Acts 17:16-32 sermon


Last week the sermon was about learning and studying the Scriptures. Last week I focused on the Bereans and how they went back to God’s Word when there was a new idea. They checked the Scriptures in order to see what the Scriptures had to say about this new teaching the Apostle Pau taught. Then they found out that this teaching did not contradict the Scriptures. They discovered that the Scriptures prophesied about Christ and they became Christians.

So, what is your standard? Do you go back to the Bible for Truth? On one end of the spectrum we must be sure that we are not corrupted by culture, this means that we know the faith and we go back to God’s Word. On another end of the spectrum we must be prepared to be a witness. How can you cross cultural barriers in order to be a witness? The Apostle Paul did this. Do you know culture?

1 Chronicles 12:32:

from Issachar, men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do—200 chiefs, with all their relatives under their command…

Here is a poem about the way people think:



Out of the night that covers me,

            Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

            For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

            I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

            My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

            Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

            Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

            How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

            I am the captain of my soul.

Okay, how do we connect with that worldview? Everyone has a worldview, this concerns the way that we view the world. Most of the time these are under the surface, we do not think about it. The Bible gives us a Christian worldview. But we also must know where others are coming from. The Apostle Paul did. Sometimes we are afraid of culture. Sometimes we are offended by culture and we withdraw. Or we are delighted by culture and we assimilate. The Apostle Paul was distressed by culture and so he engaged culture with the Gospel.

I want to look at Acts 17:16-34 and make the case that he knew the culture and he was ready to engage the culture.

Let’s read Acts 17:16-34:

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17  So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18  A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19  Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20  You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21  (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

22  Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24  “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26  From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27  God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28  ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[a] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[b]

29  “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30  In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31  For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

32  When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33  At that, Paul left the Council. 34  Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others

[I am deeply indebted to Dr. Bill Brown, chancellor of Cedarville University, much of my information, and PowerPoint, comes from his chapel messages, specifically February 11 and 12, 2003]

  1. We’ll come back to this passage but my challenge is that we think worldviewishly. Think about where people are coming from, what is their worldview and what is the Christian worldview. Worldview questions are: What is wrong and how can it be fixed; what is real; where is history going; What has value; what can be known and how can it be known; what happens to a person after death. There are different views.
    1. Naturalism: the world as we see it. Nature is everything. There is nothing else. “It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God…I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that…

My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not rare and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time .”

Thomas Nagel

Professor of Law and



At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

(Planned Parenthood V. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 [1992]).

Opinion by O’Connor, Kennedy and Souter

In the beginning

were the particles

and the impersonal laws of physics.

And the particles somehow became complex living stuff; and the stuff imagined God, But then discovered evolution.

    1. Existentialism: I must find meaning in my life because there is no meaning to my life. “Marilyn Manson signifies freedom.

He’s showing that it’s OK to be

yourself even if people don’t agree

to it. And that’s what makes us like

him so much – that we can be different.

We can have fangs. We can dye our hair.”


    1. Nihilism: life is empty, meaningless, I need to do anything I want. Life’s but a walking shadow,

a poor player

That struts and frets his hour

upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

Macbeth act V, scene V

    1. Nihilism in rock:
  • Alice in Chains
  • Acid Drinkers
  • Anthrax
  • Death Angel
  • God Forsaken
  • House of Pain
  • Hellhammer
  • Helloween
  • Judas Priest
  • Life Sex and Death
  • megadeth
  • Obituary
  • Beck
  • Biohazard
  • Black Sabbath
  • Body Count
  • Sodom
  • Death of Millions
  • Porno for Pyros
  • Suicidal Tendencies
  • Suicide
  • White Zombie
  • Angelcorpse
  • Autopsy
  • Blood
  • Christ Agony
  • Deicide
  • Demonic
  • Dissection
  • Impaled Nazarene
  • Hades
  • Luciferon
  • Massacre
  • Necrophobic
  • rotting Christ
  • Sadistic Intent
  • Slayer
  • Torchure
  • Mr. Rogers by Korn: One song’s lyrics: You told me everybody was my neighbor.

They took advantage of me.

I wish I hadn’t watched you.

I hate you . . .

  • Nihilism in life: Proverbs 8:35-36: For he who finds me [wisdom] finds life
And obtains favor from the Lord.

But he who sins against me injures himself;
All those who hate me love death.”

    1. Hedonism: life has no purpose, other than pleasure, go for it. Hedonism: eat drink and whatever: “You only live once. Nobody gets out of

this alive. So you might as well drink it

all and snort it all and live as fast as you

can. I don’t won’t to be fifty and look

back and say, “I wish I’d done that.”

And if you get in trouble along the way,

so what? You pay the dues.”

