“I perceive that you, in everything, fear demons.”
Thus spake the apostle Paul to the Athenian Areopagus atop Mar’s Hill.
The statement is frequently translated into English as, either “very superstitious,” or “very religious,” and that is how the Athenians would have understood it, for they called the spirits they worshipped, “demons.” (cf. Acts 17:22)
The Athenians were very religious people, and there were literally shrines on every street corner, to gods and demons named and unnamed. Luke records for us, regarding Paul’s reaction to this cultural environment, “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” (Acts 17:16; ESV) When Paul was invited to speak to the city council concerning his faith, he began with his observation of their devotion, but went on to explain to them that there was, in fact, one true God they should be worshipping instead. It is interesting that what the Athenians would have taken as a compliment, was in-fact, in the mind of the apostle, a negative.
The worship of demons and idols of any sort is anathema to the individual who has an understanding of God, and who He is. Paul writing to the church in Corinth, told them, “I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Corinthians 10:20-21; ESV). In a similar vein, Paul tells Timothy that there would be those that left the faith of Christ in order to pursue, “the doctrine of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).
Today, when we think of “demons,” we tend to think of cartoon versions of the devil, or movie-type monsters oozing darkness and dread. But as we study the Bible, we should understand that, contextually and historically, demons were most often simply references to those false gods and spirits that men were actually worshipping in that day and time.
Today, there aren’t a lot of people who would take being told that they were a bunch of demon-worshippers as well as the Athenians took it. But being religious is not the same as being godly and we need to make sure that as we seek to worship God, we are actually worshipping Him and not some other.
Paul, warning Timothy about demon-worship, and the like, said, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” (1 Timothy 4:1-3; ESV) Paul was not speaking of Greek pagans in this warning, but of those who would claim to follow Christ, but would mingle their faith with things contrary to the truth. A doctrine is either from God, or it is demonic in nature.
Paul used two examples from his day concerning demonic doctrines: doctrines concerning food and marriage. Such examples hardly seem to conform to our modern idea of what a demon would be teaching about, but anything not from God must be from someone else.
Some would have us believe that it doesn’t really matter what we believe, so long as we believe in something. But faith itself is not the goal; faith in God, through Christ is. Moreover, another apostle warned us, “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 9; ESV) What you believe as truth has some effect on how useful your faith is. Practically, a person who believes he can fly is not going to live as long as the man who trust in his parachute when both jump out of an airplane.
Jesus warned there would be many who sincerely thought they were following Him, but who were not, as evidenced by the way they lived their lives. (cf. Matthew 7:21-23)
America is filled with houses of worship and most polls inform us that we are a very religious nation. But so was ancient Athens. Being religious is not enough. Let’s do our very best to make sure that we are worshipping the God who made the heavens and the earth, and not some counterfeit, dare we say, demonic, imitation.
The church of Christ, invites you to study and worship with us as we seek to serve God in Spirit and in truth, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. If you have any questions, including subjects you might like to see addressed, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.