As you should remember, Paul was in Athens and Paul was speaking before an assorted crowd in the Areopagus. In the rest of his message, he unfolds the truth about the living God which idolatry denied, and then he showed them the corresponding truth about man which followed as a logical result of the truth about God:
“The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone” —Acts 17:24-25
What is he saying here? First, that God is the Maker and not someone who was made. God wasn’t created by man; He is the One who created man and everything else that exists. He is the one who originated everything.
Well, look around and you’ll see that not much has changed from ancient idolatry. In the ancient world, they took a piece of gold or silver or wood and either carved or formed an idol—in other words, worshipping the works of men’s hands. Now sure, maybe today we don’t use images, but we still see men worshipping themselves, projected to infinite proportions. Man simply thinks of himself, projects this into infinity, and worships that. That’s his god. That’s exactly what idolatry did. Paul points out that this isn’t in line with reality. God isn’t the projection of man; God is greater than man. God originated man. Everything that exists came from his hands. He is the Maker, and not the made.
God is also the giver, and doesn’t have any needs himself. “The God who made the world and everything in it isn’t served by human hands as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything.” God isn’t looking for anything from man, as idolatry and paganism taught. Men had to bring gifts to the gods; they had to do things for their gods, to propitiate them and sacrifice to them, and bring them all kinds of things.
Today men are still doing that. The gods of men today still make demands on them. Don’t think that we’re free from idolatry, because a god is the most important thing in your life; it’s what you give your time and effort and energy to; it’s what occupies the primary place of importance to you; the thing you live for; obviously men have many gods even today. Money is a god for some. Fame is a god to others. Your children can be your gods. You yourself can be your own god; you can worship yourself. Your work can be your god. Some so highly of their bodies they spend thousands and millions of dollars trying to “fix” all the imperfections they believe they have. These are the false gods that people everywhere worship. They make continual demands on us. They do nothing for us, but we must work for them.
Paul cancels all this out. He says the real God is one who gives, who pours out. He doesn’t need anything from you. He doesn’t live in temples made by man. I’m sure he must have pointed to the Parthenon as he said that, because it was regarded as the home of Athene, the goddess was named in honor of. God doesn’t live in places like that, he said, but He is the one who made you and everything about you, and there’s nothing you can give him that He needs. He is, rather, giving himself continually to you.
In the pagans minds, the gods live on Mount Olympus, remote from humanity. Men had to go through perilous and hazardous journeys in order to find and placate their gods, to seek them out and find them, while the gods hid themselves from men. But Paul’s word is that the true God isn’t doing that:
“From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times94 and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” —Acts 17:26-27