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Stuart Chase - 30 January 2022

What’s a Life Worth? (Acts 17:24–31)

As we think about the sanctity of human life, there is great value in asking the question, why does human life matter? Stated another way, why should we value human life? What’s a human life worth? That is the question before us in this study. And to answer that question, we turn to Acts 17:24–31.

Scripture References: Acts 17:24-31

From Series: "Miscellaneous"

Sermons in this series are once-off sermons preached by various church members.

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Rachael Denhollander rose to public fame when she became the first person to publicly speak out against the abuses of USA Gymnastics’s Dr Larry Nassar. Over the period of eighteen years, Dr. Nassar abused his position of authority by secretly molesting dozens of gymnasts entrusted to his medical care. A few women had tried to expose him, but they had never been believed. Denhollander started the process which led to his eventual conviction and imprisonment.

In her victim impact statement during the trial, she addressed the court:

I submit to you that the preeminent question in this case as you reach a decision about how best to satisfy the dual aims of this court is the same question that I asked Judge Neff to consider in Larry’s federal sentencing: How much is a little girl worth? How much is a young woman worth?

Denhollander’s memoir carries the same title: “What is a Girl Worth?” For too long, too many had worked too hard to protect Dr. Nassar. Denhollander was driven by her Christian conviction on the sanctity of human life to speak up for those who for too long had been silenced.

The Sunday closest to 1 February each year is recognised Sanctity of Human Life Sunday in South Africa. On this Sunday, churches around the country devote time to think and pray about the sanctity of human life. That day was chosen to coincide with the passing of the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act on 1 February 1997.

The Guttmacher institute has described this Act as “one of the most liberal abortion laws in the world.” The act completely tramples the biblical teaching on the sanctity of human life, and Christians and Christian churches rightly teach and pray and stand against such evil legislation.

Of course, abortion is but one manifestation of humans violating the biblical teaching on the sanctity of human life. On the other end of the spectrum, Christians oppose assisted suicide, believing that God alone gives life and therefore has the authority to take life—or to authorise the taking of life.

But the sanctity of human life is not only a matter of life and death. Sins like racism, and gender-based violence, and child abuse, and human trafficking, and the slave trade similarly violate this biblical teaching. The question that guides all these discussions is really the question that Rachel Denhollander asked: “What is a girl worth?” Or, more broadly, what is a human being worth? As we think about the sanctity of human life, we are thinking about the God-given dignity of human life. As we embrace what the Bible teaches on this matter, we will be careful not to do anything that would undermine that value.

As we think about the sanctity of human life, therefore, there is great value in asking the question, why does human life matter? Stated another way, why should we value human life? What’s a human life worth? That is the question before us in this study. And to answer that question, we turn to Acts 17:24–31.

These verses form a part of Paul’s sermon to the Athenians at the Areopagus in Athens. The Areopagus was the name both of a physical rock outcropping in Athens as well as the name of the Athenian governing council, where various judicial and religious cases were heard. It’s not entirely clear whether Paul was preaching at the location or to the council. Given the context, the latter may be more likely. Regardless, Paul preached a moving gospel sermon as he pointed the Athenians to Jesus Christ as the Saviour of the world. Our text forms part of that sermon.

In the portion of the sermon with which we are concerned, Paul contrasts the living God of the Bible with the dead idols of the Athenians. He does so by pointing the Athenians to the creation account. In doing so, while it is not his primary emphasis, he provides several reasons that God’s people should value human life. We will consider four of those reasons for the purposes of our study.

Again, l acknowledge that Paul’s primary emphasis in his sermon is not to defend the sanctity of human life. His primary emphasis is to show the superiority of the Christian God to the gods of the Athenians. But he does nonetheless, by way of implication, highlight the sanctity of human life. And it is that implication that I want to consider in this study.

Why is human life valuable? Why should we value it? Consider four reasons from the text before us. And allow these reasons to guide your prayers for the sanctity of human life in our country and in our world.

God Created Humanity

First, we should value human life because God created human beings. “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (vv. 24–25).

As I have said, Paul’s burden this sermon was to highlight the superiority of the living Christian God to the dead gods of the Athenians. In doing so, however, he addresses the fact that “God … made the world and everything in it” and that “he himself gives to all mankind breath and life and everything.” Everything that God created is valuable, and that includes human life.

When God created the world, he determined that it, and everything in it, was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Creation—every part of creation—was valuable because its source was the God of creation.

Christians value God’s creation. Christians should be concerned about the environment. Christians should be concerned about animal rights. And Christians should be concerned about human rights. Nothing that God created is without value. It all matters.

When we devalue human life—whether by abortion, or assisted suicide, or racism, or gender-based violence, or child abuse, or human trafficking, or the slave trade—we devalue God’s creation. We say by our actions that what God created does not matter. As we pray about the sanctity of human life in our country, we should pray that people will see the worth of God and therefore the value of everything that he has created.

God Determines Times and Seasons

Second, we should value human life because God determines times and seasons. “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (vv. 26–27a).

Remember: Paul’s goal is to show the superiority of the Christian God to the pagan gods. That is why he emphasises that God created “every nation of mankind.” He is not the God of a particular nation but of all humanity. But, again, in arguing his case, Paul gives another implicit reason for the value of human life.

Every human life is valuable because God determines the time and place in which every human life is placed. We speak about “unplanned” pregnancies, and I understand what is meant by the term. From a theological perspective, however, there is no such thing as an “unplanned” pregnancy.

