Summary: The Apostle Paul’s message to the men of Athens at the Areopagus gives us a model for sharing Christ with others. We start with their natural knowledge of God and transition to the revealed knowledge of God.
What is the “natural knowledge” of God? Since our “examination / confirmation Sunday” is just over a month away I hope that one of our confirmands can answer that question. What is the “natural knowledge” of God? The “natural knowledge” of God is what all people know about God from nature and their conscience—which we say is the voice of God in a person. Around the world and throughout the history of the world people have believed that there must be some wise and powerful being who made the universe. They have come to this conclusion by observing creation. Humans also instinctively know that things aren’t right between them and whoever it is that made the universe. Again we see evidence of that fact across the ages and across the cultures of the world. The obvious question that follows on the heels of a description of the “natural knowledge” of God is was is the “revealed knowledge” of God. Let’s again ask one of our confirmands to answer that question. What is the “revealed knowledge” of God? The “revealed knowledge” of God is what we know about God through his revelation to mankind. Obviously the revelation we are talking about is the Bible.
Now I want you to think about the knowledge we have of the knowledge of God. I suppose we could pat ourselves on the back and tell each other how much Bible knowledge we have. But obviously it would be much better if we actually did something with the knowledge we have just demonstrated.
Our Savior has asked each of us to lead others from their natural knowledge of God to the knowledge he has revealed to us. The revealed knowledge of God has the power to save souls from hell. That is what every person needs to hear and believe.
In the first Scripture lesson for this Sunday the Apostle Paul started with what a group of people naturally knew about God and led them to what they needed to know about God. There we see an example of how a Christian can use the natural knowledge of God as a bridge to the revealed knowledge of God. May the Holy Spirit work in us an understanding of how to do this and also give us the desire, determination, and dedication to actually do it. We are told to:
“LEAD OTHERS TO KNOW GOD”
I. Start with what they know about God
II. End with what they need to know about God
As the Apostle Paul did wherever he went we find him sharing the truth about Jesus in the city of Athens. On the Sabbath days Paul spoke with the Jews and used the Old Testament to prove that Jesus was the promised Savior. During the other days of the week Paul went where the people were. In the city streets and in the market places he served as a witness for Christ.
Paul’s teaching was obviously getting noticed. He was asked to defend his ideas at a meeting of the Areopagus. The Areopagus consisted of a group of philosophers. They were sort of the “idea police” in Athens serving as an open forum in which new ideas could be aired. Although it may be hard for us to grasp all the finer points of what happened in these verses from Acts 17 we can take away a couple of key thoughts. Paul started with what this group of unbelievers knew about God and led them to what they needed to know about God.
“22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘‘Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” Paul started his message about the revealed knowledge of God by referring to the natural knowledge of God that his listeners had.
Even though the Apostle Paul began his speech carefully and courteously he did go on to point out misunderstandings that his listeners had about God. Paul jumped back and forth between what the Athenians knew about God naturally and what they needed to know about God. Although a Bible class would probably be a better place to take up each of these points let’s walk through them quickly. We can at least get a flavor for how the Apostle Paul built a bridge to the men to whom he was speaking. “24 The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” These men in Athens had a view of God that was too small. The true God didn’t live in one of their magnificent temples. He fills the heavens and the earth. Then Paul went on to address the misunderstanding the Athenians had about how they related to God. “25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.” God didn’t need to be fed and cared for as the Greeks and Romans thought. He is the creator and preserver of all things. Paul continued, “26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” Instead of being distant, unconcerned, and uninterested the true God was very involved with the history of the world that he had created. The God that was unknown to the Athenians also desired to have a relationship with humans. Paul went on to say, “27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” Finally, before moving on to what every person needs to know about God Paul pointed out another big misunderstanding that his listeners had concerning God. “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill.” Out of a cloudy mist of misunderstanding the Apostle to the Gentiles slowly led his listeners to know the “unknown” God. He began with what they knew by nature about God.