Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.
-- Acts 17:16
Of all the books I've read on preaching, none are better than "Between Two Worlds" by the late, great John Stott. It tackles the task of interpreting the world of the Bible and preaching it to today's world. The book builds a bridge, between two worlds, to bring the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ to all people.
No one was a better bridge builder than the Apostle Paul. He remains the exemplary first century witness for 21st century Christians. The world in which he ministered in this passage, ancient Athens, was prosperous, pagan, and filled with people who had never really heard the gospel. It sounds a lot like modern-day America.
Let's look at how Paul carried the cross and built bridges. They were built almost singularly with one tool. It is a key attribute of God and God's greatest commandment, love.
Paul loved God, enough to be jealous for Him. He entered Athens and saw people were worshipping, but the person they were worshipping was not our loving, holy, triune God. The Father was not worshipped because the Son was not proclaimed so the Spirit had nowhere to work. However, Paul was about to change that by building a bridge between the two worlds of idolatry and Christianity.
Paul loved lost people, enough to go to them. He would not have even been in Athens if he did not love God and love lost people. Paul built a bridge to the synagogue, where the lost Jewish religious people were. Paul built a bridge to the marketplace, where the common man lived. Paul built a bridge to the educated, for he was a highly educated man himself. To them all "he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection."
When it comes to lost and unchurched people, you can either build a wall of separation from them or build a bridge to them. Christians should be tearing down walls and building bridges. You don't have to compromise your faith, but you do have to show some compassion for lost people.
If you love someone who is trapped in a false religion or dead church, invite them to yours then discuss the difference between the two. If you love someone who goes to bars instead of churches, even if you don't drink, going to a bar and grill with a lost friend just might encourage them to come to worship with you. Read the newspaper, watch the Academy Award films, Google the lyrics of Grammy-winning songs (and be prepared for a little shock). Learn to engage culture without heaping condemnation on it.
Paul loved the gospel, enough to share it with other people. He walked over a freshly built bridges and paved it with the gospel of Jesus Christ. From creation to the cross and the empty tomb, Paul never tired of telling the story of Jesus. With courage and compassion, Paul sought their conversion. He preached to them the loving, life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. In language they could understand, he spoke to them about the Lord and the necessity of faith and repentance.
In reality, Paul's world and our world are about the same. He was preaching to an affluent, corrupt, faithless society infiltrated by apostate religion. Twenty-first century American culture is more like first century Athenian culture than we realize.
Many people in the world have never really heard the real gospel of Jesus Christ, and some of them have sat in churches or other religious institutions for years. Many people in the world have been wounded by religion, leaving a bad taste in their mouths we only make worse when we bad-mouth them. Many people in the world are confused by the self-help pseudo-Christian wolves masquerading in sheep's clothing.
We can blend in and compromise with culture, like so many professing Christians and churches are doing today. Or, we can condemn culture and offer no alternatives, and just call ourselves the frozen chosen. Better still, we can seek to understand where our lost friends are coming from and build a bridge between two worlds, with love, grace, faith, and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected]