Acts 14 marks the first time followers of Christ encountered a wholly pagan audience. Gone were all the common threads with Judaism, including the synagogue, the Torah, and even more importantly, the very notion of monotheism (one true God only).

How does one relate to such a group of people? I feel that question is as relevant today as it was to Paul and Barnabas in AD 46 because we too must speak to people with whom we have little or nothing in common.

I have three modest suggestions:

  1. Put people ahead of doctrine.

When Paul and Barnabas realized that the people thought they were gods, they didn’t try to correct their beliefs right away. Though outraged and disgusted at the blasphemy, they found a point of contact with the people: “We too are human like you!” We need to learn to see people first and foremost for who they are — though fallen, still the crown of God’s creation, bearing His image and glory.

  1. Put God ahead of doctrine.

Sometimes it is appropriate to start with the fine points of theology, but for most people, it’s best to relate them to God first. “We are here to bring you good news so you can leave these worthless things behind and turn to the living God who made heaven and earth.” Before debating evolution, tell people about God’s power; before explaining the Trinity (not that we really can), point them to work of Christ on the cross and His subsequent resurrection. Don’t try to save anyone, tell people about the God who can save them.

  1. Put clarity ahead of doctrine.

Paul’s speech here is a jewel. No word from ancient prophets, no reference to the sacrificial system, no Messianic pronouncement. There would be time for that later on (I am not saying doctrine is NOT important!), but for now Paul went for clarity. He used language from agriculture and day-to-day stuff, like the notion of pleasure and happiness. He didn’t throw difficult religious concepts at this crowd. Though true, what he said was a far less complicated version of the gospel compared with what he had shared before with his Jewish audience. I mean, there can’t be anything more basic than saying, “The food you eat every day and the wine that makes you feel happy — they are gifts from the true God to you.”

Sometimes we tend to complicate things, don’t we? But I want to encourage you to think about these three simple rules when sharing Christ with others to our pluralistic audience of today: a) don’t come across as being superior; b) move the spotlight from you to God; c) check your “Christianese” out the door.

 

Questions to ponder:

  1. Considering Paul and Barnabas’ background as thoroughly monotheistic Jewish men, how significant is it that the first words out of their mouths were “we too are human just like you”?

2. Can you think of examples of things we say in church that an outsider would have no clue what the meaning is?

  1. When you look at Jesus’ example, He seems to have been generally tough on the religious leaders but gentle with those who were on the outside. What do you think this means to us?

 

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade
Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

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