Do you ever not share your faith with someone because you are worried what they might think or how they might respond? As Christians we know that we are supposed to make disciples of all nations, baptizing people, and teaching them to obey God’s commands as the Great Commission in Matthew 28: 19-20 states. But I think so often we get stopped up out of fear of the response we might get.
Now in Acts 17 we see Paul getting all kinds of responses to his preaching the gospel, which tells me that people’s responses are out of his control. In Acts 17, Paul travels to three different cities, and the temperature of each place is vastly different. We see the hot-tempers in Thessalonica, the studious in Berea, and the curious in Athens. And how Paul responds in each setting can inform us on our own missionary journeys in our day to day.
After converting people in Phillipi and miraculously being released from prison in Acts chapter 16, Paul then goes to Thessalonica and preaches in the synagogue there. While some people do believe, there is also a group of Jews who become jealous and form an angry mob to go after Paul. So Paul leaves, he flees in the night.
And where he goes next is Berea. What strikes me about this is that on the tail of going to prison and now being chased by an angry mob, Paul doesn’t hide out in Berea or wait until things cool off, but he continues preaching. In verse 11 it says that “they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
This group, they were hungry for truth, but they weren't just going to blindly believe anything they heard. They tested it. They studied it against God’s Word before they believed. They weren’t testing it to be cynical or critical, but they were actually eager and open for Truth so when they did study and find Paul and Silas’ teachings to be true, many of them believed. This is my hope for my own life and for us - that we would be Bereans, studying God’s Word everyday and testing the things we hear up against what we know is true. Whether we hear those things from a pastor, a teacher, a friend, an Instagram influencer, or a public figure, that we would examine Scripture and test the things we hear.
Then, because of the angry mob still in pursuit of Paul, Paul moves on to Athens. Here I love this picture of Athens. It makes me think of the university setting. Verse 21 says “All the Athenians and foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” Humanities department for sure.
They were a curious and interested people, wanting to understand the world around them and Paul brilliantly matches their curiosity. Instead of preaching the same way he did in the synagogues, he met them just where they were at. He looked around at their culture, at the things they were interested in, the things they cared about, and he used that to hook into the Gospel and give them the full Truth. He affirmed them for clearly being a religious people with their interest in gods and idols, and he saw that they had an idol of an unknown god, so he used that to communicate about the One True God, steering them away from their misguided religious expressions and into worship of the One True God. Instead of just quoting Scriptures at them, as he would have in a synagogue setting where they’d all be familiar with those, he quoted their own poets to them to help them understand. Not watering down the Truth - not in any way, Paul even speaks of coming judgment - but giving them Truth in a way they could understand and connect with as Greeks. As a result, people wanted to hear more. Their curiosity was piqued further and many believed, including some prominent figures in Athens.
What I love about this snapshot of Paul’s missionary journey is that he knew the results weren’t up to him. Though he tailored his method to each group of people, he preached the same Truth in each of these cities, and got vastly different responses. Some were jealous and angry, some studied further, some were curious to know more, and still others believed in each of these places. Paul moved on from those who were angry and he explained further to those who were curious, but he didn’t shy away from either or let fear of the response dictate if he preached or not. Paul was obedience-oriented not results-oriented. Even with a mob in hot pursuit of him, even as he received such mixed responses, he was obedient to God to preach the Gospel, not swayed by the results he might get.
That’s the heart check for us today. Ask yourself this question, "Am I results-oriented or am I obedience-oriented?" Because being results-oriented will keep us quiet in fear, will leave us disappointed if we don’t get the response we’d like, or it will keep us from seeing others with compassion and only see them as means to a result. But being obedience-oriented keeps the proper perspective that all we can do is do our best to preach the Gospel in a way that people will understand and the results are up to God. We are only in control of what God asks us to do. We are not in control of how other people respond - That’s up to God’s work in their own hearts.
Now we have to remember, as we are sharing Truth with others out of obedience to God, it’s not this brash “take it or leave it” attitude we have. Instead, let’s be like Paul, with a great sensitivity towards others and where they are at. In verse 16 when Paul first arrives in Athens it says “he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” Greatly distressed. Are we greatly distressed when we see people far from God? Or do we get self-righteous and proud of our position of knowing God? Let’s pray first, that God would give us hearts of compassion to see the reality of people’s brokenness around us. Would we be moved by compassion and distress to then share the Truth with people. And would we see people as people, children of God, even if they don’t know it yet! See them where they are at and connect to the things in their own lives that they are already interested in, the things that have a glimmer of Truth, and use that to bring them to the full Truth.
For example, I’m sure your neighbor loves their family. That’s a connect point with roots in Truth. We can use that to bring them to the One who cares more deeply for their loved ones than they could ever imagine. Or does your coworker love nature and hiking the Wichita Mountains? We can show them the One who created that beautiful nature they so admire. Psalm 24:1 says ”The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Everyone has got some touch points to Truth that they would understand. We’ve just got to take an interest in them to help connect those dots, not just pass by their idols, and share Jesus with them.
So as you go about your day today, in your own missionary journey at your school, your place of work, your neighborhood, would we keep three things in mind:
First, when it comes to the things we hear, let us be like the Bereans, studying to see if what we hear lines up with God’s Word.
Second, when it comes to sharing our faith with others, let us be like Paul in Athens, seeking to connect with where people are at and proclaiming the Truth they are hungry for.
And third, in all of it would we be obedience-oriented rather than results-oriented. Instead of being moved and ruled by peoples’ potential responses, would we be moved by the things God asks of us, knowing He goes with us.