I find that it is easy to connect with people who are like me or have common interests and beliefs, don’t you? The connection that Paul makes with the Athenians in Acts 17 could hold a good lesson for all of us. Paul observed that the people in Athens had built many shrines or idols and the ESV says he was “provoked within” or the NIV “very distressed.” So, he began having discussions with the Jews in the synagogue and the marketplace and some of the “sophisticated, intellectual philosophers” began to chime in. They loved anything new to talk about and debate, so Paul’s preaching about Jesus and the resurrection stirred their intellectual curiosity. It caused some to mock and some wanted to hear more.
They brought him to a place called Areopagus, a cliff on a hill overlooking Athens, and Paul begins by telling them that they are “very religious” because he had observed many “objects” they worshipped. He did not challenge their idolatry or jump in with judgmental statements. He didn’t quote Jewish Scripture as he knew they would not be interested in a quote from a book no one read or accepted as authoritative. This is a great example of Paul’s willingness to “become all things to all people in order to preach the gospel,” as he said in 1 Corinthians 9:22. He wasn’t complimenting their shrines or idols but just stating the fact that they were “very religious people.” Now he had their attention.
Then he told them he had even found a shrine inscribed TO THE GOD NOBODY KNOWS. Off he went . . . “I am here to introduce you to this God you don’t know so that you can worship intelligently.” (Acts 17:23, The Message) I think the idea of worshipping more intelligently was appealing to some of these sophisticated intellectuals In Athens.
Paul wanted them to know the Creator of all things, the merciful and just God “in whom we live and have our being, as even some of your own poets have said, for we are indeed his offspring.” (vs.28) Paul quoted two of their own poets rather than those same truths from the Old Testament, knowing that their understanding of scripture was limited, and they would relate better to what “their own poets” said.
Do you see the wisdom that Paul used to build a bridge or a connection with these people? For all their ‘religiosity’, they were really seeking God in their own way by worshipping idols, but without the truth and the knowledge of Jesus and His resurrection they were “groping in the darkness.” Paul never compromised his beliefs but met them where they were, and by speaking truth captured their attention and interest. He brought them to hope in the one true God and the resurrected Jesus. Let’s pray that we learn from Paul and are guided by the Holy Spirit to find the common ground with people we encounter while always having the courage to speak the truth.
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