In Acts 18:4 is a description of Paul’s activities in Corinth: “Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.” This verse virtually repeats a description in Acts 17:17 of Paul’s activities in Athens: “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.”
Taken together, these two verses not only describe Paul’s activities but evoke his mind and heart. Then backing up in Acts 17 to verse 16, we understand clearly his mind and heart: “While Paul was waiting for [Silas and Timothy] in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” Paul’s distress at so many people worshipping so many idols impelled him to talk with people who did not know of or worship Jesus. He hoped to persuade them of the truth of Jesus so they would give their mind and heart to Jesus as savior and lord of the universe, savior and lord of their life.
Are we distressed to see our world, our community, filled with so many idols? Idols? What does that mean? Perhaps there were idols and idol-worshippers in Paul’s day. But idols today? Idol-worshippers today?
An idol can be anything elevated to equality with or superiority over God. It is anything that pulls us away from truly acknowledging and worshipping God. In this sense, our world is filled with idols and idol-worshippers. Many people put some thing in place of the true God – another idea of god, a political perspective, a philosophical system, science, ethnicity, kinship, money, power, sex, and more. We may be sorely tempted to give our mind and heart to beliefs, desires, and behaviors that deflect and pull us away from God.
We should be distressed for the sake of others and for our own sake at these idols, at our idol-worship. We should be talking with and trying to persuade others and ourselves, day in and day out, in “places of worship” and in the marketplace, that we should worship only the one true God, uniquely revealed to us in Jesus. Then we will know what Paul heard the Lord say, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you….”