- Have a heart for the lost
- Pin-point a culture’s idols
- Go to where the culture/people are
- Read the situation
- Be wise but bold, and praise God for the results
Evangelism is not just a phrase or a job for the super spiritual, it is a gift and a command from God (Ephesians 4:11, Matthew 28:19). We are all evangelists, we are either good ones or bad ones. In Acts 17 Paul puts on display what a good and wise evangelist looks like.
Having a heart for the lost (v.16)
The first mark of a good evangelist is whether or not we have a heart for people, and specifically the lost. Over and over again throughout Paul’s letters, we see his bleeding heart for people (Philippians 1:7, 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, Acts 20:31, 1 Corinthians 9:22, etc.).
Verse 16 shows this heart when the writer says Paul was “deeply distressed”. Yes, it was because he saw they were worshiping idols. But with Paul’s track record and the way he deals with the Athenians, I sense a deep sadness within Paul as he looks out at a sea of lost souls that desperately need the gospel. I sense he was ready to say what he told the Corinthians, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
Pin-point the culture’s idols (v.s 22-23)
While Paul was deeply distressed, he did not act off the cuff of his feelings. He walked around and observed the idols of the culture he was in. This is so important in today’s age. We must be well read on how the culture thinks, or we will have very little hope in reaching them when it comes to the gospel.
I am not saying we must cater to the needs of our culture in order to reach them, but I am saying it is wise to understand the way our culture thinks. Have you ever seen a 50-year-old youth pastor? The reason why they are rare, whether they like it or not, is that they are out of touch with the kids. We must not become out of touch with the culture. We must observe our culture as Paul did so we will know what idols must be attacked.
Go to where the culture/people are (v.17)
Paul went to the synagogue to evangelize the Jews and the marketplace to evangelize the culture of Athens (v.17). We would be wise to take note of where our culture is. The marketplace in the first century is not what we naturally think of when we think of the farmers market. The marketplace is where the culture was. In essence what Paul did was go to Hollywood, Washington D.C., CNN, Fox News, Facebook, and YouTube to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In 2018 our culture is on its phone or laptop watching an unprecedented amount of videos. The second most used search engine is YouTube, the video is king in our culture today. The culture loves videos and is dying to see more of them. If we want to be good evangelists we would be wise to take note of this and use technology to reach our culture with the gospel.
Read the situation. (v.s 22-29)
I see the incredible wisdom in how Paul approaches the people at Athens in the Areopagus. He knows that these are people who like to hear new ideas (v.21) so he wets their appetite by talking about their gods and then referring to their “unknown” God. I believe Paul is reading the situation and realizing that these are not zealous Jews that he might talk harshly to as he does in Acts 28:25-26, but Greeks who have a real curiosity. We too ought to be reading the situation and the culture and then come up with a strategy.
From time to time I will see people on the corners with a megaphone preaching. Now do not get me wrong, God has used those kinds of strategies greatly over the years. But I always find myself asking the same question, “Is that the best way to reach this culture?”
The beautiful thing about missions is that the gospel message stays the same but the way you present that message changes from culture to culture. For instance, even if that strategy of preaching on the street corner works in the Bible-belt of Texas it would not work in Dublin, or even NYC for that matter. We ought to be reading the situation of every culture we are in or else we are in danger of broad-brushing all cultures to fit into what we might deem “effective”.
Be wise but bold, and praise God for the results (v.s 30-34)
While we see Paul’s wisdom on display in verses 22-29 we also see that he does not shy away from the harsh reality of their situation if they do not except this gospel (Acts 17:30-31). I have a heart for apologetics, but for years I would try and persuade people through reason without trying to hurt their feelings with the repercussions of what I was trying to convince them was true! When I would take this approach, it would leave the people I was talking to with an intellectual but none compelling argument that had no heart.
We need to have heart! We need to have passion! We need to be wise in the way we present the gospel but we dare not shy away from telling people the state they are in, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23).
Lastly, even after this seemingly mountaintop experience of preaching to the Greeks in the Areopagus, there was no revival. Some of them mocked Paul, others were curious, and a couple believed (v.s 32-34). It is a good lesson for us. All we can do is present the gospel, God saves. We can lead the horse to the water, but we cannot force it to drink.
The work of an evangelist is one that forces you to be completely dependant on the God who saves. I hope we would have it no other way, because in and of ourselves we can accomplish nothing.