As we continue our conversation about evangelism, today we finally talk about actually sharing the Gospel with others. But rather than offer some tips and tricks, we’re going to take a slightly different approach. You don’t need to learn a particular method to share the Gospel effectively. You just need to learn to see the world through a Gospel lens. Then it will come as naturally to you as breathing. Let’s talk about how with a look at one of Paul’s most famous sermons.
Share It Everywhere
Have you ever felt put on the spot? Being a preacher it kind of comes with the territory. You eventually get to where you don’t even notice it. You just expect it. For most folks, though, that’s not something you sign up for. There may be a few spotlight-seekers out there, but most folks just want to get through their day without drawing too much attention to themselves. But more often than not, being put on the spot isn’t something over which you have any control. You’re just going about your normal day-to-day activities and then…bam…there’s a spotlight and you’re the only one in it. And again, a few folks have the kind of personality that they just roll with it, but most of us freeze and start looking for the exit.
Well, being in the spotlight is bad enough when it’s a normal spotlight circumstance. Imagine being in the spotlight, though, and what is expected of you is an on the spot defense of your faith. What are you going to do then? As we are going to see together this morning, that is exactly the place the apostle Paul found himself in when he was going about his normal business in the city of Athens. We may not find ourselves saddled with an unexpected invitation to the Areopagus, but we just may find ourselves one day with an unexpected opportunity to share a reason for the hope that is in us. The question is, will we be able to tell anyone?
This morning we are in the fifth part of our series, Tell Someone. For the last several weeks, we have been talking about how to share our faith in Jesus with another person. The odds are good you’ve heard about this kind of stuff before. You may have even been to something like an evangelism conference. And while you perhaps came away feeling inspired, you probably didn’t really feel equipped. You were left thinking about evangelism in terms that really didn’t propel you forward toward actually doing it. My goal for this series has been to leave you not simply aware that you should be telling other people about your faith—you already knew that—but to help you feel more comfortable with the idea. We have been systematically seeking to bring the idea of evangelism from something that only evangelists can do, to something you are I are capable of.
Along the way we have talked about the fact that our basic job is connecting people with Jesus. God wants you to connect people to Jesus. We’ve talked about the fact that all evangelism starts with prayer, and if we start anywhere else, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. We’ve talked about the simplicity of the Gospel message relative to how complex we often think it to be. Then, last week we paused to remember just how much character counts. If we aren’t living like the Gospel is true, no one is going to be very interested in listening to us talking about it. Well, today we are finally going to talk about sharing the message of the Gospel. I know some of you have perhaps been waiting the whole time for this. This is finally the day when I will tell you the nuts and bolts of how to share your faith. I’m going to give you some tips and tricks. I’m going to talk you through some easy methods for doing it. Except I’m not.
Here’s why: there is not any method for sharing the Gospel that will be useful in every situation. There are some that are really useful in some situations. There are others that are really useful in other situations. Then there are some situations that nobody’s come up with a method for at all. Of course, if you’ve ever sat listening to some with the spiritual gift of evangelism talk about it, you’ve probably come away thinking any method will work in any situation. For most of us, though, that’s simply not the case. If I take our time together this morning to train you really thoroughly to think about doing evangelism in a single set of terms, I’m really setting you up for failure. The reason for this is simple: If you find yourself in a Gospel-sharing situation and that one method doesn’t work, you’re going to feel totally unprepared and may miss out on what could otherwise be a golden opportunity to see God’s kingdom grown. Fortunately, though, you don’t need to know a particular method to be faithful to your job as a follower of Jesus. You need to know just two things, and in Paul’s experience in Athens, we can see both of them on display.
Paul’s visit to Athens happened during his second missionary journey. He had been chased out of the cities of Thessalonica and Berea and some companions had secreted him away from the Jewish leaders who were after him to Athens. There he was waiting for Timothy and Silas to catch up so they could go on to Corinth. Paul hadn’t originally planned on going to Athens, but while he was there, he did what he did in every city he visited. He went and shared the Gospel with the Jews in the local synagogue. While he was doing that, some local philosophers heard him and gave him an invitation to make an appearance at the Areopagus, or Mars Hill, the famous forum for philosophical thinking in the ancient world. Luke tells us about all of this in Acts 17. If you have a copy of the Scriptures nearby, find your way there with me and let’s see together how this story unfolds.
