The Unknown God

Thursday: Seek God While He May Be Found

Acts 17:16-34 This week’s studies teach us how Paul shared the Gospel with the philosophers in Athens.
Seek God While He May Be Found

In today’s study we continue our look at the points made by Paul in his sermon on Mars Hill. 

3. God is the ordainer of all things. Third, Paul says that God not only sustains the universe but that he also guides the affairs of men. Verse 26: “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” 

Theologians refer to this as “the hidden counsels” of God. The word “hidden” means that God has not revealed these eternal counsels to us in Scripture as He has other things. So we do not know the future; we do not know what God has determined to do in national affairs. Nevertheless, God is in control of what happens. He has made plans and thus also determines whatever comes to pass. This is the true God, not a weak God we must beg in order to get Him to change His mind about something, but a God who has already determined all things. He determined, for example, that the Greeks would be Greeks, the Athenians would be Athenians, and that Americans would be Americans. 

4. We should seek God. If God has revealed Himself to us in creation, as He has, and if God sustains creation (including ourselves), if God has determined the bounds of our habitations and our destiny, which Paul declares to be the case, it follows from this that we have an obligation to seek God out and find Him. Indeed, that is the purpose of the general revelation. God has revealed Himself so that we might seek Him out. Paul states this clearly and emphatically in verse 27, saying: “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him, though he is not far from each one of us.”

The Conclusion. We have not done that. We have not sought God. Instead, we have made idols that we can see and manage. Therefore, we must repent. As we see in verses 29-30: “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” 

We can see why, the flow of the sermon having been along these lines, Paul calls for repentance. He has not spoken of the gross immorality of the Athenians, though he could have done that. He has not spoken of the intellectual arrogance of the philosophers, though he could have articulated that as well. These things were bad, but there was a sense in which the Greeks did not know any better in these areas. Not so with the revelation of God in nature. In this area they did know better, just as we do, regardless of our disclaimers. Consequently, being guilty in this area, they needed to repent of their sin. 

We need that message for our generation, too, though we are far guiltier than the Greeks. Besides, we need it for ourselves, if we have not yet repented. Christianity does not begin by saying, “You’re a very good fellow, and everything is going to be nice for you if you will just get in touch with God.” Christianity says, “You have failed to seek after God. You have gone your own way. You are willfully ignorant. Therefore, God commands that you repent of that ignorance.” As we repent, God holds out the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Study Questions
  1. What are the “hidden counsels” of God?
  2. How can Paul say the Athenians are guilty when they do not know God?

Application: Are there any idols in your life that at times keep you from seeking wholeheartedly after God?

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “Jesus: The Unknown.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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