It can be humbling to see how we measure up against some of the characteristics found in people used of God by studying one person in particular, Noah. We notice that Noah was righteous, obedient, exhibited a strong faith, lived a life of separation and walked with God. Noah found grace in God’s eyes, and he was a preacher of righteousness to a people who were wicked, violent, and corrupt. It was the fact that Noah was a preacher of righteousness to the people in his day which was his focus, and how he had the boldness and confidence to preach that message to those who didn’t have any need for it in their hearts.
My prayer this year is to develop confidence and boldness in witnessing and sharing my testimony with others because I have many opportunities and open doors that I don’t readily take advantage of. Then, as I thought about confidence and boldness over the last few days, I discovered something that makes sense. I remember thinking that some people may make us feel like we can’t put together a good enough intellectual argument for the presence of God and the need for salvation. Maybe, just maybe, we feel that way because we don’t know what an effective witness consists of, so we go into an opportunity with anxiety about our ability to do the task at hand.
It’s like this. After playing tennis for twenty years at various levels of competition, I could walk out onto any court in the world, with my tennis racquets ready, and be confident in my ability to play a decent match. I don’t even need to think about strategy and shot making during a point because I’ve done it so often and have been in numerous situations similarly in the past, that it is second nature to me now. But, if you gave me a trumpet and put me in the sanctuary and asked me to play a special for the offertory, well that would be a different story altogether. I would have no confidence in my ability to do that, and therefore I wouldn’t do it. But because I have confidence in my tennis ability, I can boldly walk out on the court anytime, anywhere, with anyone.
See, it’s confidence in my ability that allows me to be bold and take advantage of situations. But that confidence is built on two things: First, I have to learn how to do what it is I want to become confident in, and second, I have to put into play what I learn, many times over, until I have become skilled and then believe I can do what I know how to do, under any circumstance. I learned the basics of tennis early, and then, somewhere over the next twenty or so years, I was able to play at high levels under stressful conditions. Without that confidence that comes from learning the basics and putting them into practice, I never would have gotten as far as I did.
So, let’s look at Mars Hill (Acts 17:16-34) to see how basic the message can be and still be effective. Mars Hill was not an open-air meeting. Paul was taken to the Areopagus, a Supreme Court of sorts, located on Mars Hill. He was not on trial, but because Paul had been witnessing to other people (Jews in the synagogues and Greeks in the marketplace) he caught the ear of some philosophers who brought Paul to Mars Hill to set forth his teachings to the supreme judicial leaders of the day.
The first thing we see is that Paul’s heart was stirred (vs. 16) because the whole city was heavily involved in idol worship. Unlike others who may be moved in their hearts the same way, Paul had boldness to act upon his compassion for both Jews and Gentiles, because he was confident in his message. We know that praying to saints in some religions is something people do to receive spiritual favors, but we also know, biblically, that it’s foolish and a waste of time. My first thought would be how to teach someone from the scripture that what they’re doing is wrong, but as we’ll see, that’s the wrong approach.
Also, Paul was so confident in his ability to present the gospel, that he was able to teach the Jews in the synagogues and still tailor his message to find common ground with people who didn’t even share the same beliefs about Paul’s God. The Stoics and the Epicureans represented religious mindsets similar to people today. The Epicureans believed in gods, but that these gods didn’t care about the affairs of man. Thus, the Epicureans lived by the philosophy of living life to its fullest, while achieving complete peace of mind. They believed there was no afterlife, so their desire was to live guiltless lives because there were no eternal consequences. The Stoics, on the other hand, believed gods were everywhere and in everything. They believed people needed to live in harmony with nature and deny the flesh to preserve the natural resources, which were the dwelling places of the gods.
We can find people in our own families with some semblance of these two philosophies. We have family members who worship idols and pray to saints. We have family members who believe in a “higher power.” This “higher power” is endowed with characteristics given to them by the family member who created their “higher power” to their liking. That also is idolatry. There are some who don’t even believe in God, but rather that we should “coexist” with all gods of all religions. So what are we to do? How confident are we in our ability to theologically debate all these varying schools of thought? How can we possibly know enough to refute every one of their arguments? The answer is…we don’t have to. Let’s study Paul’s witness to this eclectic group on Mars Hill.
First, Paul’s compassion that moved him to witness earlier in the chapter helped him to recognize that he can’t begin witnessing to someone by immediately attacking them and running the risk of developing an adversarial relationship with them. Paul began his address on Mars Hill by recognizing that the city was very religious (Acts 17:22). He did not follow that up with commendations, he just stated plainly that he recognized what was going on. He saw in them a capacity for worship in their hearts, and that the potential was there for that worship to be turned to the right direction…God.
