Today, we’re beginning a new series of 3 Bible Study posts called “How to Engage Skeptics Like Paul Did in the Bible.” In this post, you’ll learn two simple lessons from Paul’s encounter in Acts 17. But first, let’s take a look at a little background.
Athens was a big deal in the ancient world. Athens was a massive intellectual center. Anyone who set foot in the city couldn’t help but notice all the statues, temples, altars and inscriptions to various deities. Besides religion, a lot of people were into philosophy, too. Athens was home to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle-–basically the center of Greek philosophy.
Two Lessons from Paul
1. Care About People
Paul cared about people. We should, too–even if their beliefs seem odd to you. In Acts 17, Paul “was greatly upset because he saw the city was full of idols (16).” As a Jew, this might have given him a bit of vertigo. After all, he knew how seriously God took idol worship in the past.
But Paul didn’t freak out or come in with a spiritual chip on his shoulder, like he was somehow better than them. His engagement with the culture came from his compassion for people—kind of like Jesus’ own compassion for the unbelieving crowds (Matthew 9:36).
So our conversations should always come from a place of compassion. So do a quick heart-check before talking to your skeptical friends. Ask yourself, “Am I doing this out of love and compassion?”
2. Prepare for Insults and Interest
“So he was addressing the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles in the synagogue, and in the marketplace every day those who happened to be there. Also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him, and some were asking, “What does this foolish babbler want to say?” (17-18)
Paul was speaking to a mixed audience. Some people basically called him an “ignorant show-off” or a “charlatan.” But Jesus warned us that his disciples would be rejected—-just like he was (John 15:18-25). Still, that doesn’t mean everyone will reject the gospel. Paul’s message was accepted by “a few men…(including) Dionysius…Damaris, and a number of others” (Acts 17:34). There’s no way to know who will eventually be persuaded by the gospel. Dont give up on your friends!
Those who didn’t reject Paul’s message right off the bat actually wanted to talk about it. They said:
“May we know what this new teaching is that you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some surprising things to our ears, so we want to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there used to spend their time in nothing else than telling or listening to something new.)
So, interest and insults are no surprise. But don’t forget that persuasion can happen just a little bit at a time. Even just saying something that invites someone into the next conversation is a step in the right direction.
In part two of this series, we’ll take a look at three more tips on engaging with your skeptical friends like Paul did in the Bible. Stay tuned!