As Paul traveled from one place to the next, he not only entered the synagogues to show the Jews that the Messiah had come, but he was also working against the prevailing religion at the time, Hellenism, where they worshiped the Greek gods and practiced animism, the idea that inanimate objects would have souls.
When Paul arrived in Athens, he found himself in the center, the very heart, of Hellenism. This is the place that housed the Areopagus and temples dedicated to the various Hellenistic gods. I can only imagine that, as he walked around the city and the various marketplaces, Paul was aghast at the worship of these other gods and all of the various symbols that he found there.
Paul is invited to come to speak at the Areopagus, so he goes and speaks of One God. One God who is the one who is unknown to the Greeks. They don’t know Him, but now Paul is going to introduce them. He is the one who made everything. Heaven and earth. They thought that Zeus and Artemis and Athena were great, but they are nothing more than images that have been fashioned by man out of gold, silver, or stone. Instead, God is the one God who made all things. There aren’t many gods, Paul says. There is One. One God, and only one God.
The practice of the Greeks was to build these “gods” with their hands and then build large temples to worship them. But Paul notes an important difference with the God that he is speaking about. This God does not need a temple.
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.Acts 17:24-25
It is silly to think that God could be contained by a temple. The Jews tried it – in fact, they still, even today, go to a rock wall to pray to God. The Greeks were trying it. They built massive temples to each of the gods that they were serving.
But there is an important implication to what Paul is saying here. If God is not in the temple, and if God cannot be contained by the temple, we should understand and practice that God is worshiped and served not only in the temple but also everywhere else that we live and move, and do anything that we are doing.
Today, if you say this to a group of people, I think you would have almost universal agreement. “Yes, of course,” we would all say. Of course God isn’t just in the temple. God is universal. He is anywhere and everywhere that He wants to be. Everyone agrees.
But that is not at all what we practice, is it? Our practice is that we go to church. Our practice is that we go to religious places to do religious things. Our practice is that we go to our modern day “temples” to meet with God.
That practice limits us. In fact, it limits us severely. I would go so far as to say that it is preventing us from doing what Jesus has commanded us to do. We go to the place where the religious things happen and we watch the people who are leading the religious activities, and we somehow think that this is what God has called us to do.
That couldn’t be further from the truth, though. We are called, all of us, to belong to the royal priesthood. We are called, all of us, to serve God by day and by night. We are called to serve Him in the church, but we are called to serve Him also outside of the church. And how? By making disciples, just as Jesus told us to do. In connection with the church but also just as we go. Not by simply taking more people to the “temple”, into the church where the religious things happen. No, but each day, and that will have practical implications as we belong to the church where we are, and we make disciples amongst the people where are moving and living and working, seeing new churches continue to form where we are going.
It is God who gives life and breath and everything else. It is God who moves us. Not a place. Not a special people. God Himself. He is not served by human hands in a special place. He is served by human hands in every place. Let us live and move and work in this way, obeying Christ and being the royal priests that we are called to be within the Kingdom to which Jesus purchased each of us.