1 June 2011

Acts 17:15 - 18:1

"While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols." (v. 16)


Paul is in Athens, waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him (v. 15). He has time on his hands - but he uses that time well in getting to know the culture of the city and by developing an appropriate strategy for commending Christ in this new context. His approach provides us with guidelines as we seek to relate appropriately to the culture and context of our own time.

  • Paul takes time to understand the belief systems of those who live in that place. He speaks to the residents of Athens telling them that "I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship" (v. 23).


  • Paul is willing to quote from the writings of the Greeks' own culture (v. 28) as he seeks to enter into dialogue with those to whom he speaks - quoting from their own poets as he builds bridges for his argument.


  • Paul finds appropriate ways of linking their beliefs with his own as he uses the inscription on the altar "To an unknown god" (v. 23) as the introduction to his proclamation of the one who is "Lord of heaven and earth" (v. 24).


  • Paul understands that he needs to start on common ground and so begins his discussion by speaking of the plan and purpose of the God of creation (vv. 24-27). Only later will he move on to speak about Jesus (v. 31).

When 'commending Christ' today, Paul's actions offer us helpful insights. We are challenged to take time and to "look carefully" (v. 23) so that we understand the views of others, to be willing to use our understanding of different beliefs and value-systems to develop the discussion and to find ways of moving the conversation on to speak of Christ.

Of course, not all such conversations will be life-changing for others. Paul's address led to three different responses: some scoffed; some asked to continue the conversation at a later date; others became believers. Our faith-sharing conversations today may result in a similarly wide range of responses.


To Ponder

Take time to begin to "look carefully" at the culture, beliefs and value systems of those whom you meet today. What bridges for shared conversation might there be?

When you speak of your faith to others, how do you cope with the 'scoffers'?

Bible notes author

The Revd Chris Blake

Chris Blake is a Methodist minister and principal of Cliff College in Derbyshire. His background is as a biochemist, and he has previously served in Barking and Dagenham as an industrial chaplain, in Dorset in the Wimborne Circuit and as chair of the Cornwall Methodist District.