“24 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25 and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26 From one man[c] he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.” Acts 17:24-26
The Apostle Paul’s speech before the council in Athens is one of the most complete recorded sermon’s we have from the early church leader. In it he lays out the basic foundation of who God is and how we relate to the Creator through the lives we live. In terms of a sermon, it is simple, profound, and would have you out of church and at lunch before the Baptists (even with First Baptist Church’s recent move to a 10:30 a.m. worship time). What’s not to love about it?
I think one of the most important points of Paul’s message here isn’t just what he said, though it is part of the bedrock of what we know about Paul, but what he didn’t say. In this sermon he is preaching to a group of gathered Greek and Romans among the leadership of Athens. Most of them have no relation to the church and no idea of who Christ is or how to know God. Most of them are about as far as you can be from faith in Christ.
Despite this reality Paul does not launch into an attack on how their life is out of line with Christianity. He doesn’t call them out on how they don’t follow the most basic parts of the Gospel or behave the right way. What is absent in the Apostle Paul’s sermon to the people gathered here is any condemnation for what they are or are not doing. Instead, he uses his time to offer them Christ in the easiest-to-understand form possible.
Last week in our church we talked about the reality that we live in a post-Christian culture. It is a topic I’ve written about here before. With a different culture surrounding us, people of faith must shift how we reach out to others. The old tried-and-true methods of evangelism do not work anymore. There was a day and age when you could spread the faith of Christ by simply offering a better worship service on Sunday morning. You could improve the music or have the very best preacher and your church would increase. People would come to faith. Lives would be changed.
In our time we have seen that change. You can have the best sermons, the best worship band (or in our case organ), and the very best facilities and it doesn’t matter. It is almost like the people we know who are apart from Christ are looking for something completely different. They are not going to be attracted to the faith, they’re looking for something other than slick production value.
I think the missing element in evangelism we’ve begun to rediscover is the raw authenticity and humility we see in Paul’s sermon. He is sure of who God is and what God does, but he doesn’t present God in a harsh way. He states what he knows and the transformation he’s encountered and leaves the men of Athens to turn it over in their own hearts. He doesn’t attack them for not already knowing Christ, but simply offers them a relationship with the Messiah.
For us, living in a post-Christian age that is very similar to the culture Paul is preaching to in Athens, we need to begin to develop in our own personal lives ways of sharing our faith the same way that Paul did. Let us, in humility, state the God we know and leave them with a dose of humble love and grace. We should spend our time not preaching at people and trying to fight this culture, but instead we should spend our time and all our effort just sharing the great story of transformation God is working in the world around us.
Open your eyes and see how God is transforming the world around and go and tell that story to people. You, like Paul, will be surprised by how God will bless your work.