Second, God provided an open door for Paul, which allowed him his starting off point. There were idols for all sorts of gods who represented many aspects of human and natural existence. But there was one statue in particular that caught Paul’s eye…the inscription read: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Paul jumped at that and said, essentially, “I know THAT God!” He then began to preach and witness to this group of contradicting philosophies before the supreme ruling body.
Thirdly, Paul’s witness was very specific. It consisted of about five bullet points. If you read the account, you’ll see that Paul simply stated one facet after another and didn’t debate each one. Probably people would have loved to have Paul start chasing rabbit trails, but Paul didn’t do that.
He had a basic message that he stuck to. The first part of the message is Christ crucified (Acts 17:17-18). That’s what he was originally preaching when he caught the ears of the Epicureans and the Stoics in verse 18. Then, the next point he wanted to make to the supreme rulers on Mars Hill was the fact that God created man and reigns over us (vs. 24-25). He continued his teaching by explaining to them that God is directly involved in the affairs of men (vs. 26). Next, Paul explains to everyone present that God does desire a direct relationship with His people (vs. 27-28). Lastly, he speaks of the coming judgment against men who choose not to believe in His Son (vs. 31).
That’s what his witness to these people entailed. Now, it was an effective witness because we find in Acts 17:34 people being saved: “Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed; among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” So it wasn’t well thought-out systematic theology that attacked the Greeks in the areas they were wrong per se, but rather it was simply stating the truth in an easy-to-understand way. Changing someone’s doctrine can come later, after they’re saved.
All of the points that Paul makes in this address on Mars Hill are things we can profess to people when opportunities arise:
- Christ crucified. All of us who are saved know the how and why of Christ coming to Earth and dying on the cross. We all had to have at least that basic knowledge to be saved.
- God created man and reigns over us. (Genesis 1:1, 27; Deuteronomy 4:32; Malachi 2:10) You don’t have to memorize and do on-the-spot expository teaching on creation, but the Bible says that man can not deny the existence of God when they look at his creation (Romans 1:20)
- God is directly involved in the affairs of men. God established all the countries of the world from one original bloodline, (Adam) and established countries and territories (i.e. Israel and the promised land) and established where people would live and for how long. But we can easily tell people how God has worked in our lives through answered prayer, miracles, and anything else that bears testimony to what Paul is conveying at this time.
- God desires a relationship with His creation. So much so that God wants us to have a Father-child relationship with Him (Romans 8:15). If we can convey that type of God to others, it helps God become more real to people and less threatening. Of course, there are times to warn of the chastening hand of God and the wrath He possesses, but not at the time of the initial witnessing. Like doctrine, that will come later as the person learns, grows, and matures.
- There is a coming judgment. People need to know what it is they are being saved from. What are the consequences to not getting saved? How is getting saved going to benefit me? You don’t need to be the world’s foremost authority on the study of eschatology (the study of end times) or be a master in the study of Daniel and Revelation. You just need to know that the saved go to Heaven and the unregenerate go to Hell. You know that, because you believed it the day you got saved.
I guess what I find the most interesting about studying Paul’s witness on Mars Hill is that from the moment right before we got saved and continuing on thereafter, we inherently have the basic information needed to be effective witnesses. We can state from our hearts what God has done to us, for us, and with us, and that far outweighs any well-prepared cold theological expose’.
So, I hope it’s clear to you that we all have the necessary knowledge. We know the basics to salvation. Like I learned the basics of the tennis game, and put it into practice and eventually got confident in my abilities and grew bolder as time went on, I know I just need to put witnessing into practice more and I will eventually become more confident and that will yield the boldness I’m praying for.
Without boldness and confidence, it’s hard to answer questions because you fear the next question. Here’s an example. Someone asks me where I send my girls to school. If I say they go to a private school that may be the end of it. If I answer, “First Baptist Christian School,” I identify myself as being a Baptist. The next question may be, “What do Baptists believe?” If you don’t have confidence and aren’t bold, you don’t want to get to that question, but that’s just the open door you need to start putting into practice the basic tools you possess. You’ll have some successes. You’ll be met with indifference and ambivalence sometimes. Paul was laughed at (Acts 17:32).
But there’s a reason we need to strive to get better at this aspect of our Christian lives. You never know when God will close the door on someone after numerous attempts to convert them through the witness and testimony of someone else. Suppose God would have us to be that person’s final opportunity…and suppose we let it pass by…
Now think on this…where would we be if the person that led us to the Lord passed by on us?