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 the 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.
(Read More: 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
If Paul came to our city he wouldn’t have to go very far before he would say of our inhabitants, “You are very religious.” If he looked at our yellow pages he would find more than 850 churches listed. He would even find a Mars Hill. But five or six days out of a week he would not find many people in those churches. During those days he would need to go to the “idol temples” to find people. I don’t think Paul went into idol temples. Like Jonah in Nineveh he could walk a three-days journey through our city and say “Hi’ to maybe 3 per mile. He might get the mayor to proclaim a fast, but a lot of the citizens wouldn’t ever hear about it. How would Paul get into our gated communities. I have a pretty good idea what to say to a stranger – – if I could get them out of their cars and get then to stand still long enough to say it. Any strategy that might work today probably won’t work with new tech, 5 years from now. We need to come up regularly with new ways to meet changing conditions.
Shalom and greetings in Jesus name.
I came across your site while busy searching for evangelism tools and i found it very effective and helpful.
I would like to connect with your team to be part in the Great Commission of harvesting of souls.
May God help believers share the Gospel boldly and diligently to all the people we could possibly share. There are Eternal Rewards waiting in heaven and true peace and joy would flow in our hearts, as we obey God ‘s leading in sharing the good news. Prayer is also a ministry and important in Evangelism. Prayer is an expression of our dependence on God and an acknowledgement that we can do nothing without God.
May God help and strengthen us to share share the Gospel to the lost world.
Lets us pray that the God of harvest may send laborers for the harvest of souls.
Prayer makes things happen.
For those who share Jesus, Eternal rewards await in Heaven and on earth immense peace, joy and satisfaction will us, as we obey God in sharing the good news.