Nikki Sixx, Motley Crue

    1. Humanism: I must make the world a better place for humans.
      1. I use the word ‘Humanist’ to mean

someone who believes that man is just

as much a natural phenomenon as an

animal or plant; that his body, mind

and soul were not supernaturally created

but are products of evolution, and that he

is not under the control or guidance of

any supernatural being or beings, but

has to rely on himself and his

own powers.”

Julian Huxley

American Humanist Association

    1. Transcendentalism: Nature= God: Buddhism:
      1. “I like spirituality, not religion or politics. Religion turns into ‘My god’s bigger than your god; therefore, you’re a heathen, and you should die, and I’ll take your land and build a temple on top of your flattened house.’ Religion is a corrupt business. Spirituality is like water and sun. When it rains, the prostitute and the pope get wet just the same. Spirituality is not memorizing the Koran or the Bible while hurting people in the name of Allah or Jesus or Buddha or oil. We are all chosen. Surely we have the capacity to transmute anger and fear into a masterpiece of joy.”

– Carlos Santana, USA Today, October 16, 2002, 1D

      1. “Shamans heal with music and herbs. You have Buddha, Krishna, Allah, Rama, Jehovah … they all want unity and harmony on this planet, all of them. That’s the message: unity and harmony and transform your fear.”

Carlos Santana speaking about the title of Santana’s latest album titled, Shaman, Associated Press, October 16, 2002.

    1. Theism: God created nature:
      1. Judaism
      2. Christianity
      3. Islam
      4. Christianity is Christ. . .

Take Christ from Christianity, and you

disembowel it; there is practically

nothing left.

Christ is the center of Christianity,

all else is circumference.

John Stott

  1. Now, let’s get back to the passage. How does Paul engage culture?
    1. There certainly is a lot in this passage. When we understand where the culture is coming from and where there thinking is we are better equipped to engage culture.
    2. The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot ever fence it out.”

J. R. R. Tolkein

Gildor Inglorion of the House of Finrod,

Fellowship of the Ring

    1. There are 3 approaches to culture and we’ll see Paul’s approach:
      1. We can be offended by culture which leads to withdraw.
      2. We can be delighted by culture and we assimilate.
      3. We can be distressed by culture and so we engage culture.
        1. The latter is what the Bible calls us to do. . . . Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)—

2 Peter 2:7-8

James 4:4: You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

        1. This is what the Apostle Paul did.
      1. Verse 16 says that Paul was distressed by what he saw:
      2. While Paul was waiting for them in Athens,

he was greatly distressed to see that the

city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the

synagogues, . . .as well as in the market-

place day by day. . . . “Men of Athens, I see

that in every way you are very religious.

For as I walked around and looked

carefully at your objects of worship. . .”

Acts 17:16-34

      1. Are we distressed by the sinful culture?
      2. But Paul did not get distressed so much that he buried his head in the sand. He did not assimilate with culture either. He engaged the culture. Later we see that Paul reasoned in the synagogue. He talked to the people.
      3. Could he do that if he did not know culture? No. Could he reason with them if he did not know Christianity and the Scriptures? No. Could he reason with them if he was not seeking the Lord? Not really. If we are not seeking the Lord we can win an argument but lose the person.
      5. Paul’s method:
        1. Greatly Distressed by the culture (verse 16)
        2. sought to understand the culture (verse 23)
        3. Started where they were (verses 22-23), he quotes two of their own poets. That is like us quoting a rock band.
        4. Positive about the Truth he found (verse 22)
        5. Knew and quoted sources (verses 22 and 28)
        6. Communicated the Gospel (verses 18 and 30-31)


We live in a culture that is considered post-Christian or we could call it pre-Christian which means that we are ripe for revival. We are ripe for an evangelical movement. I want to part of that movement. I want to be used of God. We see that Paul engaged the culture. I hope you will as well.

There was a music professor at a European school. He grew old and he could not take care of himself. He did not have anyone, so the school adopted him and he lived in a men’s dorm. Every day one of the men would come and say, “Professor what is the weather like?” The professor would respond, “It is changing, the weather always changes.” He would then strike his tuning fork against his wheel chair and say, “This is middle C, it never changed, it is constant. The weather can change, but middle C does not change.”

What is your middle C? I hope it is the Scriptures as it was for the Bereans. Cling to the Scriptures because culture will change. But don’t runaway from culture. Study culture, be a student of the culture like the men of Issachar of 1 Chronicles 12:32 and then be like Paul and engage the culture with the Heart and the Mind of Christ.

1 Cor. 9:23

I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

Remember, you are never alone for the Holy Spirit is with you.

Do you know Jesus? Maybe today you realize that you are assimilated to the culture. It is time to commit to Christ.

God created us to be with him. (Genesis 1-2)

Our sin separated us from God. (Genesis 3)

Sins cannot be removed by good deeds (Gen 4-Mal 4)

Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)

Everyone who trusts in him alone has eternal life. (John – Jude)

Life that’s eternal means we will be with Jesus forever. (Revelation 22:5)


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