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"How to Connect the World to the Word, Part Two"
by Tom Goodman
September 21, 2006

When I read Acts 17:16-23, I find out how the Apostle Paul connected his world to God’s Word.  These are actions I have to take, too:

      I must know my world,
      I must respect my world
      I must inform my world

In last week’s LeaderLines, we looked at the first action:  I must know my world.  You can find that article here.  Now look at the second action:  I must respect my world.

Do you remember what Acts 17 says Paul was doing 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 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.

That convinces me that we need to respect our world if we’re going to make any progress in sharing the gospel with them.

I think it’s interesting that while verse 16 says Paul was deeply disturbed by all the idolatry he saw in Athens, and while verse 18 says that some people derided him and misunderstood him, still when he spoke at Mars Hill, he spoke with great respect.

Not all of us are as spiritually mature.  For a lot of us, if we’re disturbed by what we see and hear, and then if we feel we’re being made fun of or patronized by those around us, it’s hard to speak respectfully.  We get defensive and let our conversation be a vent for our frustrations.

Not Paul. He was internally distressed and yet externally respectful.  He said, “Men of Athens!  I see that in every way you are very religious.”  Now, I know that some Bible teachers mistakenly think that Paul was being sarcastic there—maybe to justify their own rudeness to nonbelievers!  But I don’t think of his words as sarcasm.  The man who wrote in 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is not rude,” would not act in rudeness when given the chance to present the gospel.  No doubt he points out that they have fulfilled their religious impulses in the wrong way, but he acknowledges their spiritual hunger as a starting point for what he wants to say.

What do you see in your culture that can serve as starting points for spiritual conversations?  The starting points are all around us: in films . . . in books . . . in newsmagazine stories covering national tragedies.

As we handle these items with respect, it gives us an opening to take the third step: informing our world.  We’ll look at that step in next week’s LeaderLines.


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