Acts 17:16-33 (AD 49)
Five more lessons from Paul’s evangelistic exploits in Athens:
- Paul witnessed to as many people as possible, spending time in both the synagogue and the marketplace (v.17)
He debated the Old Testament prophesies, he presented the gospel message, he had individual conversations, and he was grilled by a council.
Seek out different kinds of opportunities with different people at different times in different situations. Don’t lock yourself into an, ‘If someone asks me’, or ‘If it’s just me and someone else for an hour, alone’ approach. When you want to tell people about Jesus, and you ask God for opportunities, he’ll help you see and make them.
- Paul was patient with patronising, insulting opposition (v.18)
So long as they were prepared to listen, if only out of condescending intellectual curiosity, Paul was more than happy to share the gospel with them. We don’t need to wait for people to have a great attitude when they’re speaking with us. But if they’re prepared to listen, we should be prepared to share.
- Paul went out of his way to witness to people who claimed an authority over him that he didn’t recognise (v.19-21), and whose habits he did not respect.
If you witness to people, you will soon tell the gospel to people you have no respect for, and who in turn have even less respect for you, because they ‘know’ what you are saying is evil and nonsensical. Those people need the gospel too. Not just in a, ‘if you come to me I’ll tell you’ kind of way, but with an attitude that is ready and willing to go to them, to speak to them on their terms. All for the privilege of telling them about Jesus.
- Paul paid attention to who he was speaking with and addressed them according to what they already understood, having taken time to learn about them (v.22-23, 28)
Paul spent time in Athens, walking around and observing it, talking to people. He researched their literature, or at least interacted with it enough to know a quote from a famous poet. He wanted them to understand that the wisdom and needs they felt were natural. The problem was not the needs they felt, but the solutions they came up with. Wanting to make sure you worship the right person or thing isn’t achieved by putting up a statue to a god who might not exist, but if he does exist probably wants pacifying. If we really are creatures of a Creator, making models of him won’t be enough – we need to do what he commands us to do.
- His evangelism climaxed with talking about the resurrection of Jesus (v.24-31)
If it didn’t, it wouldn’t really have been evangelism. And yet it’s tempting to leave out of evangelism the very point we should be focusing on. Paul wasn’t interested in filling the churches, he was interested in people coming to know Jesus, who would then want to come to church.