Stretching our borders

Posted: March 5, 2015 in Thoughts on God

“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.” (Acts 17:16-18)

We can often fall into a trap of preaching to the choir. It is much easier to talk about our faith around people who share in that faith. I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. That is why I find Paul so interesting. In Acts 17 we see Paul preaching to three different groups of people.

First of all, he preached to the Jews. They were people who would have shared his commitment to the Old Testament, but they would have disagreed about who Jesus Christ actually was. Secondly, he was talking to average people who were probably not trained in theological matters. Finally, he’s speaking to philosophers of rival disciplines who had very little in common with Paul in terms of worldview.

We can see that Paul did not shy away from any discussion; he was willing to bring the Gospel to everyone who was willing to talk to him. That is certainly courageous, but is also indicative of a larger point: We ourselves need to be prepared to talk about these issues of faith whenever possible. As Paul later wrote to Timothy, we need to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that we have. It doesn’t matter who the audience is. They can be people who mostly agree with us, people who might not have much of an opinion, or people who feel hostility toward us.

His approach may have changed, depending on the audience, but Paul was willing to fulfill the Great Commission and move beyond the safe space of preaching to the choir. Let Paul’s example inspire and encourage us to stretch our borders as well.

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