Provocations (Acts 17:16-21)

Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.” (Acts 17:16, AV)

I do not want to get too political in these devotions, so I will not present to you a political view on issues. I will only present the biblical views. However, I am interested in what is going on in our nation. So, I watch the news programs on the internet. I try to find balanced and unbiased reporting, but it seems impossible. The news I watch is often quite disturbing. It provokes me so to speak, as I see the direction, I see the nation moving. By using the word provoke, I mean that it stirs me within.

After leaving Berea, Paul enters the city of Athens and he sees something that provokes “his spirit.” This provoking of Paul’s spirit here refers to his inner emotion. The word “stirred,” paroxuno, means to make sharp and here means to provoke or arouse to anger. What Paul saw was a city full of idols. Pliny, at the time of Nero, reports that there were more than 3000 statues in the city, most of which were gods or demi-gods. I believe what really provoked Paul was that these statues represented the devotion of the people. The people of the city worshipped these false gods. Paul’s provocation moved him to respond, not by a fit of rage, but by continuing his work of proclaiming the gospel with passion.

While what Paul saw provoked him emotionally, we should also realize that idolatry provokes our God. Consider the Ten Commandments and see what the Lord God states.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” (Exodus 20:3–5, AV)

Later, Moses writes a song about Israel’s journey with God, past, present and future. In this song, he expresses God’s view of the nation’s idolatry. “They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities” (Deuteronomy 32:21, AV).

It is clear to see that the Lord our God hates idolatry. The idols that Paul saw in the city of Athens likewise, would have provoked the Lord. Here, we see that Paul’s heart aligned with the heart of God. As idolatry provokes God, it also provoked Paul.

What provokes us? Does idolatry bother us as it did Paul? Does it bother us as it does the Lord? When we walk through our cities, we probably do not see many statues of false deities. However, do our modern-day idols not manifest in some more contemporary ways? The Christian song went, “Everybody’s worshipping something.” It this not true? Perhaps people do not worship statues in our society, but they do devote themselves to things and forsake the living God. I would contend that these things have become substitutes for the true God. They have become idols.

So, does idolatry provoke us? It should since it provokes God. In Paul’s case, this provocation moved Paul to preach the gospel, in a city given over to idolatry. We have two steps to consider. First, we should examine our own lives to see if things are interfering with our devotion to God. If they are, we must repent and readjust our lives. Second, the idolatry around us should stir us, which should prompt us to proclaim the gospel in a culture given to idols.

Published by Steve Hankins, Th.D.

Steve has had extensive military, business and ministry experience. He has served for over 16 years in full time vocational ministry and many years of part time ministry in churches. He has led churches through start-up and recasting of vision. Now He resides on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where he is working to help smaller churches and believers to renew their hearts and regain the joy of the Lord.

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