"How to Connect the World to the Word, Part Three"
by Tom Goodman
September 28, 2006
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. One way our world knows we care is by the respect we show them. Then people are more interested in what we have to say. When I read Acts 17:16-23, these are actions I have to take:
I must know my world.
I must respect my world.
I must inform my world.
In the last two weeks of LeaderLines, we looked at the first two actions. You can find those articles here. Now look at the last action: I must inform my world.
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.
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 respectfully started with the spiritual interest represented by
all the idols, and he focused on that one admission of mystery and ignorance in the idol with the inscription, “To an unknown God.” And then he said, “Let me tell you about that God.”
Notice in Acts 17 that he didn’t pull any punches. He talked about repentance, he talked about judgment, and he talked about their need to turn away from ignorance. Sensitivity to the world we’re trying to reach doesn’t require us to
water down the message!
Paul told them about how God created the world, about how people search for God, and about what God expects of us. You can tell in verse 31 that he’s just starting to talk with them about Jesus when they cut him off. Verse 31
says, “'For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.' When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them
sneered, but others said, 'We want to hear you again on this subject.' At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed.”
So, Acts 17 gives us a three-point outline for how to use the surrounding culture to begin conversations about Jesus: Know your world, respect your world, and inform your world. As a result, some will sneer, but others will say, “Let’s
keep talking,” and even a few will say, “I’m ready to cross the line of faith.”
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