gospel

Refreshing Souls in a Cynical World

Photo by  Ethan Sykes  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ethan Sykes on Unsplash

Becoming consistent, credible, and faithful people with a message of life

Most of us like consistency but not monotony. We want to be able to count on something but don’t want it to be repetitious. So, how do you get the one without the other?

We’ve all experienced the fickleness of people saying one thing but doing another. It can make us wonder if there’s anyone who can be faithful and consistent in what they say and do.

For example, take politics. It’s easy to become cynical when a politician makes promises they don’t keep after their election to office. For that matter, we’ve seen this in other aspects of life, including the church.

So, how can this change? How can we find consistency, credibility, and faithfulness in our life?

The trite old expression comes to mind — become the solution. But how?

How can we find consistency, credibility, and faithfulness?

The coolness of snow

Like the coolness of snow on a harvest day, ⌊so⌋ is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him: He refreshes his masters. (Proverbs 25:13 GW)

At first glance, the idea of the coolness of snow and harvest time might not make sense. Wouldn’t the snow be bad for the harvest? It probably would be, but this is a figurative picture to stimulate the mind’s senses.

You probably have some idea of what a harvest is like when workers bring in a new crop. It’s hot and dusty work, and the dust gets caked onto the worker’s sweaty bodies.

If you were one of the workers in the field, what would you want at that point? How about an ice-cold drink of water from a snow-fed stream? Sounds good, doesn’t it?

This is the idea of a faithful messenger or servant who refreshes the soul of his master. This needs to be true of us as followers of Jesus.

Our master isn’t a boss or a parent or any other authority figure—it’s Jesus, the humble servant-leader who laid His life down for all people everywhere (Mark 10:45).

We need to be a refreshment to those with whom we share the life-giving message of the gospel and to whom we are accountable—at work, at home, in relationships in our daily life. This extends God’s kingdom on earth.

The world needs living refreshment

People in the world around us also need refreshment. When we are a refreshing bright spot in the lives of others, this reflects upon our Lord Jesus — our Master.

I imagine it also refreshes Him.

Jesus sends us believers out with His message written in our hearts. It’s a message of hope, love, and restoration that refreshes the hearts of a thirsty world. A world thirsty for compassion, faithfulness, and hope.

When we are faithful in all we do in this life, we become a refreshment to others. We are also faithful messengers of our gracious Master — Jesus.

Have you found yourself getting cynical about people, and your purpose in life?

It’s hard not to get cynical and bitter but we are called to something better as followers of Jesus.

How we can begin changing the world around us

Look around at the people in your life. How do you see them?
Do you see people through cynical eyes or through the eyes of Jesus?

Think of the ways other people have refreshed you. This gives you insight into how you can be a refreshment to others. Start with simple things and do it without expectations of anything in return.

Look for ways you can be a refreshment in the lives of people around you. Here are 3 ways to get you started—

  1. Say an encouraging word to those who serve you in some way—a server at a restaurant, someone at work, anyone who does something for you. Look them in the eye and let them know you see them and appreciate them.
  2. Greet people along the way of life each day. Again, look them in the eye, show them respect, say something encouraging about the day, them, and the Lord.
  3. Give someone a call—perhaps someone you’ve lost touch with for a while or someone you’ve recently met who needs encouragement. Invite someone for a cup of coffee or whatever. Offer to pray for someone while you’re with them.

Even if the world doesn’t seem to change as much as you’d like, when you refresh others you’ll be refreshed and blessed, and I’m pretty sure it will bless the Lord and others you’re unaware of in the process.


This post was originally published on Faith Hacking in Medium

Here's another post of mine on Faith Hacking in Medium— The Problem with Stinginess

One Throne—One Gospel

Christ before Pilate-Mihaly_Munkacsy-public domain

Christ before Pilate-Mihaly_Munkacsy-public domain

It's easy to oversimplify and generalize truth. Doing so can make it seem shallow or trivial. But my observation is that teachers who teach well take difficult to understand truth and make it simple. This enables people to gain a good understanding of what's taught and internalize it.