Start reading with me in Acts 17:16: “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed when he saw that the city was full of idols.” Now, have you ever been somewhere where your Christian faith was an obvious and distinct minority? Maybe you’ve been to the Strip in Las Vegas or to Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The modern paganism on display in those kinds of places is probably on par with what Paul was experiencing in Athens. Athens was an incredibly religious city, but it was entirely, overwhelmingly pagan. So naturally, Paul responded by shouting at everyone around him about how lost they were and how much they needed Jesus, right? Given that he wrote the text we used in our conversation last week, I’m going to go with a no on that one.
Verse 17: “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God, as well as in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.” When Paul was overwhelmed with the lostness of the culture he was in, he didn’t engage in judgmentalism; he engaged in conversations. And, he didn’t start those conversations with people who were furthest from him in terms of their worldview beliefs. He started with the ones who were the most primed to listen to what he had to say. In doing evangelism, we shouldn’t make it unnecessarily difficult on ourselves.
Eventually, some folks began to take notice who weren’t in that immediate sphere of influence. Verse 18 now: “Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also debated with him. Some said, ‘What is this ignorant show-off trying to say?’ Others replied, ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities’—because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.” Paul wasn’t ostentatious with his sharing the Gospel, but he wasn’t shy about it either. He struck up conversations with anyone who would listen in public places.
After a while, he was noticed by some folks who were higher up the social food chain and were willing to push back a bit. He didn’t respond to this pushback with pride or anger. He took it in stride and engaged with them on their own terms. Finally, his simply being willing to have conversations turned into that spotlight we talked about earlier. “They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, ‘May we learn about this new teaching you are presenting? Because what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these things mean.’ Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.”
The Areopagus was the center of what’s happening now in Athens. And, as Athens was the center of what’s happening now of the Roman Empire, Paul had essentially scored the equivalent of an appearance on one of the network late shows to talk about Jesus and the resurrection. Everyone who was anyone was going to be able to hear the Gospel message now. The heat from that spotlight had to be pretty intense. What would you do if you were Paul? I’d probably look to crawl into a hole, but that’s my personality. Maybe you’d do better. As for Paul, he stood up and made his case.
What follows is one of Paul’s most closely studied messages. It has been analyzed endlessly and by folks a whole lot smarter than me. We’re not going to cover every possible detail of what’s to come. I would highly encourage you to go home and take some time this afternoon to read this for yourself to try and wrap your mind all the way around what Paul does here. This morning, though, I want to hit a couple of highlights with you and then step back to see if we can’t get a handle on what Paul does here.
Paul gets this enviable invitation to appear on the stage of the hottest open mic forum in town to tell them about this Jesus and the resurrection. He has a golden opportunity to share the Gospel with some of the smartest people in the world. Look at how he starts in v. 22: “Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said, ‘People of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’ Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.” Now, when he says “ignorance” there, he’s being descriptive, not insulting. The Athenians had statues and temples and idols to every god they could possibly imagine, but just in case they had missed one, they also had one to an unknown god so they didn’t needlessly offend anyone. Paul was simply saying, “Let me tell you more about this God you don’t know.”
In any event, do you see what Paul does here? He meets them right where they were and in terms they could understand. He didn’t try to make them come in his direction at all. He found something in their worldview to which the Gospel spoke, and he used that as his on ramp to sharing the Gospel with them. You are really religious people. Let me tell you about another God you could worship.
He goes on to talk about this incredible God who made the world and everything in it—the heavens and the earth—and who can’t be contained by anything made by human hands. Right here he would have gotten their attention because all of the gods they worshiped were puny by comparison. Their gods and goddesses all had their little fiefdoms where they ruled, but their powers were limited. The god of the land couldn’t do much about things going on in the sky. The god of the hearth couldn’t help in times of war. The god of the sun had nothing to do with the god of the sea. But this God Paul was introducing? His turf included all of those things and more.
Furthermore, their gods needed people. They needed people to worship them, to provide food for them. Our belief justified their existence. Not so for Paul’s God. “Neither is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives everyone life and breath and all things.” This God is great beyond all reckoning and yet He is not far from us. He is the very source of our life—a point Paul makes by quoting a pagan philosopher. Paul finally lands here: “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
Now, when Paul finishes his message here, most of the crowd says, “That’s nice…next.” But some don’t. Some respond with curiosity and eventually faith. The kingdom expands. But more than just what Paul says and the results of it here, I want to think for just a minute about how Paul says it. We’ve touched on a couple of things already, but can I point out two glaring things you may have missed, and you might even miss when you read it again this afternoon?
