Being A Witness

January 19, 2008 Acts 17:16-21



God has asked us all with being ready to witness. In Acts 5:20 we are charged with telling people the full message of this new life. Yet most of us do not tell others! A Gallop poll indicated that out of all evangelical, American believers, only two percent had introduced another person to Christ..

Our culture is searching for answers to life and the next. Howard Hendricks says “in the midst of a generation screaming for answers, Christians are stuttering.”

When we take the gospel to our city, it's amazing to watch God's Word transcend the culture—and every false religion—to change lives. The message of salvation in Christ truly knows no hindrance.

If you think evangelism is a somewhat arduous task in that environment, you're right. We face a culture that has rejected absolute truth and now considers it stylish to openly embrace and encourage degrading passions. The ecumenical spirit of the age recoils in horror at the exclusive claims of Christ. And popular, evangelical seeker-sensitive churches only make the task more difficult by refusing to confront sin in an effort to make the "unchurched" sinner comfortable.

Evangelism is difficult, but that's nothing new. Paul faced worse challenges in his day. He faced an increasingly anti-Christian culture—there was no spirit of tolerance to shield believers from hostility. Still, he witnessed to others with the uncompromising message of repentance. That is best illustrated in Acts 17:16-34 where Paul faced one of the most intellectually erudite and morally corrupt audiences ever–the philosophers on Mars Hill.

The Situation: Acts 17:16-21

  • Paul came to Athens after being forced to flee Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17:1-15).
  •  Athens was the heart of Greek culture and thought, renowned for its art and philosophy and some of the most famous philosophers.
  • The founders of two dominant philosophies, Epicurus (Epicureanism[i]) and Zeno (Stoicism[ii]), had taught in Athens.
  • Athens was also the home of almost every man-made god in existence.
  • The pagan writer Petronius[iii] once said it was easier to find a god in Athens than a man.
  • In fact it was Athenian idolatry that drove Paul to preach the gospel in Athens—such idolatry offended him to the core (v. 16).

Acts 17:16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.

  • In customary fashion, he marched directly to the local synagogue and was reasoning from the Scriptures (cf. v. 2)

Acts 17:2 And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures

Acts 17:17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.

  • Some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers heard Paul's message in the market place and brought him to the Areopagus[iv] on Mars Hill before some of the most astute philosophers in Athens.
  • They had no interest in the gospel; Paul was simply a novelty to them.
  • They set him in their midst as a specimen that would amuse their interest in

Acts 17:21Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.

  • That's the setting for Paul's message and method for confronting a godless culture.

The Method: Acts 17:22-34

  • Paul spoke his message to an indifferent and arrogant audience, like many to whom you and I speak today.
  • As we look at how Paul preached to the philosophers, you'll see three essential elements of an effective message to confront our post-Christian culture with the truth.

Tell them that God is.

See Acts 17:22-23.

  • Here's Paul's first point: "You are ignorant and I'm going to give you the truth."
  • Try recommending that opening line at an evangelism conference.
  • Some people think Paul commended their religiosity when he mentioned their many objects of worship.
  • He wasn't commending them at all–their idols infuriated him (v. 16).
  • Rather, he started with a given: all men are innately religious.
  • All men are created to be worshipers–they either worship God or something else, but everyone worships something.
  • The Athenians were no different.
  • Externally, God has given witness about Himself through what He created.

Psalm 19:1 The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

  • Their expanse is declaring the work of His hands" (Ps. 19:1).
  • Internally, according to Romans 1:19.

Romans 1:19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

  • They have an innate sense of the true God of the Bible, His standards are written on their hearts, and their consciences hold them accountable

Romans 2:14-15 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves,in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,

  • But because of sin, they "suppress the truth in unrighteousness".

Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

  • They willfully reject what they know to be true and choose instead to worship in ignorance.

Tell them whoGod is.

Read Acts 17:24-29

  • This is Paul's lesson to the ignorant about the unknown God.
  • This is Theology 101. It's ironic that Paul was teaching the ABCs of theology to those who were known worldwide as supreme intellectuals.
  • It proves the truth of 1 Corinthians 1:25

1 Corinthians 1:25  Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

  • Here are five things ignorant, rebellious men need to know about the "Unknown God."

God is the Creator.

See verse 24a

Acts 17:24 a “The God who made the world and all things in it,

  • In Paul's day and ours, the truth makes no room for men's opinions regarding origins.

God is the Ruler.

See verse 24b

Acts 17:24 b Since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;

  • It logically follows that if God is the Creator, He is also the rightful Ruler of what He created. And if He is Creator and Ruler, He doesn't live in what His creatures have made.

God is the Giver.

See verse 25

Acts 17:25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;

  • Far from needing anything from men, the Creator "causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matt. 5:45).

God is the Controller.

See verse 26

Acts 17:26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,

  • That statement was a blow to the national pride of the Greeks, who scornfully referred to non-Greeks as "barbarians."
  • Nonetheless, God controls the affairs and destinies of men and nations.

God is the Revealer.

See verses 27-29

Acts 17:27-29 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’“Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.

  • Men should seek God.
  • God, by creating, ruling, giving, and controlling all things, has clearly revealed Himself in what He has made—men are truly without excuse (Rom. 1:20).

Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

Third, tell them what God says.

Read Acts 17:30-31

  • Paul's evangelism method ends with a simple, powerful point: tell them to repent or be judged.
  • In the past, God was patient.
  • But a day is coming when He will judge the world through Jesus Christ.
  • God gave sufficient proof of the truth of His Word in the resurrection of His Son—He holds all men accountable to that evidence.
  • His grace in the past and His wrath in the future require repentance in the present.
  • As Paul said elsewhere,

"Now is 'the acceptable time,' behold, now is 'the day of salvation'"(2 Cor. 6:2).


  • That message isn't popular today, but then again, it has never been popular.
  • See how unpopular the gospel has always been

Acts 17:32-33 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.”So Paul went out of their midst.

  • I mentioned earlier that Paul's method was effective, and it is. Look at verse 34.

Acts 17:34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

  • It was effective to save those whom God chose to save. Paul was faithful to proclaim the truth. He left the results to God.

From Athens to Los Angeles, first century to twenty-first century and everywhere in between, repentance may not be popular, but it's still the gospel. Teach this post-Christian culture about God and then command repentance. That's the only message we have; without it, no one would be saved.