17th August 2017
I have been feeling really challenged recently by Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:15 which tell us to, 'Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.' My question to myself is, 'Am I always prepared, always ready, always attentive and open towards the people God places around me?'
I believe God gives us regular opportunities to share the hope and Joy of the Gospel with others. We carry around in our hearts the message about the love of God in Christ. It is the most precious thing we know. Yet the distractions of day-to-day life can easily stop us from seeing the opportunities God gives us to share what we know.
Yet how can we be confident God will place people across our path who might be open to the Gospel? In the process of sharing the Gospel in Athens, the apostle Paul makes a wonderful and fascinating statement:
'From one man God 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. God 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.'
(Acts 17: 26-27)
We live where we live not because of some random process of chance. This is also true for everyone who lives around us! But where do we begin? What will we say?
We can learn some helpful lessons from Paul's trip to Athens about the way he responded to people's context and shared the message about Jesus with them accordingly. First, he observed. He walked around Athens and saw many idols. This distressed him and propelled him into action! He wanted everyone to know the truth about Jesus. He reasoned with the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles in the synagogue but then he also went into the market place. Finally he ended up at the Areopagus. Athens had been a world centre for art, architecture and philosophy when Greek culture was a dominant force in the ancient world. Although it had declined by Paul's day it remained a hotbed of philosophical ideas. The Areopagus was a place where people of standing gathered to debate such ideas on a regular basis.
In that context Paul begins his explanation of the Gospel not with reference to the Old Testament or Jewish history, which may have been unfamiliar to his Greek hearers, but by affirming the Athenians as being 'very religious'. He refers to a well-known local shrine which has an altar inscribed 'to an unknown God'. This launches him into a description of the one true God who CAN be known through Jesus. He even quotes two of their poets whose ideas harmonise with what he is saying.
If we apply this approach in our own situation it will encourage us to learn about people's culture, background and identity before we share Christ with them. We can listen to those around us and learn what they think, believe and hope for. We can search for those things which resonate with the truth and provide a springboard for conversation about Jesus who IS the truth.
We have our own story to tell of what we have come to believe and what difference this makes to our lives. Often as we listen to others and show genuine interest in their lives they will quite naturally want to ask us about ours.
When Paul writes to Philemon he says, 'I pray you may be active in sharing your faith so that you will have a full understanding of everything good we have in Christ.' Now there is an incredible observation and one I have found to be true. When we share with others what we know and have experienced of Jesus, the truth about Him becomes yet more deeply embedded in our own hearts. Our faith and joy grow. We appreciate Jesus more.
Annie Twort leads Alpha at King's and oversees New Life, a group for new Christians. She is married to Dickie and they have three grown-up children.
Steve Tibbert is on holiday and will be back in September.
Posted by Annie Twort
Steve Tibbert leads King’s Church London, with sites in Catford, Downham and Lee. Over the past fifteen years the church has seen continued growth, both in size and diversity. Steve is also involved in Newfrontiers and regularly coaches other lead elders. His book, Good to Grow, was published in July 2011. He is married to Deb, and they have three sons.