Last Saturday I had the privilege of summarizing Acts 17 for a sister fellowship.
On a second missionary journey, Paul sets out north from Jerusalem, hits a few Galilean towns, meets heavy resistance in Thessolonica, is pleasantly surprised by Berea's receptivity, and then labeled an "idle babbler" by the Athenian elite.
Paul's experiences bring me a lot of encouragement. While Paul's approach was essentially the same at each locale (see below), the results were quite different. He sows in Berea and they start searching. He sows in Athens and most don't take ten minutes to see if what he's saying is true.
Right about now, I can seriously resonate with Paul's Thessolonica and Athenian experiences. His story lets me know I'm not alone.
Paul the "Idle Babbler"
Excerpted from the Acts of Apostles
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, "What does this babbler want to say?" Others said, "He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities." (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means." Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new (17:16-21).
Here's a question I often ask myself. Why do people feel the need to be right? Whatever the answer, it's nothing new. The Jews in Thessolonica struggled with it. The people of Athens struggled with it. And to be fair, I likely struggle with it and, quite possibly, the Apostle Paul did, too. We struggle because we're human.
At the same time, our longing to be right can quickly bleed over into an unteachable spirit or stubbornness. And that's where the Bereans refused to go. In Acts 17, Luke tells us the Bereans received (dechomai) the Word. Dechomai is the same word Yeshua (Jesus) used to describe the way childlike believers, faithful preachers, and the gospel should be received (Mt 18:5; Mt 10:4; Lk 8:13).
So what did Paul do in these varying situations? Did he discern the listening climate, then preach a gospel appropriate to the situation? Not really. His basic approach looked something like this...
- He reasoned and dialogued with his listeners out of the Tanakh (i.e., the Old Testament)
- He explained the Tanakh
- He gave evidence rooted in the Tanakh, often using messianic prophecy
- He proclaimed Yeshua
Did it look exactly the same every time? Well, no, but every football tackle looks different, too. But to those who know the fundamentals of tackling, the same principles apply 99.9% of the time (try tackling someone without using your arms, for example).
Although Paul took the same basic approach each time, the outcomes were not always the same. When Paul preached in Athens, for instance, his listeners questioned his sanity and/or logic.
Do people ever question your sanity or logic? My guess is they do. Here's my encouragement to you. Be humble. Keep learning. Keep listening. And, by all means, keep telling people about Yeshua. There will be times, no doubt, that people will be mean to you as a result. But people like Dionysius and Damaris with thank you (v34).