Acts 2:42 outlines essential convictions that must be ingrained in the fabric of a man's soul if he is to effectively "guard this man” (1 Kings 20:39). In the first quarter of this year, we saw that we must "guard this man," so he is "sound in doctrine." A second reason we must "guard this man" is so he will be "strong in fellowship." A third reason to "guard this man" is so he will be steadfast in prayer. A fourth reason we must “guard this man” is so he will be “successful in witness.”
The Book of Acts records the actions of first-century believers. They walked in the fear of the Lord, proclaimed the Word of God everywhere, and a great many souls came to faith in Christ; hence, they were successful in witness. They did this in the power of the Holy Spirit as promised by Jesus in Acts 1:8 (NLT), “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere - in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
There are many lessons taught and learned from the example of these first-century disciples. One such example is the Apostle Paul in Acts 17, where he appears before an audience of Gentiles who have never heard of Jesus Christ. Paul is standing on their turf, at Mars Hill, at their invitation. He starts where they are and shares the gospel with them. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22 (NLT), "I try to find common ground with everyone so that I might bring them to Christ.” Paul does this very thing in Acts 17, where his approach becomes a model for effectively telling others the gospel.
The first thing Paul teaches us is to be courteous in our dealings with unbelievers. You cannot insult a person into the Kingdom of God. Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious” (Acts 17:22, NIV). Paul looked for something positive he could say about them, affirming the fact that they were very religious. The English proverb holds, "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar," extolling the fact that you make more friends by being courteous than by being caustic. Paul found common ground with his hearers, and he affirmed them for their religious pursuits. Likewise, we, too, do well to be courteous when witnessing to others, lest they perceive us to be rude and obnoxious, thereby potentially turning them away when the law of kindness would have possibly opened the door for hearing the gospel.
Secondly, Paul teaches us to be contemporary in our presentation. His example encourages us to stay current with the times, becoming a student of the culture, getting to know the people by walking and living among them. Paul says, “As I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: 'To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the One I’m telling you about” (Acts 17:23, NLT). Paul took the time, before speaking to them, to study their culture, gleaning insights and understanding into their beliefs so that he could then build a bridge to them with the gospel. His courteous demeanor broke down barriers, and his contemporary knowledge built a bridge whereby he could segue into the gospel.
Paul then demonstrated the courage to speak up and say to them, “I am not here to tell you about a strange foreign deity, but about this One whom you already worship, though without full knowledge” (Acts 17:23c, VOICE). Solomon, in his wisdom, reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT), "He [God] has planted eternity in the human heart.” 7Recognizing this, Paul continued to share with his Gentile audience.
24 This is the God who made the universe and all it contains, the God who is the King of all heaven and all earth. It would be illogical to assume that a God of this magnitude could possibly be contained in any man-made structure, no matter how majestic. 25 Nor would it be logical to think that this God would need human beings to provide Him with food and shelter—after all, He Himself would have given to humans everything they need—life, breath, food, shelter, and so on. This is the only universal God, the One who makes all people whatever their nationality or culture or religion. 26 This God made us in all our diversity from one original person, allowing each culture to have its own time to develop, giving each its own place to live and thrive in its distinct ways. 27 His purpose in all this was that people of every culture and religion would search for this ultimate God, grope for Him in the darkness, as it were, hoping to find Him. Yet, in truth, God is not far from any of us. 28 For you know the saying, “We live in God; we move in God; we exist in God.” And still another said, “We are indeed God’s children.” 29 Since this is true, since we are indeed offspring of God’s creative act, we shouldn’t think of the Deity as our own artifact, something made by our own hands—as if this great, universal, ultimate Creator were simply a combination of elements like gold, silver, and stone. 30 No, God has patiently tolerated this kind of ignorance in the past, but now God says it is time to rethink our lives and reject these unenlightened assumptions (Acts 17:24-30, VOICE)
Eugene Peterson paraphrases verse 30 in The Message, "God overlooks it as long as you don't know any better—but that time is past. The unknown is now known, and he's calling for a radical life-change.” Paul was courteous, breaking down barriers. He was contemporary, building bridges through redemptive analogies; and, he was courageous enough to call them to a radical life-change. He did this by presenting Christ to them.
“He [God] has fixed a day of accountability, when the whole world will be justly evaluated by a new, higher standard: not by a statue, but by a living man [Jesus Christ]. God selected this man and made Him credible to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31, VOICE). Luke records the response of the people in Acts 17:32-34:
32"When they heard that last phrase about resurrection from the dead, some shook their heads and scoffed, but others were even more curious. Others: We would like you to come and speak to us again. 33Paul left at that point, 34but some people followed him and came to faith, including one from Areopagus named Dionysius, a prominent woman named Damaris, and others."
There were three responses to Paul's presentation of the gospel, which remain the typical responses of people to this very day. Some were contemptuous (v. 32), some were curious (v. 32), and some were convinced (v. 34). Pastor Brian Bill has aptly observed, “How people respond to the gospel is God’s responsibility. How I respond to God is my responsibility.”1
How people respond to the gospel is God’s responsibility. Luke reported in Acts 2:47 (NIV), “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” 13 How I respond to God is my responsibility. Every day we should pray, “Lord, give me an open door to share Christ this week. Amen.”
“Lord, give me an open door to share Christ this week. Amen.”
1Brian Bill, Telling Others The Gospel, Sermon Central, Accessed 16 October 2019.