Ancient Wisdom: May 25, 2014 (Year A)

Read:  Acts 17:22-31

Meditation: A Manual for Our Witness”

The account of Paul’s visit to Athens provides an outline for the way we should engage non-Christian people, no matter where they are.

First, Paul took the time to get to know them.  The verses that precede today’s reading make it clear that he was in Athens for days before he said anything.  He was walking around and becoming familiar with the surroundings (v 23).

Second, he began with conversation.  The culture loved a good debate.  Paul was not acting inappropriately when he argued with the Jews and the Greeks.  In fact, it was his willingness to talk with the people (not “at” them) that gave him credibility, because a good conversation includes listening as well as speaking.

Third, he accepted their invitation to speak more publicly  and extensively.  The Areopagus was the place for this.  Notice how Paul was still operating on the terms of the culture, taking advantages of existing “media” to engage people.  He seized his opportunities, and he had them because he had been relating to the people positively.

Fourth, when he did speak publicly, he based his remarks in the context of respect (v 22-23a).  He acknowledged the presence of God in their midst and honored their attempts to worship God.  He was right to do so on both counts.

Fifth, Paul used something in their own worldview to create the transition.  The altar to the unknown God became the bridge to walk the Athenians into the Gospel.  John did the same thing with the Logos in his writing of his Gospel.  We must find the “bridges” God has already placed in the world and use them to transition into the Gospel.

Sixth, he told the Story winsomely and convincingly.  The few verses that follow the lectionary text show that some believed, and the rest were willing to hear him again.  Like Peter had done on the Day of Pentecost, now Paul couched his message in the classic content of the faith (kerygma).

We cannot hope for more when we seek to reach people.  God give us the grace to use the way of Paul as our way.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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