My basic philosophy of learning is that unless a person (myself included!) struggles to think something through, they won't fully understand it or internalize it. Simple questions and challenges to see truth from different perspectives are useful in stirring up productive thought.

I've been writing on a certain track of thought with previous posts (see links below) and want to bring it to a conclusion—there is only one throne and one King of Kings believers need to submit their life to and this is based on the simplicity and depth of the gospel of Jesus.

Believers need to submit their life to only one throne and one King of Kings

A short review

The presentation of gospel truth—the good news of God's redemption for all humanity—is most often given in bits and pieces within a western cultural context. I wrote about this earlier.

A cursory reading of the New Testament (NT) reveals the gospel is presented in five narratives—4 Gospels and a history of the early church (Acts).

The remainder of the NT books explain this gospel narrative and give an understanding of how the truth of the gospel and its theology impact daily life within the church and among people outside the church. 

The larger narrative of God's Story, as it unfolds throughout the Bible, is important for those unfamiliar with the theology of redemption. Even Revelation, the last book of the Bible, is a heavenly narrative of how God's Story will conclude at the end of the Age.

The larger narrative of God's Story is important for those unfamiliar with the theology of redemption

Worldviews and the gospel

Consider again how truth is processed by different people with different world-views. Generally speaking, western thought presents bits and pieces of information strung together until the whole picture is seen.

In MOTROW, information and truth are understood as a whole, while bits and pieces are only seen as part of the whole. When the truth is presented in bits and pieces a disconnect between what is believed and how one lives often happens.

The post-modern mindset is similar to MOTROW when it comes to understanding truth. This mindset may still approach things in a linear fashion, but there's a freedom to associate other truth or information to a belief. This leads to a belief system like Moralistic Therapeutic Deism mentioned in a previous post.

Are you performing well?

A common emphasis in American Christianity is on what is termed a performance-based Christian faith. This is the idea that I need to do something as proof of believing in God or being a Christian. I need to give something to show my commitment to God.

This is often spurred on by well-intentioned calls to the altar—to accept Christ, to recommit your life to Christ, to serve Christ, and so on.

As mentioned in an earlier post, altars are for offering sacrifices and gifts. I see this as an expression of self-focused performance, especially when repeated many times in different services.

Are these responses or calls to some altar of self-sacrifice genuine? Yes, often they are. But the question ought to be, are they necessary?

A common emphasis in American Christianity is termed performance-based Christian faith

Only 2 vows necessary

I realized long ago that there were only two vows a person ever needs to make—one to follow Jesus and the other being joined in marriage. Both are all-inclusive and exclusive. Neither requires any additional commitments because they are all-inclusive commitments.

The call to follow Jesus is simple and requires no further clarification—Matt 16:24; Luke 14:26-27, 33. God's view of marriage, repeated four separate times in the Bible, is just as simple—Gen 2:24; Matt 19:5; Mark 10:7, Eph 5:31.

Some may argue, "But there's more to it than that!" But I ask, does God see it that way?

Reading through the book of Hebrews, I'm reminded of the great access provided for believers in the New Covenant established by God's grace—direct access to God's presence.

This access requires nothing of ourselves as believers—no giving, no doing, just coming into His presence—

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:16)

There are no minimum requirements for entering and remaining in the Kingdom of God. The only thing God asks is that we come to Him—Matt 11:28-30.

Access to God requires nothing of ourselves as believers—no giving, no doing, just coming into His presence—His throne of grace

What compels you to seek God?

So, back to the question—altar or throne? How are you compelled to come to God? Are you offering Him something rather than yourself? Or, are you coming to Him in all circumstances, good or bad?

When my children were young and I was a young pastor, I had an open door policy for my children and wife when I studied for messages. I can become so absorbed in studying that I block everything and everyone out.

My wife would remind me of my need to make myself accessible to my children and her., so I didn't elevate my work or my interests over them.

