In a class I’ve been teaching at church we have looked at what the Bible teaches about how to make disciples. If you’re anything like me you can over-think, over-spiritualize, and over-complicate anything–much less leading people to Jesus.
In Acts 17 the Apostle Paul does five things I have found helpful to reach those we are sent to with the knowledge of the amazing love of Jesus. Each principle can be leveraged to connect your neighbor with the truth of Christ regardless of how wide the cultural gap or challenging the visible differences.
- Pray for them.
Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. (Acts 17:16 ESV)
Notice that God doesn’t drop some awesome strategy on Paul. He doesn’t with us either. Paul begins where we should–with just being provoked through prayer. Walk your neighborhood and different parts of your city. Allow your heart to break for the people around you. Get angry at the decay. Be unsettled by the spiritual bondage of the enemy.
“The evangelization of the world depends first upon a revival of prayer. Deeper than the need for workers; deeper far than the need for money; deep down at the bottom of our spiritual lives, is the need for the forgotten secret of prevailing, worldwide prayer.” Robert Speer, quoted by Dick Eastman, Love on its Knees, p. 175
2. Go to them and engage their philosophy.
So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. (Acts 17:17-18 ESV)
Every person on your office floor, neighborhood block, or extended family has a worldview and philosophy. If you don’t believe me just ask them. Ask what they think about the afterlife, the idea of forgiveness from God, or the idea of resurrection or the latest zombie movie. By asking good questions you show respect for beliefs they have taken years to arrive at and you open the door to begin “reasoning” with someone. In other words if you ask good, patient, and fascinating questions at some point you will be asked some yourself. When you get that opportunity don’t begin by tearing down their ideas…just make a B-line to Jesus. Although Paul could have engaged all the nuances of Epicureanism (headonism) or Stoicism (fatalism) he doesn’t. He listens to their culture and reasons with their ideas but does so by showing how Jesus and the resurrection are central to their hopes.
3. Respond positively to invitations.
And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” (Acts 17:19-20 ESV)
It sounds silly, but whenever someone invites you into their home, or out to lunch to talk more about topics that surround Jesus take them up on it. By accepting invitations you take another step toward building relationships and you build trust. Be smart but be willing to walk through any doors that open.
When Jesus sent his disciples out he made them vulnerable and dependent on those they were sharing the message with. He said, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart (Luke 9:3-4).” By responding positively to invitations we show our humanity and need for grace and that reflects the very message we are sharing.
4. Show how Jesus is the answer to their religious hope.
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 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. 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, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. 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.’ 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 17:24-31 ESV)
By observing and listening to the culture of the people of Athens Paul is able to share the gospel in a way that is not only respectful but hopeful. He doesn’t come with a message that “you’re wrong” as much as a message that “you’re close.” Wherever he can affirm their religious pursuit and respect their religious ideas he does. He’s not afraid of them. He knows that Jesus is better. Don’t be afraid to let music, movies, books, or any cultural topic be a platform to talk about Jesus and the resurrection. Paul quotes from the most popular artists of the day to drive home a point of God’s transcendence (power) and immanence (closeness) in Christ. We should do the same.
5. Leave the results with God.
Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. (Acts 17:32-34 ESV)
The fifth principle is very important. If we are faithful to respectively and boldly share our believe in the resurrected Christ and his redeeming love some people will believe (v. 34), but some people won’t (v. 32). It’s really not up to us to try to make someone believe in the hope that we have. Moreover we can’t control if our intentions will be misunderstood or even publicly mocked. We’re just called to love like Jesus loved–and that means sharing the message of his death and resurrection so that anyone who believes in him can be forgiven of anything (anything!) they’ve ever done and know God as a Father. If we get too wrapped up in how someone will respond we are thinking too much about us and taking it too personal.
Helping someone discover a relationship with God was worth it all to Paul–and it should be worth it to us as well.
Let’s do this together…