Some of you asked me for a copy of the eleven application points from my sermon this morning from Acts 17:16-34 as to how to talk with your neighbor about God. So, here they are.
Love your fellow Christians – 1 Thes. 3:1-5. The way you love those who believe greatly affects the way you love those yet to believe. Paul’s obvious heart for those he had left in Thessalonica surely helped shape his heart for those yet to believe in Athens. You can bank on this – those yet to believe closely watch the way church lives up to its claim for brotherly love. The whole world is watching the Christian world to see if it truly lives by the words of the Lord it claims to follow (John 13:34-35). Mark it down – without this first essential step in your life, your sharing the good news will be virtually in vain. Let us love one another that the world might believe!
Grow a burden for those yet to believe – Acts 17:16. The Greek word used to describe how Paul’s spirit churned when he drank in just how idolatry owned Athens’ heart is the same as the one used in the third phrase of 1 Cor.13:5. Unless the condition of those yet to believe bothers you, you’ll never get around to sharing your faith. There must be some distress before there is a rescue.
Put Christ in your everyday doings – Acts 17:17. Paul talked openly about matters of spirituality and faith as he mingled with people in everyday situations as he spent time in the Athenian marketplace/mall. Take God with you wherever you go and talk about him in everyday situations, just as you would your children (cf. Deut.6:4-9).
Focus on God and his doings – Acts 17:18. Paul’s entire presentation is about God and what he has done, is doing and will do. God is at the center of the good news. It’s amazing how easily we Christians can mistakenly substitute someone/something else for the Lord who is at the center (i.e. – the church, the Bible, etc.). People want to know about God and the gospel is about God. Never forget it; remember him. If the “good news” you’re sharing isn’t about God then it isn’t God’s gospel.
Take time to understand people – Acts 17:21-23. Paul mingled with people in the market, read inscriptions on monuments they had erected and had gotten familiar with some of their culture’s literature and ways of thinking. In essence, he cared enough to know something of them before he dared to say something to them. Go and do likewise, for the old saying is so very, very true: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” No one gets a better hearing than someone who has proven they can listen first.
Compliments don’t hurt a bit – Acts 17:22-23. Paul had some complimentary things to say to the Athenians from the get go. He wasn’t buttering them up, but sincerely starting in a positive way. The gospel is not negative, but good news. Start off on the right foot; start with what people are thirsty for and yet rarely receive. Start with affirming what you see in their life that already shows an interest in the Lord.
Let Scripture shape your views but don’t be a Bible-banger – Acts 17:24-29. Paul never quoted a single Scripture as he talked with the Athenians, yet it was as much a Biblical message or “gospel sermon: as any he ever made in a Jewish synagogue or gathering of Christians. To have started with Scripture would have pulled no weight with the Athenians, for they were unfamiliar with them. So today, few people know much of anything about the Bible. Let the Bible inform you as to what to share, but avoid laying “book, chapter and verse” on folks. Few things turn truly receptive people off faster than a seeming know it all constantly pointing things out to you from source that is foreign to them. Luke went out of his way to stress that Paul “reasoned” with people (Acts 17:17) – for good reason.
Begin with what you already agree on and build your case from there – Acts 17:24-29. You have to be able to do addition before you can multiply. So start the conversation on the addition points the two of you can do already. Start the journey hand-in-hand and you’ll be surprised how much further you can get down the road together.
Help them discover the implications of what they already believe – Acts 17:30-31a. Have you ever believed something, but the implications of what you believed didn’t really dawn on you until much later? Of course; many times. It’s the same way with matters of God and faith. Listen closely for what people reveal about what they believe and help shine the light of the implications of their beliefs back on their mind. Many who are yet to believe have far more in common already with believers than either might have first imagined.
Share the good news; he lives! – Acts 17:31b. The good news should be obvious – God has conquered the greatest barriers we all face – our failings and our coming death. The proof of this is the resurrection of his own Son from the dead. Don’t confuse how people can respond to this good news for the good news itself. Keep the resurrection at the heart of what you share and what you share will be good news indeed.
Don’t be put off by the variety of reactions you receive – Acts 17:32-34. Very few people will come to believe upon their first encounter with the good news and even fewer of those who do so stick with it over the long haul. So just plant good seeds, water them and then go on to wait like a patient farmer for God to give the potential increase. Don’t expect microwavable results when you share faith; don’t expect an oak tree to grow as fast as a dandelion. Truly good things almost always take time.