Have you ever wondered how you can reach and teach people who don’t know Christ? If so, you can learn from the example Paul used in the passage from Acts 17:22-31.
Paul approached the subject of his message from the viewpoint of the Greeks. He did not use flattery. He complimented them on their pursuit of spiritual knowledge. He used something familiar to the Greeks to introduce them to something that they weren’t familiar with. The Greeks accepted all gods, but in case they forgot any gods, they built an altar to an unknown god. The Greeks were searching for knowledge. They didn’t have to look any further than Jesus. If we are looking for knowledge, all we have to do is look for Jesus. Paul proceeded to tell them about the one god they overlooked in their pursuit of spiritual knowledge.
Paul understood the character of his audience and tailored his message to them. He acknowledged their gods and then proceeded to teach them about the god they knew as “the unknown god.” In doing so, he gently tried to convince them that their worship of multiple gods was foolish. He spoke of God as the Creator of a world who could control every event and could not be confined to temples. The Creator does not need to depend on us for happiness. The Creator created life, and so we depend on Him.
Paul developed his theme carefully. He emphasized four points:
- As the Creator, God can’t be contained.
- As the Originator, God has no needs.
- As the Sovereign of the universe, He has a purpose. He is accessible to everyone.
- As the source of life, God does not depend on us. We, on the other hand, depend on Him.
Paul applied his message to the needs of the Greeks. God wants people to repent so He can grant them unmerited favour.
After laying the groundwork, Paul moved on to the main point of his message. Jesus has been revealed. His authority was validated when he rose from the dead. Paul introduced the concept of resurrection into the Greeks’ concept of the universe. The Greeks considered the concept of resurrection to be absurd. Paul brings Christ into the picture by pointing out that the Resurrection proves Jesus as God’s Man who will one day judge the world in righteousness.
Standing amid countless idols created by humans, Paul made the point that humanity does not create God. In fact, the Greeks’ own poets had recognized that God created humans, not vice versa.
Everyone can learn about God, and Paul provided the Greeks with the same opportunity. He encouraged the Greeks to search the Scriptures and find the proofs of his existence. They were invited to learn about God’s perfection and His laws. God is near to us because the proofs of his existence and power are all around us.
God’s purpose is for us to seek the Lord, in the hope we will search for Him and find Him. When we look for God, we are looking for a God who is already known to us. He invites us to search for Him, and He promises to reward our search.
How should we defend our faith when people ask us to explain the hope that is in us? We can follow the example Paul used with the Greeks. We can start by acknowledging points of common interest. At the same time, we must hold our ground in matters that strike at the nerve of Christian faith. This is an uneasy, unresolved tension that witnesses to Christ learn to live with.
The gospel sounds different every place it is told, because it is connected linguistically, culturally and personally to humanity. That’s why Paul chose the approach he used when he preached to the Greeks. Paul explained that Jesus fit within basic Greek religious ideas, but Jesus also confounded them by being something new and unfamiliar.
Paul met the Greeks on their own time and at their own place. He set a good example for us as Christians to follow. Instead of expecting people to come to church and learn about God, we can teach them about God by meeting them where they are-at work, at home, in school, in clubs or in groups and so on. We must be involved in our world. In a society where technology and communications change rapidly, we must search for new ways to relate to people (including non-Christians) and preach the Good News.
How can we do this? Well, for example, we can:
- Spend time understanding the people who live in this world of new media and communications.
- Follow the Twitter feeds and Facebook posts of those who are not Christians. They pay attention to the same social issues and problems that Jesus encountered though His ministry.
For example, James and his wife were at church one Sunday when they noticed a new couple sitting not far from them. After the service, they walked up and greeted them. The new couple asked where they lived, so James described his neighbourhood and talked about how nice it was.
The same question was asked to the new couple, who lamented about where they were living. They said that in the few weeks since they moved in, not one of their neighbours had stopped to say hello.
The two couples parted, got into their cars and drove home. As James and his wife were pulling into their driveway, they were shocked to see the new couple…pulling in the driveway just next to theirs.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1517-1518)
- Swindoll, Charles. R.: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights on Acts (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers; 2016, pp. 348-350)
- Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
- Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983, pp. 252-255)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- C. Clifton Black, “Commentary on Acts 17:22-31.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Matt Skinner, “Commentary on Acts 17:22-31.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Daniel Clendenin, Ph.D., “From Synagogues and Sanctuaries to Bars and Boardrooms: The Apostle Paul at the Aeropagus.” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net
- The Rev. Hardy Kim, “Proclaiming Christ in the New Aeropagus.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Dr. Randy Hyde, “Seeker Unsensitive.” Retrieved from Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- “How to be a Light Where God Has You.” Retrieved from Christianity.email@example.com
- Richard Neil Donovan, “Exegesis for Acts 17:22-31.” Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com