The Apostle Paul was continually on the run as a result of preaching the Gospel. The strongholds of Jewish religion without the Messianic acknowledgment, as well as communities infested with false religions and heathenistic standings, were the challenges that stood before Paul. Yet time and time again, he put his life in danger to present the Gospel. After his conversion, Paul possessed zeal to present the Gospel no matter what the cost. Traveling throughout Asia Minor, Paul entered town after town with the message of forgiveness and reconciliation through Jesus the Christ. In Thessalonica, the opposition was so severe that his disciples took it upon themselves to get Paul out of the city and take him to Berea. When some of the Thessalonians heard where he had gone, they mounted a “vigilante” group and went to Berea to stir up opposition to his ministry. Paul was once again forced to leave the area and was led by some Believers to the city of Athens. Paul instructed those who had helped him escape Berea to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible.
While Paul waited for the rest of his evangelistic team to join him, he became aware that Athens was a city “wholly” given to idolatry. The Bible says that “his spirit was grieved and roused to anger” (Acts 17:16 amp.) because Athens was full of idols. He planned a twofold attack against the city. First, he would dispute with the Jews in the synagogue and then evangelize in the market place. I imagine in the back of his mind, Paul was thinking of how he could engage those who promoted idol worship and progressive thought, namely, the Epicureans and Stoics. He did not have to wait long, for those philosophers sought him out and invited him to engage in lively discussions at the Areopagus, which was where the Supreme Tribunal of Athens met to exchange thoughts and new ideas. (Acts 17:18-21) To accept the invitation to address the philosophers was not motivated by the Holy Spirit, but by Paul’s own initiative. It is good to see Believers with a zeal to serve the Lord, but one must never allow that zeal to precede the Holy Spirit’s directive. There has been a lot of damage done to the Christian movement by unchecked enthusiasm. A woman told me of the time she was in the hospital facing a very difficult diagnosis when a woman from her church came to visit her and told her that it was because of sin in her life that she was experiencing her life challenging moment. Paul was not out of line by engaging the Jews and the people in the market place, but when he engaged the Epicureans and Stoics on Mars Hill, he was on their turf and under their rules. During his presentation, he did not once mention Jesus by name; instead, he referred to Him as “the man.” (Acts 17:31) After his brief dissertation, they mocked him and even urged him to come back to hear some more of his ideas. Paul never returned and, in fact, left for Corinth shortly thereafter. It is true that at least one of the Philosophers (Dioinysius), a certain lady, and a number of spectators believed what Paul was saying, but there is no telling what he could have accomplished had he stuck with presenting the Gospel to the Jews in the Synagogue and the market place.
Whenever we take it upon ourselves to present the Gospel, there is the possibility that we may do more harm than good. Paul would later write to the Colossians and warn them about the dangers of philosophy. (Colossians 2:8) Let us make sure we put our zeal behind the Holy Spirit’s directive, and not just run around “casting our pearls” (Matthew 7:6) because we feel it is our Christian obligation. (Read and study Acts 17)