In Acts 17:16, Paul is waiting around Athens, waiting for his friends to arrive, passing time doing the tourism thing.
He notices all
- their idols,
- the architecture,
- the statues,
- smells and sounds of the city.
I can imagine the awe he felt at the architecture, the beauty of the art, and how the noises of the city may have reminded him of his own home.
I’ve been a tourist in many a foreign city and always enjoy trying to learn about the culture where I go. I can imagine some of the feelings Paul felt, some of sounds that he heard, and some of the sights and smells he experienced.
Athens Full of Idols
As he wandered around the city, he notices that the city was “full of idols.”
The NIV says he was “Greatly distressed.”
The Greek word implies an emotional reaction to what he saw.
It is used only 2 times in the New Testament (the other time at 1 Cor 13.5).
It means “to be upset, angered, irritated, or distressed” (Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains).
Idiomatically, it can mean “his heart was eating him.”
That’s a large range of emotions.
You can be
- upset with grief,
- angered at a wrong,
- irritated by obnoxious things, or
- distressed with fret.
English gives this word a large range of emotional meaning.
The Burden an Intercessor Feels
But what is clear is that Paul got emotionally worked up, so to speak.
Their spiritual blindness didn’t just bother him, it aroused his passions. I can imagine that as he looked them over, he saw how spiritually thirsty the people were. (See What is Spiritual Thirst?)
I can imagine the burden on his heart. To see these people yearning to know God, yet caught up in idolatry.
I can imagine that Paul,
- who has tasted the joy of the grace of God,
- who had Jesus speak to him on the road to Damascus,
- who enjoys a passionate relationship with God,
- who has known the love of Jesus,
was saddened that these Greeks had not yet discovered the same grace of God.
To see their spiritual blindness must have grieved his heart. That is what I imagine to be his “great distress.”
- A grief that they have not experienced God’s grace.
- A sorrow for their spiritual blindness.
- An holy anger that not enough has been done fast enough to share about Christ.
What I imagine [it’s not in the text between verses 16 and 17] is that this drove Paul to prayer.
- Praying for the gospel to go forth.
- Praying to be used in sharing his faith.
- Praying that their eyes would be open to God’s grace.
- Praying that God would make His offer of grace totally irresistible.
This is what happens to me, which is why I can imagine it happening to Paul.
I associate this grief and distress as an intercessory burden for those who do not know Christ. It fuels me for evangelism, which is what Paul begins to do.
Let me ask you this?
If you know and have experienced the grace of God, does your heart get worked up when you see the spiritual blindness of others? What do you do?
What happens next?
When you start praying for people, you’ll begin to have conversations with them about your faith. This is where many people struggle.
This teaching set (download or DVD) can help you have more effective conversations with people when you discern where they are in their spiritual journey. Knowing where they are can help relieve the pressure of any conversation about Christ. Click the banner to read more on how to get this training to help you have better faith sharing conversations
Image of Athens: Flicker, Microbe