This is how I see a believer's access to God's presence. I can come at any time, in any condition, in any situation and His door is open. I don't need to offer anything or ask special permission.

The Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit are our promised intercessors (Rom 8:26-27, 34) ready at all times to hear us and be our advocates. Nothing and no one stands between believers and God.

How are you compelled to come to God? Are you offering Him something rather than yourself?

Guilt or grace?

Even as a young believer, I felt manipulated to respond to altar calls. I don't like being manipulated with emotion, nor do I want to just do something because it's expected or because I feel guilty about something. 

I'm not against altar calls per se, just the manipulative way they can be used and the assumptions made based on responses to these calls. I'm especially concerned about the self-effort I see people exerting to get into God's good graces. It's just not necessary.

God didn't ask Abraham to offer his son Isaac more than once. God accepted it and declared Abraham as righteous by faith (Gen 15:6; 22:1-18). Jesus only died once to justify those who trust in Him (Heb 9:12-14), this is made clear in several places in Hebrews.

Is there any need for doing something additional? If you think so, you don't understand God's grace. God doesn't manipulate us nor does He use guilt or shame to bring us to Him.

God doesn't manipulate us nor does He use guilt or shame to bring us to Him

Confidence in God and His grace

I laid my life at God's altar and I made a vow to my wife over 45 years ago. I don't need to make any more vows or make any sacrifices to gain the Lord's acceptance.

I approach God's throne with confidence when I am in need, though I still fall far short of perfection. My perfection—my sense of completeness—is only found in my Lord and Savior Jesus. I had nothing to offer long ago and still don't, but He has all I am.

What about you?

Are you going to God's altar and waiting for Him to accept you? Or, are you going boldly before His throne of grace at any time whatever your need? (Heb 4:14-16)

Jesus calls each of us to deny our self and take up the Cross, and then follow Him in faith. He doesn't ask us to make more vows at an altar of self-sacrifice. He invites us to come to Him because of His grace, and as the traditional hymn declares—Just as I am.

God doesn't ask us to come to an altar of self-sacrifice but invites us to come to Him because of His grace

Links of previous related posts—

Many Altars but One Gospel

Altar or Throne?

Are You Ready?

Photo credit: youinsport.com

Photo credit: youinsport.com

Readiness is important when an important task is at hand. In the book of Second Samuel, a messenger named Ahimaaz (A-hee-ma-oz) wanted to bring a message to King David. His father was an important priest named Zadok whom the King trusted.

However, the news to be sent was not good, so King David’s general, Joab, chose to send a different messenger.

In those days, certain messengers were sent based on the content of the message; one was sent when it was good news, another with bad news, and another who could bring either good or bad news. Ahimaaz was a messenger for good news.

An incomplete message

The story unfolds in the eighteenth chapter of 2nd Samuel after King Absalom died in battle. He was David’s rebellious son who stole the hearts of Israel and staged a coup that sent King David running for his life.

Though Absalom had become his enemy, he was King David’s favored son. Joab knew the news of his son’s death would devastate David, so he wanted to send a more neutral messenger, a Cushite. (1)

However, Ahimaaz, because of his devotion to King David, wanted to bring the message. Joab’s response was, ”Why will you run, my son, since you have no news ready?" (2 Sam 18:22 NKJV) Since Ahimaaz insisted on running, Joab gave him permission.

Ahimaaz out runs the Cushite and arrives first, but is told to stand aside because his message is incomplete—it lacked the news most important to David—news about the life of his son, Absalom.

In many ways, Christian believers are more like Ahimaaz than the Cushite. When delivering the message of God’s story of reconciliation (the gospel), it is often incomplete. The part left out of the gospel is the Lord Jesus’ resurrection.

The resurrection

The resurrection is what guarantees forgiveness from sin, and the believer’s hope in eternal life. It also gives insight into the mystery of this earthly, physical body being changed into a new, indestructible body, which enables a person to enter and live in the presence of God.