First, Paul’s opening with them was not something forced or formal. He didn’t start with judgment or condemnation. He didn’t try to awkwardly quote a Bible verse they’d never heard and didn’t agree with anyway. Instead, he very simply filtered the situation he was in there in Athens through the lens of the Gospel. Listen, if the Gospel really does apply to every single part of our lives—and if you don’t buy that, then you and I may need to talk about just how big the Gospel really is—then every single situation we are in can be interpreted through that lens. There is no situation you will ever encounter to which the Gospel cannot be applied. Making this connection, though, may not come naturally for you. In fact, it probably doesn’t. The Gospel isn’t anybody’s first language. It is one we have to learn to speak. Like learning any language, though, learning this one requires our using it.
Learning to interpret your circumstances through the lens of the Gospel is a spiritual discipline. Here’s how you practice it: Begin taking the situations you face on a daily basis, asking the question, “How does the Gospel apply here?”, and thinking through what the answer is. Start with just a few minutes dedicated to this each day and only one situation. Then, gradually expand from there. When you watch something on television, don’t just mindlessly take it in, engage with it. Where does this mesh with the Gospel and where does it contradict it? How could the Gospel be applied to that situation to bring kingdom transformation? When you listen to a song or read a news article or hear a report about something going on in the world around you, do the same thing. What you will eventually find is that doing this kind of thing becomes automatic. You’ll find yourself doing it more and more quickly. And then, you’ll find that you’re able to do it in the context of a single conversation with another person. There’s nothing awkward or forced here. You’re simply taking the situation they are in and making a Gospel connection for it.
Of course, this doesn’t happen without any of the previous four weeks’ worth of things we’ve talked about already in place. You’re not trying to force a conversion, you’re just trying to make a connection with Jesus. You’re not doing this without copious amounts of prayer either. That’ll keep you in connection with the Spirit who will make sure you know just when to make the connection. You’re not trying to make things complex on them, and they’re willing to listen to what you have to say because you’ve earned that right by your unimpeachable character. All of this builds. It builds to real, meaningful, life-changing evangelism and discipleship taking place with you at the center of things instead of just hearing about it from someone else.
There’s one more thing here too, though, and this one I don’t want you to miss. We often think that there is a whole lot of information we need to know before we share the Gospel. Well, while we should definitely be studying the Scriptures, clarifying what we believe about God, and learning the ins and outs of our worldview all the time, those things aren’t prerequisites to evangelism. As a case in point, did you catch how much Scripture Paul cited in his message? How about the number of times he makes reference to Jesus? If you’ve been keeping score, the answer to both of those questions is none. In other words, Paul’s most famous sermon makes no direct reference to Scripture and doesn’t mention Jesus’ name even once. His only citation is a pagan philosopher. Now, I’m not saying you should go out and look for opportunities to share the Gospel without citing Scripture or even mentioning Jesus, but I’m not saying you shouldn’t either because…well…Paul did. What I am saying is this: All the things you might think you need to share the Gospel, you probably don’t. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are equipped for this. Gospel sharing can happen anytime and anywhere.
And that’s the point here. Gospel sharing can happen anytime and anywhere. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to be forced or formal. It doesn’t have to be prearranged. (It’s all prearranged by God, of course, but that’s not what I mean.) While the stakes may be high, the pressure isn’t. Unless He calls you to it specifically (and I suspect He’s not going to do that), you don’t need to stand on street corners or strike up conversations with total strangers. You can simply go through your normal life doing the things you normally do, you simply do them with an eye toward the Gospel. Gospel sharing can happen anytime and anywhere. Every conversation you have is an opportunity to make a Jesus connection for someone who doesn’t already have one. Gospel sharing can happen anytime and anywhere.
Listen: This is something you can do. It’s something you’re called to do. It’s something you’re equipped to do. Gospel sharing can happen anytime and anywhere. You just have to take the first step. They’re all a bit easier from there. Gospel sharing can happen anytime and anywhere. Let’s get to work.