Speaking to the Soul – Saturday September 25

A short reading and prayers for today

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city.
Acts 17:16

We have no reason to think that Paul intended to spend time in Athens. He was merely there for a few days whilst he waited for Silas and Timothy to catch up with him. The threats to his safety had got too serious in Berea and so he had been escorted down south to the relative safety of Athens. He needed a good break after the dangers and pressures of the recent months of ministry. But Paul wasn’t one for holidays and so he spent his time walking round the city reflecting on all that he was seeing. Politically Athens had become far less significant than it had been in the past, but it was still a leading centre of culture. It was famous for its sculpture, literature and philosophy and Paul was clearly fascinated by all that he saw but was also deeply troubled. The city was full of temples and images of pagan gods and Paul, who had been brought up as a very strict Jew, was distressed by what he saw. True to form, within a short period of time, Paul was engaged in fervent debate with Athens’ leading thinkers.

I find this a deeply challenging verse. We too live in a society which is full of idols and it seems to me that the church is hardly troubled by this at all. We have come to accept that that’s just the way it is. Unfortunate, but just one of those things. Vibrant Christian mission occurs when the church wakes up and feels, as Paul did, deep distress at the idolatry of society. It will never be appropriate for us to force anyone to believe the Christian message. We would never want to do so. But if we are convinced that only Jesus can set people free to live life to the full and that all other options are life-less and bound to disappoint, surely we should feel a deep sadness which will lead us to action? Paul’s distress at the idolatry of Athens led him to engage boldly with the city’s philosophers. It was a tough and cynical audience but nothing would hold him back from declaring the good news of Jesus. I think we have a lot to learn from Paul’s example.


What are the main idols in contemporary society?


Lord God our Father, give us courage to share your good news with those around us. Amen

Lord, we pray thee
that thy grace may always prevent and follow us,
and make us continually to be given to all good works;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Almighty God,
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you:
Teach us to offer ourselves to your service,
that here we may have your peace,
and in the world to come may see you face to face;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.