Paul reminded the believers in Corinth about the foundation of all he taught them. He exhorted them to continue to believe in the full truth of this gospel and not listen to teaching contrary to it. If they allowed false teaching to influence them, it would jeopardize the work of God’s grace in their lives.

God's story

Additionally, Paul delivered the gospel they heard and received in person. This may seem incidental but is very relevant. The gospel is not just truth about God passed on by any means available, it is God’s story—the personal testimony of God. It relates how God rescued humanity through His Son, Jesus. God's story is most effective when it’s told person to person.

The believers in Corinth heard the gospel preached to them with apostolic authority. God gave this authority to Paul, His apostle, and messenger, to preach the gospel to the Corinthians. It was God’s story relayed by God’s messenger.

Once they received the gospel as true, they began to live their lives in a different way. The foundation of their lives was a new destiny, one of eternal life in the presence of God. Paul exhorted them to continue, not only to believe but to live according to what they believe, “unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15:1, 2).

3 Important truths

Paul reminded them of three things about the resurrection and the gospel (1 Cor 15:1-3)—

  1. It is the most important truth
  2. He personally received the gospel from God
  3. It agreed with the OT Scriptures

First of all, the gospel is the essential foundation for all Christian believers. All other teachings must be considered in light of the gospel. Secondly, Paul passed on what was revealed to him by God. This is what all believers are to do—share with others what God reveals to them.

Lastly, the truth of the gospel is found in the Scriptures given to the chosen people of God, the Jews. The history of God’s first relationships with people is linked with the gospel.

Adam, the first man, had a face-to-face relationship with God prior to sin’s interference. God’s relationship with Abraham was significant because Abraham was considered righteous on the basis of his personal trust in God. Both men and their relationships with God are found in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Experiencing God's grace

Many of our national staff at Rainbow Village Ministries were staunch Roman Catholic, but they lacked the assurance of eternal life. Entrenched in their religious beliefs and traditions, they refused to consider a personal relationship with God by grace.

Anya (her nickname) was a faithful Roman Catholic who would argue dogmatically against the “Born Again” gospel of grace. (2) But during a women’s retreat hosted by another ministry, Anya came to believe in Jesus in a more personal way—based not on religious conviction, but on God’s grace—His unearned favor. Her testimony for days and weeks later was, “I feel so different inside.”

She experienced a spiritual transformation in her heart that changed her entire life. She continues to live as a born again believer because she experienced God’s favor, acceptance, and resurrection power in her life.

Are you ready?

There are various versions of an urban legend about the vanishing hitchhiker. One of those stories tells of a hitchhiker who announces "the Lord is coming soon!" Then asks, "Are you ready?" When the driver looks to answer him, he's disappeared!

Indeed, we do need to be ready for the Lord's return, whether you're a believer or not.  But there's another readiness all believers need—a readiness to share God's story with others.

This is a major point in my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Unraveling God's Story. Sadly, many believers are like Ahimaaz, their version of the gospel story is incomplete and they're not ready to share God's story of redemption with others.

The resurrection of Christ is essential to understand and include when sharing God's redemptive story with others. But first, you need to be familiar with it yourself so you can communicate it to others in a simple, clear way.

How about you? Are you ready?

Are you ready to share God's Story with others?

Here are some Bible references to help you—

  • The resurrection story— Luke 24:1-12
  • Why the resurrection is important— 1 Corinthians 15:1-24

(1) Reference— 2 Sam 18:19-33– The context of this story makes this distinction more clear. The Cushite (a foreigner) could bring either good or bad news, whereas Ahimaaz was more known for good news (note verse 27).

(2) “Born again” is the common tag for evangelical believers or those of the Protestant faith within the Philippines, as a distinction from Roman Catholicism. This is a reference to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3 and what many evangelicals tell Catholics they need.

