By Michael J. Brooks
Youth culture calls it an “epic fail.”
Some believe that’s what happened in first-century Athens. The early church missionary-leader, Paul, failed miserably.
In obedience to the vision God gave in Troy, Paul left the Roman province of Asia, crossed the Aegean Sea into Greece and created a gospel beachhead in Europe. Traveling in Macedonia, the northern state in Greece, he founded churches in Philippi, Berea and Thessalonica. Then he determined to travel south to the state of Achaia.
His first stop was the intellectual capital of the Mediterranean world—Athens. Here Socrates, Plato and Aristotle had taught philosophy and wisdom. In this new and secular place Paul was invited to city center to address the learned men. He decided to try a different tact in his preaching. The apostle normally took a text from what we call the Old Testament and explained how the messianic prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus, the Christ. On this day, he quoted two Greek poets in his message (though the dozen or so verses Luke used to describe this message were certainly only a summary of what Paul must’ve said).
The impression is that the learned Athenians laughed him off the stage when he proclaimed the resurrection.
Greek philosophy differed from the Christian gospel in this regard.
Luke recorded that though his time in Athens was short, Paul spent the next 18 months in fruitful ministry in Corinth. The sense is he left Athens with his head hanging low thinking he’d failed to persuade the intellectuals.
At least this is what I’ve heard from some; namely, Philippi, Berea, Thessalonica and Corinth were great crusades, and Athens was but a whimper.
However, Luke declared there were at least four converts in Athens: Dionysius, Damaris and “others” (Acts 17:34). How can one claim the mission was a failure if disciples were brought to faith? And even if there were only four, aren’t these four significant?
Mack told me years ago about assisting in the baptism of his son. When he helped his son from the water, the pastor remarked to another deacon that “this is number 12 this year!” Mack told me with tears in his eyes, “I didn’t care what number he was. He was my son.”
A later Christian leader named Eusebius recorded a tradition that Dionysius served as pastor of the Athenian church. Thus, we learn two possible outcomes: a church was begun in Athens, and one of Paul’s converts assumed leadership. Hardly a mark of failure.
We’re prone to grow discouraged and label something a failure, forgetting God specializes in the salvage business. As the contemporary chorus puts it, “he works in ways we cannot see, he will make a way for me.” -30-
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Ala. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.