The Apostle Paul was a neat guy. Aside from his saintly spiritual status, the man did some bold things that can continue inspiring us today. Case in point is today’s episode from Acts 17:22-31 wherein Paul goes to the heart of ancient intellectualism and makes a clever appeal.
The dominant religion in the Roman areas was what is often referred to pejoratively as polytheistic paganism. This ingrained worldview had been dominant for millennia prior to Paul. Significant indeed was Paul’s challenge of the Greco-Roman statues, icons, and the complex mythical universe within which people lived and breathed. And to top it all off, Paul spoke in Athens, Greece, the philosophical heart of the ancient Greco-Roman pantheon of gods, goddesses, and divine heroes. Names such as Zeus, Jupiter, Athena, Aphrodite, Mars, and many others still entertain us as we reflect on the defunct deities once imagined by our predecessors. Enter Paul, who came to the heart of Athens and spoke intending to persuade his savvy audience, many of whom accepted without question the gods we now dismiss as Hollywood props.
Paul was speaking to persons who were among the most educated of his day. Rather than insult his audience, Paul looked around and prepared his speech in a manner relevant to the interests of those listening to him. Paul knew his audience and he gave them what he thought they could understand while also challenging them to consider something new. Paul’s words demonstrate that he took his role as seriously as Christianity’s chief ambassador and defender.
Aside from writing most of what we know as the New Testament, Paul helped create and strengthen churches throughout the Mediterranean area. Anyway, back to the scene in Athens, where Paul spoke to philosophers and similar folks who enjoyed hearing about weighty matters. Paul obliged the quest for knowledge and dedicated his oratory to a so-called unknown god whose inscription he had seen on one of the many statues throughout Athens. It is again worth noting that Paul gathered knowledge of those listening to him and in doing so he had a better chance of reaching persons with his version of the gospel.
The appeal was brilliant. Paul tied-in the thirst for knowledge by his audience to a talk about the Judeo-Christian God. Paul presented his God as one whose reach was vast, a Deity whose life-sustaining premise underscored all life and all people.
A lesson for us today is to continue to parse our presentation in the best possible manner. We do well to be respectful to those hearing us such that we can garner attention without hurling needless insults. Further, we can benefit by knowing enough about what is going on in our culture to relate to the values and struggles of our audience. This is especially true in the church, where we are supposed to understand how and why people seek a better life.
May God continue to strengthen us to proclaim the gospel to whoever will listen. Let us also strive to discover the most effective presentation. In sharing our faith in this manner we have a great chance to reveal the God we know and serve.