The Biblical passage is one of my absolute favorites. The first century preacher and evangelist Paul is speaking at a site in ancient Athens known as the Areopagus. People went there to exchange ideas and gossip all the time. It was to Athens what the local bar, a favorite restaurant, the break room at work, or Internet sites like Twitter and Facebook, are today.
Paul wanted to tell people about how, through the centuries, God had revealed Himself and His will for the human race, first through Israel and ultimately through a son of Israel, Jesus.
Jesus, he said, also happened to be God Himself. After dying, Paul asserted, Jesus was raised from the dead as a sign that God would one day take full control of all creation and judge humanity based on whether they have welcomed Jesus with faith or rejected His authority over them. (Actually, Jesus will just be affirming the judgment people make about Him.)
But, in addressing this heavy issue, Paul didn't start out by reciting a bunch of Bible verses or lore from his own religious or ethnic heritage.
He met the people where they were, reciting the words of one of their very own poets.
Just as Martin Luther translated the Bible into German so that his people could know God for themselves and just as he translated and reformed the Mass so that people could participate with understanding in the worship of God, we modern Christians need to understand "where people are coming from" in order to help them know the God Who meets our greatest needs through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Christians need to be intentional in forming respectful friendships with all people. After all, we're commanded to love our neighbor, no matter what.
In addition, because we're commanded to love all people, God's Word commands (and privileges) us to share the new, eternal life that belongs to all who turn from sin and trust in the crucified and risen Jesus.
That's what Paul did.
We can do this ourselves with the non-Christian friends we make in our lives.
Knowing that they're NFL fans, we might ask our friends, "What did you think of the Jets getting Tebowed last night?"
Or, to a Lady Gaga fan, we might say, "I think she's right when she says that we're all 'born that way.' The question for me, though, is whether just because we're born that way, does it mean we should stay that way?"
Or, to the movie buff, we might authentically ask, "My wife and I are thinking of going to a move tonight. Any recommendations?"
Or we might simply and truthfully ask them about their spouses, their families, their work.
We might ask how they're doing as they grieve the recent loss of a family member. It's sometimes amazing to me hear people say, "You're the first person who's mentioned [their loved one] in weeks."
Christians don't do these things to be "ambulance chasers" who earn heavenly brownie points by piling up "good works" or by trapping hapless victims into following Jesus.
We do these things because Christ calls us to love our neighbor, tells us that when we do, we're really loving God, and because we know that our friends, like us, crave being treated with respect and love and concern.
We do these things because they're right.
And we do these things to share Christ with others. It's God's will for us to share our Best Friend with our other friends. Our Best Friend is the God you and I have met and know in Jesus Christ!
So, fellow Christians...
- Establish relationships.
- Display authentic humility.
- Own personal ignorance.
- Let your friends see that you grapple with the issues of life, many of which may have you stumped, in the certainty that, despite mysteries and your faults and shortcomings, you have a relationship with Christ that helps you live today in confidence and to face tomorrow with hope.
I've been able to have lots of these conversations with spiritually-disconnected friends over the years. Only a few have culminated in people turning from sin and trusting in Christ. But I do know that God has used conversations like these and conversations these friends have with other people, life events, and other things--to nudge people closer to Jesus Christ.
Only God can open a person to Christ. And He does it, not by force, but by gentle persuasion.
But God can use us all as instruments by which He turns an enemy of God, bound for eternal separation from God, into a person of faith in Christ, living life in the power of God's amazing grace.
When we show sensitivity and concern for the interests and needs of others, they see a Christ-follower and stereotypes of Christians as arrogant, self-righteous, and closed-minded are challenged.
They see our hopefulness and wonder whether they couldn't appropriate the same way of life themselves.
Over time, they may become open to the message that Paul ended with in first-century Athens, Greece: "God overlooks it [our ignorance of Him and His will for our lives] as long as you don't know any better—but that time is past. The unknown is now known since Paul has told them about the God revealed through the history of Israel], and he's calling for a radical life-change. He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything set right. And he has already appointed the judge, confirming him before everyone by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31, The Message].Let's love our neighbors so much that it will become unthinkable to us--maybe keep us up nights praying for them--that they could face a Christless eternity or that they need to struggle through this life without the incredible comfort of knowing the God revealed in Jesus Christ.
Pray about it. Then find those little "wrinkles in time," when you might, naturally, give an account for all the hope that you have through Christ!