"How to Connect the World to the Word, Part One"
by Tom Goodman
September 14, 2006
Did you know that the Apostle Paul used items from the surrounding culture as a launching pad to talk about God and his ways? In Acts 17, we read what Paul does while waiting in Athens for his friends to catch up with him. As Paul
walked around the city, he noted it was “full of idols”—the Greek text could be translated it was “under” idols, which means it was overrun with them. And verse 16 says he was “greatly distressed” at this reality.
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He shared the message of Jesus with anyone who would listen, and soon someone said, “You need to present your case at the Areopagus.” That’s a Greek word that means Mars Hill, and it was a place where the philosophers of ancient Athens gathered
to hear various opinions and then discuss them.
The interesting thing is that, although all the idols and wrong ways of understanding God disturbed him, when he was given a chance to speak, he didn’t blast the people for it. He actually used one of the many idols as a reference to start his
message, and he even quoted from two of their familiar pagan poets as a way to support what he was trying to say.
You can read the account in Acts 17:16-23. I find three things in Paul’s actions that help me connect the world to the word:
I must know my world.
I must respect my world.
I must inform my world.
We’ll take a look at these three actions across the next three weeks of LeaderLines. This week, let’s look at the first action: I must know my world.
One of my favorite guidebooks for preaching is by John Stott with the title Between Two Worlds. What a perfect description of anyone who wants to explain the faith to others! You have to know your Bible and you have to know the
culture you’re in.
Paul knew something about the culture he was in. In Acts 17, you see him walking around Athens, talking with the people, paying attention to their shrines. In fact, he was so well acquainted with their shrines that he could point out
the inscription on one of them: “To An Unknown God.”
Notice that he was checking all this out for himself instead of just drawing conclusions about the culture based on what others were saying—that’s a lesson we could learn in outreach to our own culture. Did you notice that Paul quoted not one
but two pagan poets that would have been familiar to his listeners? That means he must have read more than just the Bible and religious material.
In short, Paul not only knew his Bible, he knew his world. He knew something about the customs and convictions of the people he was speaking to. You need this, too.
Now, let’s face it. A lot of films, books and music present a world that is not the way God intended, and that means there are some temptations in the culture:
Temptations to question what God has said about sex outside of marriage.
Temptations to ignore God’s view of drunkenness or drug use.
Temptations to look on other religions as simply other paths to God instead of as the dead ends Jesus said they are.
So, when you take a tour through your culture like Paul took a tour through the idols of Athens, you’re not on neutral ground. You need to stay connected to the Word through your daily devotional times and your weekly church attendance.
You need the accountability that comes from friendships with other believers. You may need to draw back from certain books or films or music if you find them pulling you away from a godly life. Frankly, if you’re a new believer,
especially if you weren’t raised in church or a Christian home, you already know the surrounding culture well enough. It may be that right now you just need a total immersion in God’s Word. That’s the only book you need to be reading, the
only stories you need to be hearing, and the only lessons you need to be learning.
But I know that a lot of people who are reading this were raised in Christian homes, and attended Christian churches, and got their lessons in Christian schools, and played sports on Christian teams, and only go on cruises with Christian tour
companies, and shop for books and music in Christian bookstores. And if that’s the world you’ve spent most of your life in, then you need to follow the example of the Apostle Paul who not only knew his Bible but he knew his world.
But knowing your world isn’t enough if your aim is to connect your world to God’s word. You have to respect your world and inform your world. In the next two weeks we’ll look at those actions.
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