16,17 “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 synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.”
Acts 17:16,17 (NIV)
Have you ever seen or heard of a legendary movie trilogy about Dirty Harry (played by Clint Eastwood)? ”Dirty Harry” was a heroic cop figure who battled crime all around San Francisco.
Harry wasn’t actually dirty at all. He just entered the dirt to fearlessly fight crime at every turn and got some thrilling wins. That was the plot line that played out every time. It was a good series.
Dirty Harry reminds me of the apostle Paul. Today’s Scripture points to “Dirty Paul,” spiritually engaging an even bigger city of his day -- Athens, Greece.
Athens was the world’s cultural capital of the day, known for its great commitment to learning and advanced thought. Yet it was full of spiritual crime which was caused by widespread idolatry.
Here’s how Dirty Paul got after it ...
HE SPOTTED THE ENEMY. The enemy was a semi-invisible, multi-headed monster called idolatry. Idols had popped up and taken root everywhere.
Paul saw that people were worshiping creatures more than the Creator, being seduced by stuff that can never fully satisfy, and following things bound to betray us in the end. Trouble inevitably comes when we worship things that can never really love us back.
Families, teams, communities, even nations fracture as a result. Idols are dangerous.
Here are some samples of (potential) idols then and now:
- Fertility -- Money, Land, Prosperity
- Pleasure -- unrestrained Sex and sensual Entertainment
- Knowledge -- Education Degrees
- Power -- Control and Independence
- Comfort -- Material Possessions
- Approval -- Popularity and Social Standing
Paul spotted the enemy. How good are you at spotting the enemies?
HE STRESSED FOR SOULS. Paul was “greatly distressed” over what he spotted. What he saw moved him. He didn’t just notice, he let it get to him. He felt it deeply. He made it matter. His “care button” got hit.
HE GOT DIRTY. Paul mixed it up in the marketplace. Jews, Greeks, about anyone got his attention. He entered the dirt, the fray, to help people get clean, whole, emancipated.
He exposed idols, he reasoned with men based on love and truth. He contended for the souls of men. He cared greatly, he loved well. O, may you and I engage and do the same!
Reflect: What idols do you see in your world, your circles, your teams, your home, and even in your own life? Like Paul, are you “greatly distressed” by these enemies of our souls?
What enemies in and around you need to be no longer tolerated but engaged and eliminated? If you’re coming up with blanks right now, would you simply ask God to help you to see what needs to be seen, to care, and to do what needs to be done?
A prayer to consider: Father, there are lots of idols around my life waiting to be worshiped. I know they want in. Jesus, help me to spot them and eliminate them through the power of Your Spirit.
And help me to help emancipate others too. You alone, LORD, are worthy of our worship. Thank you for coaching me to victory via Exodus 20:3, Colossians 1:17 and 1 John 5:21. Amen.