Note: This is a devotional from our Pivotal series. For more, please go here.

There are two times in the Book of Acts when the proverbial “doctrinal hammer” could have come down but it didn’t.

In both times Paul could have been justified to come down hard on the people for practicing some rather outrageous things but he didn’t.

In Acts 14, while in the pagan city of Lystra, the people tried to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, believing them to be personifications of the Graeco-Roman gods Zeus and Hermes. But instead of going on a tirade against the people for such abhorrent practices, Paul managed to say, through a translator, “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are human just like you!” (14:15). Then he went on to set the record straight about the nature of the true God, calling what the people were about to do a “useless” thing (14:15b.

In Acts 17 again Paul witnesses something appalling, this time on the streets of Athens. Luke uses a strong word to suggest that Paul was incensed. The cause was the multitude of shrines to false gods throughout the city. Detail: most of us would probably not even waste our time reading through all those pagan inscriptions, we would think that to be “unspiritual” somehow, but not Paul — he was collecting materials for future sermons.

When Paul appeared before guardians of knowledge in the city; however, if he was still upset, there was no sign of that in his speech. Instead, you have someone who looks calm and collected, having given much thought to what he was going to say.

Again, instead of lambasting the people for being chained to their idolatry, he managed to say these words, “I see that you are very religious in every way.” (17:22). Definitely not what I would say. More like, “Your attempts at this religion thing stinks!” Or worse.

But Paul acted more nobly. He purposefully throws a carrot, and then ever so gently he brandished the stick. Notice the order — it is important. Now Paul was ready to contrast the nature of the true God with the false gods conceived by man’s craft and imagination which were so prevalent in Athens. Beautiful strategy.

Let the lesson sink in: There is a natural offense imbedded in the Gospel message. A proud person is asked to acknowledge that s/he is a sinner and is ordered to repent and accept someone else to take the driver seat in his/her life. That’s offensive enough alright. But the offense of the Gospel does not give me permission to be offensive in the process of delivering it to the people of the world. So, in the face of blatantly sinful behavior, do not turn against the sinner. Hold your ire. Paul did this only on occasion and his ire was directed at the religious type. Curb your outrage. Get mad at Satan, find a point of contact with the people, show humility, and give them the unadulterated good news of the crucified Messiah who rose again on the third day to give them hope.

And if you can’t do that, forgive the bluntness, but by all means, please exercise your right to be silent.

Questions to Ponder:

1. When was the last time you genuinely got disgusted with sin? How did you react?

2. Do you ever get disgusted with sin in your own life? How does that make you feel about yourself and about your friends who are still outside of Christ?

3. What are some of the ways you can establish bridges with people outside of Christ?

4. What is your first reaction when you hear of a group trying to promote an agenda contrary to the Word of God? And after the initial reaction, do you ever pray for the?

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