“nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”
– Acts 17:25 (ESV – Read the chapter)
Have you ever done someone else a favor? I suspect so. That’s not an uncommon thing to do. It’s a basic cultural courtesy in most human cultures. Someone needs something, we are able to do it for them without cost, and so we do. And, while we don’t often cash in on this right away, there’s usually an unspoken understanding that once this favor has been given, a favor is now deserved. In most cases, this whole system keeps society running smoothly. But, what about the times when it doesn’t work? Paul touches on one here.
Paul here was speaking before the gathering of thinkers, philosophers, and scholars gathered at the famous Areopagus in Athens. This group of rich men with little else to do would sit around to hear and debate the latest philosophical ideas. When Paul came to town they were intrigued to hear about this Jewish wisdom teacher named Jesus and gave him the floor for the afternoon.
What do you say to proclaim the Gospel to a group of thoroughly pagan, wealthy men who think they’re all smarter than you when given the floor before them? Paul’s presentation is a pretty good place to start. He begins, not with the Scriptures or Jesus or even just the general idea of God as the Jews conceived of Him. He started with their paganism and went from there. He never actually mentions the name Jesus at all. He simply reasons with them that there is a God who is greater than any of the gods they worshiped and who had done something in history worthy of their attention.
His goal was not necessarily to convert anyone (although he was no doubt ready to go if the Spirit should have moved in any of their hearts), but rather to simply get a second hearing. He met with moderate success. Several members of the exclusive club thought he was a crank, but a few were intrigued enough to ask for a subsequent, private meeting.
Paul’s sermon has been analyzed many, many times over. Here, I just want to look at this one idea. As Paul compared the gods of the Athenians with the one true God, he highlighted this one really important distinction (there are obviously many others). With pagan gods, the people worked for them to do things they either couldn’t or wouldn’t do for themselves. They filled a need the gods had. When it comes to the one true God, though, this couldn’t be further from the case. We can’t do or give to Him anything He doesn’t already have save one thing: Ourselves.
God doesn’t need us. He exists entirely independently of us. Had He never created the world and everything in it He would have not been changed in any way. Instead, He created as an act of love. He wanted to give someone other than Himself the opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of His love the way He already did. So He gave and He hasn’t stopped giving since.
Paul’s point (and it’s a good one) is that any god who needs us isn’t a god worth serving. Such a god isn’t worthy of our worship. If he is dependent upon us, then really, we are the god. We are at least coequal in some way. He may have more power, but we have the devotion without which he cannot exist. If we stop caring, he stops existing.
The one true God is nothing like that. We exist at His pleasure, not the other way around. Because of that, He is truly worthy of our lives and devotion. Have you given yours to Him yet? You’ll be glad you did.