When Paul arrived in Athens in 50 AD, he was at the centre of religious and philosophic life in the world of his day. He visited the meeting at the Areopagus, part of the Acropolis where people gathered to discuss ideas, theories and beliefs. He had passed many altars throughout the city dedicated to various deities of the day, and used the inscription on one as a starting point for his speech: To an Unknown God.
Paul announced to the assembled thinkers that he had come to tell them about the one they worshipped in ignorance. Now, much has changed since Paul’s day, but one constant is that people very often continue to worship “an unknown God”. Even in Christian churches, week after week, there are many, perhaps, who sing and pray and worship God without really knowing very much about him, and possibly who don’t know him at all.
Why is this? Primarily, it is because no-one has told them about God, even in church. They know the name of Jesus, they have an idea about the Trinity, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, but not much else. But that is not Christianity as it is meant to be. Over and over again, Jesus emphasised that he wanted people to know, to learn about him: to ask, seek and knock.
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” [John 17.3] Paul, John, Peter, all the New Testament writers, express the same thing: “Don’t you know?”, “I don’t want you to be ignorant”. Peter encouraged Christians to “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge ”[2 Peter 1.5] Then there is Paul’s wonderful words to the Colossians: “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God. [Colossians 1.9-10]
See how he uses those words, “knowledge”, “wisdom”, “understanding”. This is what God wants for his people, that they know, understand, grow in knowledge of God. “But”, some will say “is this not just an appeal to intellectuals, not for the regular Christian, but for the ‘professionals’?” Paul is not suggesting that everyone head off to a Bi- ble College or seminary (that can often make things worse): he is speaking to the all the Christians in Colossae, not just a few. This is for every one of us, without reference to educa- tion, social position, age, ethnicity, or gender.
“But”, those same ones will protest, “not everyone has the wherewithal to understand theology”. But, as Christians, we are promised that the Holy Spirit will teach us, regardless. During the last meal he shared with friends, Jesus promised: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”[John 16.13] There is an even more amazing statement from Paul, writing to the Corinthians: “The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” [1 Corinthians 2.15-16]
How can we have the mind of Christ? By having our minds renewed, or transfigured, as Paul says to the Romans: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”[Romans 12.2] There are two basic ways of thinking: the world’s way, and God’s. And we know what God wants us to know through the Scriptures. Paul encouraged the young man, Timothy, in this way:
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”[2 Timothy 3.14-17].
We read biographies and autobiographies when we want to get to know about someone. Read the New Testament if you want to know about Jesus. Read, and ask the Spirit to open the book, if you want to know Jesus. He is not an Unknown God: he wants to be known by you.