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The Scriptorium

Seeking the Lost

What are we waiting for? Acts 17.16-21

Savior and King (4)

Pray Psalm 71.1-3.
In You, O LORD, I put my trust;
Let me never be put to shame.
Deliver me in Your righteousness, and cause me to escape;
Incline Your ear to me, and save me.
Be my strong refuge,
To which I may resort continually;
You have given the commandment to save me,
For You are my rock and my fortress.

Sing Psalm 71.1-3.
(Solid Rock: My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less)
In You, O Lord, I refuge claim; O let me never be ashamed.
In righteousness deliver me; incline Your ear and hear my plea.
Refrain v. 3
A Rock of habitation be; command Your Word to rescue me;

my Rock and Fortress ever be.

Read Acts 17.1-21; meditate on verses 16-21.

1. What bothered Paul in Athens?

2. How did he learn about this?


Paul sought the lost, just as Jesus did (Lk. 19.11), because he had been sent into the world just as Jesus was sent (Jn. 20.21). Later he would tell us to imitate him as he imitates Jesus (1 Cor. 11.1).

Paul “reasoned in the synagogue” and “in the marketplace.” In the marketplace Paul might have expected to find philosophers from various schools of thought, milling about with their students, debating one another, expounding on this, that, or the other. Here he would have had plenty of opportunities to continue the ongoing work of Christ. Paul’s “spirit was provoked within him” over the rampant idolatry of the city, but he did not let that keep him from his work. He might have concluded that the Athenians, given all their idols and worldly philosophers, would not be interested in the Gospel. Instead, he went straight to them, reasoning and preaching as often as opportunities allowed. What idols are people clinging to in our day?

The Athenians could only barely get the gist of his message – “this new doctrine” – so they sent a delegation to invite him to make a formal presentation at the Areopagus.

Paul launched the ongoing work of Christ among the Athenians, bringing the light of truth into a very dense fog of rationalistic philosophy and pagan religion. After his visit there, we hear no more about Athens and the few hearers converted by Paul’s ministry. But this does not mean that Paul’s labors there were in vain. Sowing the Word of Jesus and His Kingdom never fails to accomplish what God intends (Is. 55.10, 11).

Treasures Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
“Now while Paul waited for them [Silas and Timothy] at Athens…” (Acts 17.16)

In a musical composition there can be variations on the theme of the music. So it is with Biblical waiting. It seems to me that waiting can either be done passively, or actively. And Biblical waiting is always active. Maybe not always physically active, but spiritually in motion.

Here are some variations on waiting:
“Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD!”
“Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.”
“I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry…” (Pss. 27.14; 37.7; 40.1)
“But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Is. 40.31).
“For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.” “…but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8. 19, 23).
“…so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time…for salvation” (Heb. 9.28).

Patiently. Eagerly. Courageously. Earnestly. Now while Paul waited…his spirit was provoked within him. But even in the provocation of spirit Paul found a way to be working in his Personal Mission Field. He didn’t just fume over the idolatry, he actively and daily reasoned in the synagogue and in the marketplace with those who happened to be there (Acts 17.16, 17).

And just so we don’t get discouraged in our own spirits about not being as eloquent as Paul, Luke tells us what the Athenians’ response to his speaking was: “What does this babbler want to say?” And “he seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods” (Acts 17.18).

Maybe not something he put on his next job resume?

But seeking the lost is a matter of our hearts. And telling the Good News doesn’t depend on eloquence. Therefore, waiting on the LORD to lead, guide, and empower us is all we are called to do. Albeit faithfully. So we eagerly and actively wait. We read the Word daily. We pray. We babble. We proclaim.

The Holy Spirit is quite able to handle the rest!

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory, and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24, 25).

For reflection
1. Paul demonstrated a very active “waiting” on the Lord as he waited for his friends. What will waiting on the Lord look like in your life today?

2. We can imagine that Paul didn’t wait too long to start conversations that led to the Gospel. With whom might you begin a conversation about Jesus today? How will you do that?

3. Paul was regarded pejoratively as a “babbler.” But that didn’t stop his “babbling.” Rather, he jumped at the opportunity to babble on about Jesus. What can discourage you from talking about Jesus today? How will you overcome that?

The zealous advocate for the cause of Christ will be ready to plead for it in all companies, as occasion offers… Time is precious, and we are concerned to employ it well, because eternity depends upon it, but much is wasted in unprofitable conversation. Matthew Henry (1662-1714), Commentary on Acts 17.16-21

Pray Psalm 71.12-18.
As you pray these verses, think of the day ahead and the people you will encounter as you work your Personal Mission Field. Be ready with a word of witness or encouragement. Call on the Lord for His strength. Pray that He will give you an opportunity to talk with someone about Jesus.

Sing Psalm 71.12-18 and verse 3.
(Solid Rock: My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less)
O God be not too far from me; my ever-present Helper be!
Consume and shame my enemies; let them reproached and humbled be.
Refrain, v. 3
A Rock of habitation be; command Your Word to rescue me;

my Rock and Fortress ever be.

But as for me my voice I raise to sing in hope and constant praise!
With saving grace my voice will swell Your never-ending grace to tell.

O Lord, I praise Your righteousness Who me from youth have taught and blessed.
Forsake me not when I am old, ‘til I Your mercies all have told!

T. M. and Susie Moore

You can listen to a summary of last week’s Scriptorium study by going to our website,, and clicking theScriptorium tab for last Sunday. You can download any or all the studies in this series on Acts by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (Williston: Waxed Tablet Publications, 2006), available by clicking here.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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