These verses represent Paul’s Mars Hill (Areopagus) address to the Athenians. In it we find six “shiny” words to think/talk about when you spend time after the sermon stuffing your face and fellowshipping for Easter.
Why I refer to them as “shiny” = They are words that (in their context) evoke the kinds of conversations we need to be having with the people in our world today. They (I believe) are the conversations that bring the most needed forms of light to our dark and confused world. The song, Shiny Happy People (by R.E.M.) has also been playing in my head.
- (22) “Religious” = Possessing a system of morality (right and wrong). That is all the word “religion/religious refers to: a person’s moral beliefs. As humans, we are moral creatures by nature (creatures concerned with right and wrong). This is what makes us different than the animals.
1.1. What therefore Paul says to the Athenians is true about all humans. We are all very religious. This includes people who would claim they are “not religious.” Do they not practice some form of morality (rules of right and wrong)? Do they not believe certain things to right and others to be wrong?
1.2.Whatever determines that person’s moral beliefs (what determines what is right and what is wrong) is that person’s religion irrespective of whether it has a formal name (bob relies on Bob to determine right and wrong. Bob therefore follows the religion/cult of Bob).
1.3. What religion do you follow? Who/what determines right and wrong for you?
- (23) “Ignorance” (“unknown”) = The “altar… to the unknown (or ignorant) god” was most likely created by the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who invited Paul to speak (16-21).
2.1. Like many people today, the Epicureans and the Stoics were atheists. They believed that whatever created the universe (including them) was not only “unknown” but unable to know what it had created. Put in modern terms, what created the universe was eternal matter (lifeless, unintelligent, impersonal, non-sentient energy).
2.2. The big problem with believing this: Atheism makes it impossible to be human – i.e., to be the moral creatures (creatures who care about right and wrong). Why? B/C the only way to possess a morality/system of right and wrong that is truly equitable/fair/un-biased and therefore truly just for every single human being, is if it is the same for everyone. And the only person who has the right to determine that system of morality, is the one who created us (i.e., our owner). Without direction from our owner, the best our moral beliefs can be is subjective, every person believing what they want (everyone walking according to their own law). Though on the surface that may sound good, in the end it results in nothing truly being right or wrong (since whatever is right for you is wrong for me and vice versa).
Eternal matter however is not a person, it is a thing. As already stated, it isn’t intelligent or knowledgeable about anything. Eternal matter/energy cannot therefore direct its creation in issues of morality. Hence the reason the United States has become increasingly more violent and evil over the past 25 years. As atheism has taken more of a foothold, more humans have lost their ability to be truly moral or just, to correctly discern right from wrong. People are acting more like animals, controlled only by impulse/instinct, driven to do what they do b/c it is what they feel in the moment.
2.3. There are a couple of names for this kind of morality (do what you want/feel): 1) Anarchy (The strong take what they want and do what they want to the weak), 2) Satanism/Thelema (the autonomous or freed will; one law: “Do what thou wilt”). Allister Crowley was the inventor of Thelema and person most influential to modern day satanism. Crowley claimed his religion (and one law) were provided by a demon named Aiwass who spoke through his wife.
- (24a) “God” = An eternal, intelligent, deliberate designer, created everything – including us (24-26) = Seeing that God is our Creator means that He is our legal “Lord” (Owner/Authority/Master) not the other way around .We need Him He doesn’t need us (“does not live in temples made by man nor is He served by human hands as though He needed anything”; Psa 119:91; Psa 50:10-12). The origin of the universe is therefore not eternal matter but eternal mind.
3.1. One of the greatest disservices of our atheistic, evolution-based scientific community is its deployment of the con-man’s favorite tool (for conning poor thinkers): the fallacy of the excluded middle: the option(s) are communicated as though they are the only viable option(s) available when there is/are more. What this looks like among atheistic, evolution-based scientists = Commonality among different species indicates common ancestor. IOW: that is the only viable option/explanation for the commonality that exists between us and other species. There however is a second option, one (like the con-man) they fail to share: commonality indicates not common ancestor, but author (e.g., the artwork of Van Gogh = We recognize it b/c every piece possesses the same unique signature/style; Gen 2:7 w/19 “formed” [Hb. yatsar = to artistically form/leave His unique signature/design]).
3.2. The good news: B/C of the advances in DNA study as well as quantum physics, many former atheist scientists are now embracing the eternal mind/intelligent design position. What are those advances? The discovery that molecular information does not exist (in its smallest/irreducible form) as matter/material elements (e.g., atoms/atomic theory). The building blocks of the universe are not made up of matter/material but instead measurements (think ripples on the water without the water). These measurements are strings of information (more accurately command code) much like the command codes used by a programmer to create things on a computer screen and they come from/exist in dimension outside our own. Where there such programming/information exists, there must also be a programmer/sentient mind (For further study see: string theory/digital physics/information realism/the universe as consciousness).
3.3. Paul knew this to be true before any quantum physicist ever existed (Gen 1:1-3 = Information/command code are the building blocks of Creation). Consider again of Paul’s words in Act 17:26 (“having determined” [horizo = Establish a set of events through deliberate command/programming).
3.4. The meaning of the word (horizo) tells us a lot about why the ancients chose it as the word for horizon (Psa 19:1-10 “tent” = horizon; Notice how the author connects the laws governing the events of Creation to God’s moral law; Moral Physics/God’s Words created/run the universe. It’s all His program).
