It is incontestably true that, with the exception of Jesus, the apostle Paul made the deepest spiritual impact upon the world and spread the gospel further than anyone else in history. It is also fair to say that, as believers, we all have a desire to transform our world and reach lost souls the same way Paul did. But, as painful as it is to admit, it is observably true that we are not doing so for the most part. So, what are we missing in our evangelism? Why aren’t we impacting the world like Paul did?
We have a plethora of evangelistic resources and tools at our disposal—much more than Paul had—so that’s not the problem. We mostly know how to share the gospel with sinners who will listen, so that’s not the issue. And, we certainly have ample opportunities and plenty of “open doors” to proclaim the gospel every week, so that’s not the hang-up either. What we don’t have oftentimes is the heart Paul had.
What we need in order to reach the world like Paul is a burning and broken heart—a heart that burns hot for God’s glory, and one that is broken and shattered for the sinfulness of man. That’s the heart Paul possessed, and it drove him to evangelize a place as depraved as Athens, Greece. Paul was consumed by a conviction that compelled him to preach the gospel and point idolatrous sinners to the only God who is worthy of worship:
“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him” (Acts 17:16-18)
As soon as Paul arrived in Athens, he wasn’t struck by the alluring ancient architecture; he was struck by the awful idolatry that filled the streets. “The city was full of idols,” Luke says. In Greek, this literally means the city streets were “smothered in idols.” And people who passed through Athens confirmed this, as they would often say that it was easier to find a god than a man.
Athens was an idol-factory that never ceased operations. Temples to mythical gods towered thousands of feet high. Every street corner had an altar. Marble busts depicting every fictitious deity imaginable were almost innumerable. And, at the sight of this, Paul was “provoked” within his spirit.
His heart simultaneously erupted in righteous indignation and fractured into a thousand pieces. He was enraged that wood and stone idols were given glory that belongs to God (cf. Deut. 9:7), and he was saddened because he knew that all sinners are hopelessly enslaved to such idolatry. And a burning and broken heart drove him to proclaim the gospel—the only remedy for sinners steeped in perverted idolatry.
Thus, Luke says: “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him” (vv. 17-18a).
Paul did not raid temples or topple idols. He didn’t grab robes or protest in the streets. And most importantly, he didn’t stand idly by while people sailed merrily to eternal torment. Instead, he patiently and boldly preached the gospel to anyone who would listen.
He “reasoned” with the Jews, proving to them that Jesus was the Christ, just as he had done in many other cities. He conversed with people in the public marketplace, engaging in street evangelism with pedestrians. And he debated the philosophers of the day, arguing that Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life (cf. John 14:6).
Here’s the bottom line: Paul saw sinners the way they truly were, and it compelled him to impact the world for Christ and proclaim the gospel to every listening ear. And thus, we have the missing ingredient in our evangelism. If we want to transform the world the way Paul did, we must speak the way Paul spoke. If we desire to speak the way Paul did, we must feel the way he felt about the world. And, if we want to feel the way Paul felt, we must see the way Paul saw the world: steeped in idolatry and in need of redemption from the Lord.
Seeing the world’s pitiful idolatry through biblical eyes is what fuels our zeal to point lost sinners to the only God who is worthy of worship.
How do you see your unsaved family, friends, and neighbors? Do you see them the same way Paul saw the world? Do you see them as helplessly and hopelessly enslaved to idolatry? That’s the conviction that will compel you to proclaim the gospel to a place as sinful and unreachable as Athens.