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Ignorance Confronted By Boldness And Respect

Acts 17:22-25
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: 'People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship – and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. '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 human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.' (NIVUK)

Paul's preaching at the Areopagus was bold. But he spoke with great respect to the philosophers and the senators of the 'court of ideas, education and religion'. He described his tour of the city and concluded that they were very religious – overwhelmingly worshipping the Greek and Roman gods in their temples, although there were some Jews and God-seekers in the city (Acts 17:17).

Paul was careful to examine whatever he saw in Athens (perhaps it was instinctive to his semi-legal mind from being a Pharisee), because he wanted to find helpful links to connect the gospel message to their culture and society. Wonderfully he had come across an altar on which was carved, 'To An Unknown God'. Paul used that connection to get them to think about their ignorance, and be willing to listen to Paul's explanation of the real God.

God is the person who has created everything. That made Him different to the idols who were supposed to have some part-function in the cosmos. And so it follows that the Creator cannot be confined to some 'worship box' which has patronisingly been made for worship (by saying that, Paul also announced the redundancy of the temple in Jerusalem since Christ has opened the way to God - Hebrews 10:20). Although the pagan gods were supposed to demand gifts or offerings (really a human business enterprise), the true God does not need anything and there is nothing any human can do to make Him greater. Quite the reverse: it is only through what God gives, that humans can be and do anything.

Everybody who does not know God through Jesus Christ is dangerously ignorant: whatever they may say they believe. Evangelism deliberately exposes a wrong belief system by announcing the truth. Those who claim to be religious philosophers, and will not believe they are wrong, cannot grasp the truth of the gospel (2 Timothy 3:7). Although the message will be offensive to some and ignored by others, it should be presented respectfully (1 Peter 3:15) but not timidly (2 Timothy 1:7), using whatever links will enable the ignorant unbeliever to connect with the truth (1 Corinthians 9:22). That will require intentional practical preparation: so take time with another believer to discuss and pray about how to hold the tension between boldness and respect while connecting an ignorant person with gospel truth.

Creator God. Thank You for being so much greater than I could ever imagine, with no needs for me to supply. Forgive me for failing to present You to my friends and colleagues with boldness and respect. Please help me to find another believer with whom I can learn how to prepare for intentional gospel conversations. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams