Acts 17:16-34

Paul was a master evangelist because he knew one simple truth: Know Your Audience. When Paul spoke to Jewish people, he reasoned with them from the scriptures and proved that Jesus was the Messiah that had been prophesied. This makes sense because the Jewish people were saturated with scripture and were anticipating a Messiah to deliver them. Yet, when Paul encountered Gentiles, he took an entirely different approach. In this passage we see that Paul began with language that made sense to the Greeks. He started with the idol to the “unknown god” that was situated among their myriad of idols. The Greeks believed that the gods were tied to nature. They had a god of the sea, a god of the Earth, a god of thunder, etc. Basically, they had taken the forces of nature, crafted them into human form, given them a name, and worshipped them as immortal beings. So, in light of this theological perspective, Paul referred to God in terms of nature. He spoke a “God language” that the people could relate to. However, he did not condone their God-concepts. He simply spoke in a language that they could grasp and led them into a new concept of God that matched the God of the Bible. Notice, though, that he did not quote the Bible, he actually quoted their own poet to make a point. Why? Paul knew that the scriptures of the Hebrew people meant absolutely nothing to the Greeks. In fact, the Greeks probably looked down on the Hebrew scriptures, if they even knew of them at all.

The lesson is this. In order for Paul to effectively present the good news of Jesus to the Greeks, he had to 1) know the Greek mind, 2) know the Greek language 3) speak in terms that the Greeks could connect with 4) using their own language, lead the Greeks past their own perspective and into truth. Many Christians fall into the trap of spewing Bible verses to pagan people on first contact, expecting them to be transformed (almost as if by magic) by hearing the words. It doesn’t really work like that. As a Christian, it is our job to know the truths of scripture, have them incorporated into the DNA of our lifestyles, and be able to communicate them to the people and the culture around us in a way that makes sense to their ears.

Ask yourself, how well do you know the truth of scripture? Do you know it well enough to explain it to someone without using scripture itself?

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