An Unknown God—part 2

unsplash_RPelati

unsplash_RPelati

Formulaic ways of presenting the gospel—the message of God's redemption of humanity—have been developed and taught to many eager evangelists. But I wonder how many times someone, prepped with an evangelistic formula, shares the gospel only to meet with disappointment and rejection? I know I've experienced this on both sides of the gospel—hearing it and sharing it. 

As a young man lost in my own spiritual search, two clean-cut college guys approached me at the beach to share the gospel with the four spiritual laws, telling me I could be a Christian and still own a sports car. Their approach was far off the mark for me. I experienced several other off-target attempts as I've shared before.

As with so many things in life, we can set ourselves up for disappointment with unrealistic expectations. Formulas and approaches go along with our penchant for results. But more and more I want to equip people with the story and heart of the gospel. Reading through all four gospels and the book of Acts it's hard to find any set methodology.

A city full of idols

As mentioned last week, when the apostle Paul arrived in Athens he saw a city filled with idols (Acts 17:16). This disturbed him but he still went to the Jewish synagogue to share the gospel, as he had done in other cities and regions.

He also went into the public market area to preach among those who were not Jewish (Gentiles). While engaging in discussions with those in the marketplace, he was questioned about what he taught, since it seemed so foreign to them.

Some philosophers wanted to hear more about this Jesus he spoke of and about the resurrection, so he was invited to Mars Hill (the Areopagus), the city court where much debate took place (Acts 17:17-21).

Paul's message to the Athenians

Paul realized the gospel he preached in the synagogue was foreign or strange to the ears of these philosophers, which is much like what cross-cultural missionaries experience overseas. It's also similar to sharing the gospel with those who have a postmodern mindset.

Based on this context, Paul adjusted his presentation of the gospel for a people who were ignorant of the Scriptures and the theology revealed in them.

I see three general parts to Paul's message at Mars Hill focused on connecting with the Athenians at a level they would understand. The text for Paul's message is found in Acts 17:22-31.

Connection

Paul first acknowledges they are "very religious," what we might call superstitious, as he sees all their objects of worship (idols). He establishes a connection with the Athenians by noting an altar to "the unknown god" (vs 22).

Paul says to them, "What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you" (vs 23). By saying this he stirs their interest because those gathered at Mars Hill "would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new" (vs 21).

He also establishes himself as an authority regarding this unknown God. He preaches to them, but in a way they can relate to as philosophers.

Creator and Sustainer

The first thing he tells them about this "unknown God" is that He is living and is the Creator of all (vs 24). Not only the Creator but the Lord over all He's created. He is transcendent above all and doesn't live in a temple or shrine created by humans. He wasn't imagined or designed by anyone.

He's not in need of anything people can offer. Instead, God is the Sustainer of all humanity to whom He gives life itself, breath, and everything else (vs 25). Paul goes on to speak of God's relationship with people from God's perspective.

All humanity began with one person (vs 26). It's God who established the seasons within a year and set the boundaries of earth, the oceans, and our atmosphere, as expressed in the ancient book of Job (chapters 38-40).

God makes Himself known and seeks people out so we may know Him and have a relationship with Him (vs 27). He is the Sustainer of all life and Paul relates this truth to what their own poets have said (vs 28), making another point of connection with the Athenians.

Challenging the status quo

Paul begins challenging them to think differently about God, "the divine being," since we are "God's offspring" (vs 29). God isn't like any of the idols or images their artisans have imagined because God is Spirit and not restricted to human or physical constraints.

Then Paul tells them that their ignorance of God, whom they call unknown, is no longer acceptable to God. A day of judgment is coming and people need to repent and turn to God for the timing of this judgment day is already determined by God (vs 30).

He then introduces them to Jesus but not by name. There is one person whom God has appointed as the one who will be the judge. This person is known by His resurrection from the dead (v 31), an unparalleled supernatural event.

The resurrection is the open door into a personal relationship with God and eternal life. This is a truth Paul made clear to a church he planted not long after this message (1 Cor 15:20-22).

