Uniform 11.22.2015: A Pathway for Sharing Christ

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Acts 17:1-4, 10-12, 22-25, 28

Derbe. Philippi. Thessalonica. Beroea. Athens. And on and on the journey goes. Paul and others made the trip without jets or cars—and probably even without horses. They couldn’t type the address of the next town into their GPS device and simply let it tell them where to turn. They had no “Siri” application on an iPhone that they could ask to lead them to the nearest restroom or restaurant. They traveled with little knowledge of where they might bunk up for the night. Who would welcome them with the customary hospitality? Would their host be talkative? Generous? Receptive? Might there be a place to bathe and even lie down in comfort for some much-needed rest?

It’s hard to imagine traveling like that. But these followers of Christ truly believed that they had a message worth sharing, and no level of uncertainty or discomfort swayed them from their purpose. On they traveled, never knowing whether their next audience would listen with curiosity or ignore them, perhaps with hostility.

Imagine the variety of beliefs they encountered…like stepping onto a college campus and meeting students from around the world, or like going abroad and walking into an airport full of travelers from near and far. And instead of barging in and slamming people with their Jesus mission, Paul and the others looked around them. They observed the culture. A stone god here, an altar there. Then they showed respect for the different beliefs. “I see how extremely religious you are,” Paul said in Athens, gesturing around him at the worship objects (Acts 17:22). The people probably felt proud of their spirituality, which was so evident that even an outsider noticed.

After making this connection with them, Paul elaborated on a particular worship object—the altar to the “unknown god.” He began gently, opening a pathway for conversation, and when he had the people’s attention, he expanded his subject to share the gospel. That unknown God, he told them, is “Lord of heaven and earth” (Acts 17:24). Paul continued with a passionate testimony about his loving God and assured them that they too were God’s children (v. 28).

Some audiences drank in this good news like they were dying of thirst. Others were suspicious and dismissive. Regardless of the response, Paul and his mission crew kept moving, kept sharing, kept making pathways and revealing the power of the one true God. Are we not called to do the same?

Discussion

1. What is the furthest from home you’ve traveled? What was the experience like? How did people welcome (or not welcome) you into their culture?
2. Have you ever spent time with a foreigner who has come to live in your native country? How was their reception when they came to your country? Were people kind to them? Did they feel safe and comfortable? If not, why?
3. What is your first internal reaction when you encounter someone with a faith that differs from yours? Are you good friends with anyone who is not a Christian? If so, what is your friendship like?
4. How can we show respect for and interest in the different beliefs of others? How did Paul do this? Why is it important?
5. What is the best way to share our faith with someone of another religion or of no religion? How often are you able to do this, and what is the usual outcome? What do you think God wants you to do when you encounter someone who believes differently?

Reference Shelf

Open, Tolerant, and Generous Reading

In moving toward Beroea, Paul and his party depart from the main Roman highway and head south toward Beroea, located some sixty miles from Thessalonica. The city was located on the eastern slopes of Mount Vermian in the Olympian mountain range and had, at one time, served as the capital city of one of the four Macedonian districts. Consistent with Paul’s pattern, he visits the synagogue (v. 10).

Though one can discern patterns in the way Luke presents stories of Paul’s encounters with Jews and Gentiles in the synagogues, his account of Paul’s experiences in Beroea shows that Luke can be nuanced in his presentations. Specifically, the narrator praises the Jews of this city, describing them as “more noble.” The word eugenesteroi literally means “well born” or “well bred,” but came to take on the more general meaning of “open,” “tolerant” or “generous.” Luke also describes them as “eager” to receive the good news and to examine for themselves the Scriptures to confirm the truth of Paul’s proclamation. Again, Luke does not allow readers to know precisely what Scriptures Paul appeals to, leaving readers unable to follow the characters’ example. As a consequence of their eagerness and willingness to search the Scriptures, many came to believe, in direct contrast to only some (or none!) of the Thessalonian Jews. As in other cities, Gentiles also come to believe. Again, Luke takes care to note that women were among such believers and that they, as well as the men, were of high standing (v. 12).

J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 303–304.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters (ages 10 and 8), and watching television shows on Netflix. Her goal for 2015 is to tackle the bass clef on the piano.

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