Evangelism Primer from Apostle Paul

(Acts 17:16-34)

One of the things we see in the work of Paul and the other apostles, apart from the teachings they taught, is how they spread the word of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When Paul arrived in Athens in Greece, while waiting for his co-workers to catch up he wandered the streets of the city.

Evangelism on the streets
Evangelism on the streets

We see in verses 16-17 the following verses that show what Paul thought and did as he waited.

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.

Paul did NOT like what he saw in Athens for that city was full of idols. His spirit in him was provoked and you can imagine how churned up, frustrated and angry Paul felt as he saw the objects of worship in the city. So he took matters in hand. While waiting for his fellow workers he began to discuss, argue and reason with both the Jews and the Greeks in the synagogues as well as the marketplace. This is the beginning of how Paul approached evangelism in the city and how he followed up is remarkable in its simplicity and brilliance. Something we can learn much from.

Using What is Available

One of the best tips for evangelism in the bible is seen in this section of scripture. Paul had been speaking in the marketplace and some of the learned men of the city wanted to hear more of what he had to say. So they took him to the Areopagus to speak to all who would listen.

Paul had been wandering the streets of the city and look at what he had to say in verses 22-23 regarding what he had found.

22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.

In order to put the people at ease he took what they already had and already knew and used it as the starting point for preaching the gospel. What a fantastic way to commence a ministry of evangelism! When the people hear something they are familiar with, they are more likely to listen to what comes next.

And Paul continued to use this approach as opened up the gospel to those who were assembled. In verses 26-29 we see the following.

26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, “'For we are indeed his offspring.' 29 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.

Paul uses the writings of the Greek philosophers quoting both Aratus and Epimenides in verses 28-29 and then uses those words to bring the listeners along with him as he moved into a discussion of the resurrection. Paul's ability to take what the people were familiar with and turn it to advantage to speak the gospel was remarkable.

God Wants To Be Found

One of the important and often missed messages in this section of scripture is just how much God wants us to seek after Him and find Him. He wants to be found by all people and will enable those who seek Him to do so. Look at verses 26-27 where it says,

“…having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.”

God has determined the allotted periods of our lives and established how long a man or woman will live on this earth. The purpose being that we each get a certain amount of time to make one decision, whether to follow The Lord or not.

It is the hope of God that all people will “feel toward him and find him.” He wants to be found and one of the mechanisms by which He may be found is through the path of evangelism. Paul shows how we can likewise use the things around us, the things that are important to people, the things of value to a person and use it to expound the message of the gospel.

God has said that He wants to be found and when people seek Him and feel for Him, God will make His presence known to the person. As Paul showed, God is not far from any of us. He is close by, waiting for us to call on Him to save us and restore us.

All Things To All People

Paul spent the rest of his life trying to bring as many people as possible to The Lord. Nothing stood in his way and no pain, suffering or hardship was too great that Paul would not speak to the people. Even many of the letters he wrote that we still study and read today were written while imprisoned for the sake of the gospel.

But in his evangelistic mission Paul did everything he could to draw the people to The Lord. He says in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 that he would do almost anything for the sake of the gospel.

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

How often do people attempt to convert others to The Lord by browbeating, bible bashing or bullying them? How often do they take the high moral ground and look down on those who they claim to be seeking for The Lord? How often do they even twist the scriptures seeking their own advantage rather then the will of God?

This is not what Paul did and it is not the way of true evangelism. The evangelist empathises with those he or she is seeking for The Lord. The evangelist seeks to understand and align themself with the thoughts and lives of those they are seeking, not to be overbearing and pompous espousing words but with no heart in them.

Jesus used parables built on common stories to teach the people so that those who would seek would understand. He walked among the common people and they flocked to Him in their thousands to hear what He had to say. Paul and the rest of the early disciples likewise used common stories, common language and walked with the common people as they brought the words of The Lord to them.

How should evangelism be carried out today? Certainly not in the high and mighty words of the tele-evangelists who in any cases cannot be approached by the common people, instead putting on airs and graces as if they were superstars. Not all are that way, but there are some.

Instead when The Lord puts you into a place where you may have opportunity to witness or to evangelise, consider how Paul did it in Athens and how The Lord did it as He walked the shores of Galilee. In the end, we want those we speak to to “feel toward him and find him.” And that is what the will of God is too.

(Photo sourced from stock.xchng taken by James Bickers)

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