What We're Up Against

It's not just opposition. Often it's condescension and disrespect.

Acts 17:16-21 (ESV)

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

Paul thinks the solution to everything is to reason in the synagogue with the Jews. Obviously, chicken soup hasn’t been invented yet. So, despite some pretty bad experiences, here he is again in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day.

This time Paul encounters some severe disrespect. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers use an outrageously condescending expression – “What does this babbler wish to say?” The word that’s translated as babbler (spermalogos) literally means seed-picker. In other words, they see him as an uneducated manual laborer who couldn’t possibly say anything interesting.

Boy are they in for a surprise.

That condescending attitude is still around. On Feb. 1, 1993, the Washington Post published a news article that described fundamentalist Christians as, “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.”


In response to a record setting avalanche of mail, the Post conceded that this was bigotry that should never have made it past the editors, and they promised to change their ways. But that’s just one newspaper, which will always remember the embarrassment of being too obvious. Many people still think we’re “largely” stupid. Jesus warned us this would happen.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” – Matthew 5:11 (ESV)

This means that one of the most frustrating things about being a modern Christian isn’t a bad thing. It’s even a source of blessing, if we can keep it from driving us nuts.

Pray for patience and perspective. Paul and Silas were relaxed enough that they could sing in prison. Ask the Lord to give you that kind of peace.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7 (ESV)

The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:


Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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