The apostle Paul did much traveling, teaching, and debating in order to establish multiple congregations of Christ’s church throughout the areas of modern Turkey and Greece. We read of these efforts in chapters 13-20 of the book of Acts. Then, in his subsequent communications to these churches in the New Testament letters, we find continued teaching, encouragement, admonishment, and even rebuke when necessary.
Some of the cities where he worked include Antioch of Syria, Antioch of Pisidia, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Ephesus. He also spent some time in Athens teaching and debating many of the religious leaders there. Acts 17 tells us about this effort and gives us some important information about the polytheistic mindset of the people of Athens at that time.
However, while we can read a lot in the New Testament regarding the churches in Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth, we find nothing about a congregation of the Lord’s church in Athens. Was there one established? Or did Paul’s efforts fall on deaf ears, there being so little interest that a congregation couldn’t be started? Or was the church at Athens established at that time but fell away soon thereafter?
Verse 32 tells us there were at least a few there who followed Paul (“Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them”). But other than this, we know nothing of any other converts. We know Paul began his work there in the public meeting areas, debating with the philosophers, rather than his usual routine of going to the Jewish synagogue. Does the lack of a large Jewish population answer our questions about the existence of a congregation?
Why this concern? Because, though the success of his effort appears to have been less than desired, Paul was still compelled to try: he traveled there, taught the truth, debated with unbelievers, and attempted to save as many souls as possible. And almost two thousand years later, we can read of and learn great lessons from this effort, though it may not have yielded any apparent fruit.
This should be an encouragement to us as we also attempt each day to win souls to the Lord through discussion, teaching, challenging, and debating the people we encounter in our lives, even though a majority of those souls lacks the necessary spiritual interest that would cause them to respond to the gospel call or even to sit down and open a Bible. If Paul continued teaching even when interest was low and opposition was high, if he steadfastly sought to engage lost souls in productive spiritual discussion regardless of the outcome, shouldn’t we? And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not (Gal. 6:9).