June 19, 2010

Common Ground

22Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

24"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'

29"Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man's design and skill. 30In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."

Like Jesus did with the Samaritan woman at the well and with Nicodemus, Paul meets the Athenians where they are. He has a great way to start the speech, too: the altar labeled “To an unknown god,” and even quotes poetry that the Athenians are familiar with to help his point. He tells them that there is one true God (not their multiple gods) who does not live in human temples (like theirs) and is not made of gold or silver or stone (like the idols they worship). He also includes several, more universal points: God is the Creator, has determined all our steps, and is bringing a day of judgment. My favorite point, however, is this in verse 27: “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far away from each one of us.”

Not that this speech is a template to use like a witnessing mad-lib, but we can take away some good practical points about talking to people about Jesus. Speak the language of the people, know their context; if you don’t know anything about who they are, you don’t know where they are spiritually. Relate to them.

Don’t take this too far and use it as an excuse not to witness, because it’s a lot easier than it sounds. Jesus and the woman were at a well and in Samaria, so he talked about water and the now arbitrary nature of being a Jew or a Samaritan. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, so Jesus talked about Jewish theology. The Athenians were highly intellectual, so Paul talked about their religion and quoted their poets. There’s common ground everywhere, whether it’s place, experience, or just our humanity. Find that common ground and plant some seeds in it.

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