3.5. Why then (again) it is important we know our Owner/Creator is an eternal mind not eternal matter? B/C it means we have the solution to our moral dilemma! B/C there is a God (an intelligent being Who created and owns us), we as humans can possess a system of morality/right and wrong that is truly unbiased, fair, equitable, and ultimately just b/c it is coming from a Creator-Owner who can not only determine such things (He is again intelligent versus unintelligent, unthinking, lifeless matter), but also has the legal right determine to such things (since again He owns us). Nobody else has that right b/c nobody else own us (including ourselves – Psa119:91; He made us, we did not make ourselves. Hence the reason the new “gender-identity/choosing” stuff is so rebellious. God decided our gender when we were conceived).
3.6. To possess therefore a morality that is unbiased and fair requires we are getting that morality from our rightful Owner/Authority, God. Anyone who opposes God is therefore not only rebellious to their Owner/Authority, but a hypocrite since every human being believes that if you own something, then you have the right to determine how it functions (e.g. if you own a car, you alone possess the authority to determine what is right/wrong for it).
- (27-28) “Offspring” = Paul continues his argument for God by speaking to the issue that most naturally follows such a discussion: our purpose. If there is a God who deliberately created and owns everything, then what did He create me to do? The answer: to be His image-bearers/reflectors (Gen 1:27-28).
4.1. Image-bearing is what Paul is getting at by the words “offspring and “seek God”. We were created to reflect His image (or character) through the way we live.
4.2. Notice Paul scolds those who would be so stupid as to think God is like things in creation/what we dream up in our minds (29).
4.3. What (then) is important not to miss about this image-bearing purpose we have been given: 1) It is to be defined by God not the world around us or the spirit of the age (“art and imagination of man” = man’s self-expression; e.g., the current sexual revolution). Who God is (and how we accurately bear His image) is defined by Him (not us). Hence the need for His instruction on morality. According to the Bible, all of God’s rules regarding right and wrong are the manifestation of His character (to know the rules is to know how to act like God). 2) Studying God’s Word should not, therefore, be viewed as some tedious, boring task that has no real benefit to our lives. It is the key to our purpose for existing. Our ability to be accurate reflectors will always be proportionate to what we know/don’t know about God.
- (30) “Overlooked” = Not let people get away with their sin but rather: 1) For thousands of years God allowed people to damn themselves through their false beliefs about Him and their unrighteous, ignorant forms of morality. God rarely (if ever) stepped in to show them they were wrong. 2) For the majority of human history only a very small group of people (less than 10% of the population) knew the truth about God and possessed His rules/laws for morality and proper image-bearing. The rest were in total darkness.
5.1. Why does Paul tell us this? B/C it is crucial that we understand what God is doing by commanding “all people to repent” (i.e., calling all races of people to turn from their darkness/rebellion and listen to His revealed words in the Bible). It is not something God was ever obligated to do. Hence the reason for not calling people to repentance in the past (or even now). God’s command to repent is instead, always based on His mercy.
5.2. One of the biggest problems people have today with God (or the God of the Bible) is the fact that He hasn’t revealed Himself to everyone or given everyone a chance to be saved. The piece however they miss is that the only reason such darkness and damnation exists is b/c of us (b/c humanity has for those same thousands of years, chosen to walk away from God and their created purpose and live instead for self). Who among us are not guilty of that very thing? What obligation does God, therefore, have to humans who have not only rebelled against their purpose but slandered His Name and destroyed His creation (once a paradise) in the process? What obligation would we have to a person who not only rejects our care and counsel but destroys our property and slanders our name? Only one obligation, the obligation to see that they serve justice. Hence the reason the majority of humanity will end up in Hell, because God is first and foremost, a just God.
5.3. Mercy is not something God (or anyone is obligated to). It is the thing we don’t expect but are glad of when we get it – which again is what God’s command to repent is, it is Him extending mercy to us – people who were at one time without hope/without mercy (Eph 2:12).
5.4. What we need to get right (then): God is not the One at fault for the way things are in the world or how lost people are. That is solely on us. The only thing we should be saying about God (in this respect) is that He is incredibly merciful to give those who don’t deserve it, a chance to turn from their rebellion, get right with Him and live for the purpose He created them.
- (31) “Judge” = Why we need to repent, why we don’t’ want to be the atheist, why we need to live as accurate image-bearers: B/C how we lived our lives (and what system of morality we lived for, what God we followed and what purpose we fulfilled) is going to be assessed by the “man whom He has appointed” (meaning Jesus the King)
6.1. What that tells us: this life is not the end. This life is instead the test to determine where we deserve to spend eternity: in paradise: the reboot of heaven and earth only this time without the possibility of pain and suffering and death (Rev 21:1-4), or in the pit of hell: a lake of fire fit for those who chose to reject God and His purpose (Rev 20:15).
6.2. Why we can be assured that this life is not the end for us: b/c Jesus rose from the dead. His resurrection proves that there is something beyond this life, that this life is NOT THE LIFE (but again the test). This is also what makes Easter so important: b/c for the Christian (those following God, His rules/morality, and purpose for living), their deeds will be rewarded, what they do is gaining them something better (they are not missing out in this world).
6.3. Putting then all that we have learned into perspective means this: for the Christian, there is truly no bad news. It is all good news since everything we do is gaining us eternity. Whereas for the atheist, this life is as good as it gets (then it gets even worse- incomprehensibly so). The Christian message is therefore the best message there is (a message of hope). The atheist message, is a message of hopelessness, the most depressing message there is.
CLOSING CONTEMPLATION: SHARE THIS BREAD WITH THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW IT. USE IT TO CHANGE THE WAY THEY LOOK AT THE WORLD. BASED ON WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED, CHRISTIANITY IS THE ONLY PATH THAT WORKS IN THIS WORLD (for producing a morality that is truly just) AND QUALIFIES US FOR THE WORLD TO COME (our resurrection to paradise).