damaged her marriage.
Another Christian couple moved because of a great promotion, but they left the church where
their children really got involved. When they moved the children never felt a part of the new church,
and the they drifted from the Lord. Dr. Crabb is illustrating what we know to be true, and that is
that there are a lot of awful things happening in the Christian community, and the question is why?
Why are so many bad things happening to good people? This has always been a major issue, and
Acts 17 opens up our eyes to a new way of looking at this issue.
Paul is experiencing a lot of bad things in this chapter. He is threatened by a mob and forced to
leave two towns. He is deprived of the freedom to preach and the right to be with his companions.
Paul, like his master, was despised and rejected of men and they would have killed him had they
gotten their hands on him. Now we find Paul in Athens waiting for his companions to catch up with
him. Verse 16 says he was greatly distressed to see the city was full of idols.
We pass by this and do not notice that Paul was not merely distressed, but he was greatly
distressed. The Greek word is paroxumo from which we get the word paroxysm. It is a word we
seldom use because we seldom have any occasion to do so. It refers to the most intense emotion we
can describe. It is a fit, and attack, a violent convulsion of anger. It does not refer to just getting
mad, but to a sharp intensity of emotion beyond this. This is the same word used in the Greek Old
Testament to describe God's anger at the people of Israel for making the golden calf. It describes
This word is rare in the New Testament. Paul is the only person ever connected with this word
and its intense emotion. Here it is used to describe its emotion, and Paul used it once in I Cor. 13:5
when he said love is not easily provoked. Love does not lose its temper and go into a raging fit.
These two references are all there is in the New Testament. It is rare because it is a rare experience.
I suppose it is possible to live a lifetime and never feel this intense disturbing emotion. Why does
Paul have it in this text? Because of the great idolatry he saw.
Let me suggest that this should still be the most madding thing to the Christian mind. But the
fact is, idolatry is so in that we do not even see it, and the result is that Christians do not get intensely
emotional about it and fight it. The consequences are that we see bad things happening to good
people because of the power of idolatry. Paul suffered from both the Jews and the Gentiles because
of idolatry. The Jews even had the right God to worship, for they worshiped the God of revelation,
but they locked him into a legalistic system that made him just as limited as those who locked their
God into a marble statue. There God was not alive and able to speak to them revealing His love in
Jesus Christ. Their God was just like a dumb idol who never responded, and so when Paul came
with a message from the living God they ran him out of town.
We tend to dismiss idolatry because we think only of those who have visible forms of idols. This
is still a part of our world, and it is amazing that people in the modern century have been just as
foolish as were the pagans in the days of the prophets. Jonathan Goforth, missionary to China, told
of how a flood came and water entered the temple and began to soak the feet of the idol. As the
water rose the small god of clay began to get soft and finally tumbled into the water. He describes
his eyewitness experience: "I saw him after the floods had abated. O pitiful sight! His neck was
broken, his ears were well nigh soaked off, his nose needed repairs. One arm was broken off at the