Response

One of the criticisms I've heard about Paul's message to the Athenians is the poor response to it as if the response to Peter's message on Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41) is some kind of norm. It wasn't the norm then nor is it now.

Most of the reaction of those who heard this message was to the concept of the resurrection from the dead. It's a great dividing line of faith. Although some mocked the resurrection others wanted to hear more, and some believed and joined Paul (vs 32-34).

As I've made clear in an earlier post, we American evangelicals tend to be very results oriented. It seems to be in our Christian-culture-DNA. But we don't see this with Jesus nor the early church leaders. They were committed to discipleship which is a long-term investment in people.

Evangelism or discipleship? Both!

Jesus invested more than three years in His chosen apostles. Paul spent a year (with Barnabas) teaching the church in Antioch, then a year and a half in Corinth, and two years in Ephesus (Acts 11:26; 18:11; 19:10).

Evangelism needs to be linked with discipleship to be effective in fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt 28:19; Mark 16:15), for church planting (the book of Acts), and to equip the church for ministry (Eph 4:11-13).

There should never be a choice between evangelism or discipleship, as to which is better. It's not either-or but both in concert with one another.

So, what are your thoughts on all of this and sharing the gospel in our times and within our culture?

Be sure to look at the notes and cross-references below and please share this with others if you find it helpful!


Here are some cross-references to go with each verse and the 12 elements I see in Paul's message to the Athenians—

  1. Paul observed the religious pursuit of the Athenians (vs 22)
  2. They focused on "objects of worship" [idols] (vs 23)
  3. Paul identified the altar "to the unknown god" as a point of connection (vs 25)
  4. He presented the Living God as Creator of all (vs 24)
  5. God is transcendent above human or earthly origins (vs 24)
  6. God is the origin of life for all people and all that exists (vs 25)
  7. All humanity is descended from one person and God is sovereign (vs 26)
  8. God makes Himself known and seeks relationship with people (vs 27)
  9. God is the Sustainer of life and connects God's nearness to all with their own poets (vs 28)
  10. God is Spirit and not restricted to human or physical constraints (vs 29)
  11. A day of judgment is coming, people need to repent and turn to God (vs 30)
  12. Jesus is the judge and proven to be so by resurrection from the dead (vs 31)
  •  Here are the Cross references—
    • vss 22-25– Psa 19:1-6; Rom 1:20; John 4:24
    • vs 25– John 1:4-5; Gen 2:7; Isa 42:5
    • vs 26– Gen 5:1-4; Dan 4:35-37
    • vs 27– Rom 1:20; Eccl 3:11; Psa 139:7-16
    • vs 28– Psa 82:6; Col 1:16-17
    • vs 29– Psa 115:3-8; Rom 1:22-23
    • vs 30– Matt 4:17; Luke 24:47; Rom 3:23-26
    • vs 31– John 5:21-27; Acts 2:22-24; Rom 2:11-16

An Unknown God

unspalshcom_RLukeman

unspalshcom_RLukeman

Black and white—the epitome of contrast. This contrast may bring various things to mind for you, but what comes to mind for me is the dualistic dilemma we all face. It's a carry-over from the first humans who ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 2:17; 3:1-13).

As a rule, we tend to divide most everything in life into either-or categories—good-bad, right-wrong, big-small, etc. But life isn't that neat and tidy. There's a lot of color within the color spectrum between black and white.

Black is the absence of light and color, whereas white is the presence of light and all colors. Aren't you glad life in this world isn't just black and white?

I'm thankful for all the vivid colors that exist and that life can't be categorized into either-or categories. Neither does God nor His story of redemption fit into neat categories.

A lesson learned

Many years ago I taught a workshop to a group of pastors and leaders in the southern region of the Philippines. I needed the assistance of an interpreter, as I taught them the basics of Inductive Bible Study (IBS).

I tried to emphasize the importance of the biblical text as it's written in black and white. But my interpreter added his own take on what I said with, "It's either black or white."

