Acts 17:16–31comment (0)
November 22, 2012
By David Hogg
Related Scripture: Acts 17:16–31
Bible Studies for Life
Academic Dean at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
Hit the Streets
Go Where People Are (16–21)
The wonderful thing about spreading the gospel is that we can do it wherever we are. There are some vocations that require us to have particular plans and be in particular places at particular times. Evangelism, however, cannot be thwarted by unexpected changes to a plan or moving from place to place. There is no shortage of people who need to hear the gospel anywhere in the world. Although Paul did not plan or expect his hasty departure from Berea to Athens, he did not mope around the city bemoaning the fact that he should have been somewhere else. He recognized that the value of a soul does not change in relation to where it lives. People in every city and town and village are equally in need of Jesus.
Know What People Believe (22–23)
Now, saying that everyone, everywhere is equally in need of Jesus is not the same thing as saying that everyone, everywhere should be treated the same way. People have different backgrounds and different experiences and hold different values and beliefs. The most effective evangelists and apologists, indeed, the most effective Christians, will be those who spend a great deal of time listening and understanding others before uttering a single word. Did you notice how Paul began his address to the people in the Areopagus? He began with their own experience and knowledge.
Paul did not begin by declaring them fools or mocking the inherent ignorance in erecting an altar to an unknown god. Instead, he recognized that even in their error there was a way to use their unbelief to draw their attention to God and right belief. Some apologists have called this the point of contact. The point of contact is an idea or belief or conviction that someone greatly values. Today, some might value human rights, creation care, the proper use of authority or the need for justice. Each of these can be used as a starting point for talking with unbelievers about the sufficiency and satisfaction that comes in all these areas through knowing the living God. For Paul, he was able to confront the pagan Athenians with their own unbelief and error by identifying the one God they admitted they did not know.
It is also worth noting how winsome Paul must have been. Paul appears to have found a way to give voice to his message that raised the curiosity and interest of those gathered around. This part of Acts brings 1 Peter 3:15 to mind. In that passage Peter calls Christians to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in them. Have you ever considered that the expectation underlying this statement is that unbelievers will initiate the conversation? Peter assumes that our lives will be so markedly different from all others that the question of what makes Christians different will be natural. At this point we need to be ready to give an answer with gentleness and reverence. Back in Acts 17, it seems Paul had learned how to wed his demeanor and his message in such a way that he was asked to give a defense of his beliefs. In common parlance, this is called maturity. It is vital that what we profess matches what we practice.
Point People to God (24–31)
As Paul addresses his audience you will notice that he begins with God as sovereign Creator, then moves on to the sinfulness of humanity, then on to the possibility of salvation in Christ and ends with the coming judgment. If you have ever struggled with the question of what to say to an unbeliever or how to share your faith, here is a good outline to follow. God is the sovereign Creator of all things and is holy and righteous. Men and women are sinners and live in perpetual rebellion and disobedience to their Creator. But on account of God’s deep love and mercy, rather than wiping us all out, God sent His Son to take the punishment of sin we deserved — death — in order that by believing in Him and seeking forgiveness we might have eternal life and be saved from judgment. The only hope in a hopeless world is Jesus. Let’s live and speak in a way that point unceasingly to our Savior.