Similarly, while Ecclesiastes warns against foolish living, which might lead to someone dying before their time (7:17), the Bible also reveals that God has determined our days (Job 14:5; Psalm 139:16). Again, from a human perspective, the duration of a person’s life may appear uncertain, but God has determined all these things in his sovereign plan. We must guard against thinking that times and seasons lie within our authority.

If God has given a life, we should respect what he has appointed. When God lengthens the duration of a person’s terminal illness, we should recognise his sovereignty in it all.

This text also reminds us that God “made from one man every nation of mankind.” While there are different ethnicities, the human race is one. We have no right to mistreat others on the basis of ethnicity, socioeconomic diversity, or gender. We are all a part of the great human race that God has created.

As we pray about the sanctity of human life, therefore, we must pray that people will come to submit themselves under the sovereign hand of God and recognise that he created all people equal—with equal worth and equal dignity. We must treat people with the dignity they deserve because God not only created them but did so with their unique circumstances and challenges and experiences.

God Created Humans in His Image

Third, we should value human life because, of all created things, humans are created uniquely in God’s image.

Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“In him we live and move and have our being”;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“For we are indeed his offspring.”

(Acts 17:27b–28)

Paul would not affirm the Universal Brotherhood, which is an organisation that seeks to establish tolerance, truth, and peace, but with a commitment that truth is not exclusive but that every path, religion, philosophy, and culture has a part of the truth. The Universal Brotherhood wants to bring together science, art and religion, for the purpose of intellectual improvement and spiritual education. Members of the Universal Brotherhood would be happy with Paul’s words that “we are [all] indeed his offspring” but they would misunderstand what he was saying.

Paul was arguing here that, since every human being is created in God’s image, God is willing to enter into relationship with any human being who comes to him in Christ. He will not reject anyone who comes to him in Christ because every human being is a bearer of the divine image.

The ultimate reason that we value human life is because human life was made in God’s image. When we mistreat people, we blaspheme the image of God in them. Every human life, regardless of size, level of development, environment, or degree of dependency, has dignity because every human being is an image bearer. When we mistreat people on the basis of gender or race or disability, we disrespect the divine image in them. When we take a life in a way that God has not authorised, we do damage to a divine image bearer. When we trade in human beings as if they are property, we devalue God’s image in them.

As we pray about the sanctity of human life, we need to pray that people will come to see human life as inherently valuable because it is uniquely created in the image of God. Abortion and assisted suicide and racism and genocide and gender-based violence and human trafficking and the slave trade make logical sense from a humanist perspective because it is all about the survival of the fittest. But these sins have no place in the Christian worldview because Christians see the image of God in every bearer of that image.

God Makes the Rules

Fourth, and because of everything we have already considered, we should value human life because God makes the rules.

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.

(Acts 17:29–31)

The Athenians needed to understand that the God of Christianity was very different to the gods they worshipped. The gods of the Athenians, and the gods of the nations were created by the people who worshipped them. The people crafted the rules by which the gods were worshipped and determined the offerings that needed to be brought. Idolatry is manmade religion because the gods idolaters worship are no gods. But the God of Christianity is different. He lives. He created everything that is. He therefore makes the rules. He demands obedience.

When it comes to matters of life and death and poverty and affliction and abuse and mistreatment, we do well to remember that God makes the rules. We don’t get to determine what warrants an end-of-life decision. We don’t get to determine who is and who is not deserving of dignity. Our duty is to look to Scripture and correctly interpret how God determines these decision—and then to obey. To fail to do so brings us under the penalty of divine judgement. “He has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness.” Those who disregard his commands stand under the threat of eternal judgement.

All of this may sound horribly judgemental and terribly hopeless. It is probably safe to say that everyone reading this has been guilty at some point of a sin against the sanctity of human life. It is quite likely that someone reading this has had an abortion or paid for an abortion. We’ve all been guilty of partiality in one way or another. Some may admit guilt in gender-based violence or child abuse. Many reading this have inadvertently participated in human trafficking and the sex slave trade by indulging in pornography. As you consider the above, you may be under the crushing weight of guilt.

As odd as it may sound, that sense of guilt is a good thing. There is a wonderful note of hope here: God “now commands all people everywhere to repent.” This is good news because God always provides for what he commands. And he has provided “by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” God has appointed one man—Jesus Christ—crucified for sinners and risen for salvation, as both Judge and Redeemer; Executioner and Saviour.

When it comes to matters of the sanctity of human life, we do well to recognise our guilt before God. We have all been guilty of disregarding the image of God in our fellow human beings. And it may make you feel horrible. It may make you feel unforgivable. It may make you feel hopeless. It may cause you to cringe in your seat every time the sanctity of human life is mentioned from the pulpit of a church.

Be encouraged that God “now commands all people everywhere to repent.” Every person guilty of abortion or assisted suicide or racism or gender-based violence or child abuse or human trafficking or the slave trade is called by God to repent. And God has wonderfully provided for those who will repent. He has provided his Son, who died for the sins of which you are guilty. He has appointed his Son, whom he raised from the dead, to freely offer forgiveness to everyone who will repent of their sins and embrace him for forgiveness.

If you are guilty of a sin against the sanctity of human life, hear God’s call to repentance. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. You will receive forgiveness and cleansing if you will but confess your sins to him and plead for forgiveness and cleansing.

As you pray about the sanctity of human life, pray that those guilty of sinning in this area will believe God for forgiveness. Pray that they will turn to Jesus Christ and receive the love and forgiveness that they so desperately need. Pray that we will extend grace to them so that they will see the reality of forgiveness lived out in our lives.

AMEN