Reading through the Bible together
Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens, three Greek Cities, three different approaches to evangelism in the cities they wanted to reach. In Thessalonica, Paul spoke for three weeks at the synagogue to the Jews and God-fearing Greeks. He told his conversion story, focused on the law of God, and explained the true meaning of the rites and ceremonies connected with the Temple. He tied all this to the ministry and sacrifice of the Messiah. Some Jews believed, but many more Gentiles did, among whom were some influential women of the city. Some Jews who refused to believe were incensed that, Paul, this former member of the Sanhedrin could turn their world upside down in three weeks! They would not only miss the allegiance of their countrymen who were becoming Christians, but more importantly, their Gentile sponsors! They stirred up such trouble in the city that Paul and Silas left by night for Berea.
In Berea, almost 60 miles west, God opened another door of opportunity. Here, Paul went through the same material, except that they studied “daily” (v.11). When I do public evangelism, I see the great benefit of being exposed to God’s Word on a nightly basis. The Spirit of God clearly moves to change hearts. In contrast with Thessalonica, “many” of the Bereans believed, and prominent men also embraced the gospel (v.12).
But the real test would be Athens. Athens’ golden age—the age of Plato and Socrates—was over. But the Athenians considered themselves intellectually superior to the rest of the country. The Epicureans believed in naturalism (chance) and had no personal God. The Stoics were pantheists, for them everything was God. In addition, Athens had more shrines to various gods than any other city, even an altar to the “UNKOWN GOD.” Paul quoted one of their ancient poets to introduce them to the God they did not know. Six hundred years before a terrible pestilence came on the city. Sheep were brought in, the sheep that lay down nearest a god’s altar, it was sacrificed to that god. If a sheep did not lay down near any god, they set up an altar to the “UNKNOWN GOD,” and it was sacrificed to that god. So Paul introduced them to the God they did not know, the One who gives life and breath to all, raises the dead, and judges all nations. Few listeners believed, but some did, even influential ones.
Paul’s approach varied according to the audience. The story was the same, but the starting point was different. We could learn from Paul: seek to understand others while praying to find an entrance to their hearts.
Ron E. M, Clouzet
NAD Evangelism Institute Director
Professor of Ministry and TheologySeminary, Andrews University