I learned two important things that day. First, I need to be clear how I say things if I want to be understood. Secondly, I need to have confidence in my interpreter and be sure he or she understands me. True communication results in a fruitful dialog.

Words and ways of connecting

Last week I alluded to ways of sharing the redemptive message of the gospel other than traditional or trendier ways.

My experience as a cross-cultural missionary helped me learn how to teach in a simple yet effective way. I first needed to learn about the people I hoped to teach. This required time, many observations, a lot of listening, prayer, and guidance from the Holy Spirit.

As I gained more insight, I looked for ways to personally connect with those I taught and relate what I taught in words and ways they could understand.

This is what I see the apostle Paul do when he encountered people in a situation different from his typical experiences sharing the gospel.

Reception and resistance

Acts chapter 17 begins with Paul and his ministry team's encounters in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9). Paul went to the Jewish synagogue as was is custom. He reasoned with them for three days concerning the purpose for the death of Jesus the Messiah on the cross and His resurrection.

But when the Jews became jealous of those who believed the gospel and began to follow Paul's teaching, things turned rowdy. So they moved on to a town called Berea. Again, Paul went to the Jewish synagogue to explain and prove the gospel from the Scriptures.

The Bereans were honorable men and serious students of the Scriptures (Acts 17:10-12) and received and believed the gospel of Jesus the Messiah. Once again, things turned badly when men from Thessalonica came to stir up trouble for Paul (Acts 17:13-15). So, Paul was sent off to Athens until the rest of his ministry team could join him.

Provoked and challenged

Arriving in Athens, Paul walked around the city and his spirit was disturbed and provoked by what he saw—a city full of idols. He went to the synagogue as usual but also preached in public at the marketplace.

The philosophers in the marketplace thought Paul was preaching about foreign gods because he spoke of the resurrection as he shared the gospel. Wanting to hear more from him they brought him to a place called Mars Hill where much debate took place (Acts 17:16-21).

The context of Paul's message to the Athenians helps us understand how and why he shares what he does (Acts 17:22-31). He speaks to them about the One whom they call "the Unknown God." Paul explains how this God is greater than any manmade image or religion.

A matter of perspective

The message Paul shares with the philosophers at Mars Hill serves as an example for communicating the gospel to people who are not familiar with Christianity or the Jewish Law, so it's well-suited for a postmodern, post-Christian mindset.

How Paul conveys the gospel at Mars Hill has come under fire by various Bible teachers because he doesn't present the gospel in a more typical direct evangelical approach. Some of my friends who are solid Bible teachers say Paul's message wasn't effective because the blood of Jesus and the crucifixion aren't mentioned.

But is this valid criticism? I think not, and nothing in the book of Acts or the NT epistles indicates that is was lacking validity. The problem comes from our own perspective of how it ought to be.

But that's exactly the issue—it's our perspective and doesn't take into account how others hear it. Or, in many cases, how they don't hear it because they have no frame of reference to understand a more direct modern evangelical presentation of the gospel.

Seeing a new perspective

I see 12 elements in Paul's message to the Athenians on Mars Hill where the redemptive message of the gospel is clearly expressed. Next week I'll go through those twelve points with cross-references to support each one.

Until next week, I encourage you to read through Paul's message at Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31) to see if you can identify these twelve points. Look at the context of the entire chapter (Acts 17). This should help provide the why to how Paul expresses his message.

The goal is not to pick Paul's message apart from a western evangelical perspective but to understand why and how he communicates the gospel the way he does.

Understanding this will provide greater insight for reaching people who don't have a Judean-Christian framework of understanding, whether in America or anywhere in the worldwith any unreached people group.


My interest in Paul's message at Mars Hill was originally stirred through the teaching of my friend Danny Lehman at a missions conference several years ago. He's a long-time and well-traveled missionary who speaks a lot about evangelism and has written quite a bit about it.

I highly recommend his book,  Beautiful Feet– Steps to a Lifestyle of Evangelism, if you're interested in learning how and why to share your faith with others.