Today, we wrap up our series looking at the world system with a focus on how we Christians are to be in the world, but not of it. That is, how to deal with the world, have some impact on it, without being tainted by it.
We began looking at Jesus’ prayer out of John, chapter 17:
John 17:11-18 - And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
So, Jesus isn’t directing us to go into hiding, but to mingle with, engage with, socialize with people in the world. How in the world does one accomplish that and stay on target? We asked, “Is there, per chance, anyone in the bible who could give us a few pointers?” And we discovered the Apostle Paul, who went all the Roman Empire starting churched where none existed, gives us a hand. We ran through his experience in Greece, at a location called Mars Hill. Read along with me in Acts 17, and we're going to see that Paul did three things that we need to do as we relate to those in the world who are not Jesus’ followers:
— Tactfully Connect
— Intellectually Stimulate
— Lovingly Warn
1. Tactfully Connect. Read Acts. 17:22-23. Notice first that Paul doesn’t just hit town and start preaching. He wanders about town for a bit, checking out what these people are like, what they value, how they think, what they think about spiritual things. He even spent some time reading their literature, as we’ll see later. What’s he doing? Well, he’s looking for a connection point. Something he can use not only to relate to them as a person, but something he can use to help introduce his God to them. He finds altars to various gods all over the place. In fact, there’s even an altar to an unknown god, what one person referred to as the “just in case” god—just in case we overlooked ya, here’s your altar. So, he finds out that they are religious, they believe in some kind of spiritual world. And then in verse 23, he looks to connect by saying that this god they worship as unknown, he’d like to introduce them to him. Pretty clever, eh?
What’s interesting is that Paul didn’t use this same connection point with everyone he met during his travels. It was tailored to this audience. When he met with Jews in the synagogues, he related to them by what they and he had in common—a shared confidence in the Old Testament. When Paul was jailed and God miraculously opened the prison doors, rather than escape and visit a death sentence on the jailor, he stayed in his cell. That act of marvelous love won over the jailor, and before the night was out, the jailer and his whole family became followers of Christ. Connecting takes a little imagination, a little work, a little attention to the other person. And expect the Holy Spirit to give you insights you can use without blasting what the other person believes—because people without Christ buy into all kinds of weird stuff.
2. Intellectually Stimulate. Take a look at Paul’s approach to this in Acts. 17:24-28. He doesn’t tell those in the Areopagus how dumb they are for what they believe. And he doesn’t start off quoting the bible. Why? Because none of these people accept the bible as God’s word. He begins by saying that he knows this god they have been worshipping under the banner of “unknown.” Paul does uses truth from the bible to describe this God of his, and in doing so portrays this God as something spectacular. By comparison, this God he’s describing is far more powerful than any of the other gods they had altars to. He tells them that this God made everything they see, including all the people and the various nations. He did it starting with one man, then grew a nation out of that, and then grew other races out of that, and that nations and races have come and gone. Again, this is a truth that Paul’s listeners would know to be true. Paul even inserts a quote from one of their own poets—a quote that actually stumbled onto God’s truth.
What’s Paul doing? He’s looking to get them to think a little bit about what they believe and to ponder the possibilities of the God he’s talking about. He needs them to get it that, as a Christian, he hasn’t put his brain into a wastebasket, but that there are logical and cranial activities involved in what he believes. Now, there are all kinds of ways to stimulate people to thinking. I love to use science, since the bible tells us that the entire creation screams out the God is and that he is the Creator. I used the miracle of rain and all the activity in operation in a single human cell as things that made me marvel at God’s creation. But that’s just me. Each of you Christians out there need to figure out who God is calling you to share the gospel with and to find a way to connect and to intellectually stimulate folks to ponder this God of ours. God’s definitely going to use the way he wired you and gifted you in ways I and you could not even imagine, because each person without Christ is unique.
3. Lovingly Warn. Remember, the whole reason to engage in parts 1 and 2 above is to be able to share Jesus Christ. And this could take more than one chat. It’s possible that Paul, in roaming around the city for some time, had already had some earlier conversations with some of the people in the Areopagus that day. It may take you and me and bit of time before we’re at a point where the people we’re talking to are ready and willing to hear the good news of Jesus. Regardless, Paul gets to this point in Acts 17:29-31. And I suspect he kind of knew some folks were going to chafe at Jesus and this whole resurrection thing, but at least he had them willing to listen. Now, notice there three types of reactions Paul got when he mentions Jesus, Jesus’ resurrection, and the judgment that is coming. These are found in Acts 17:32-34. First group - the mockers. They were incredulous, considering the whole thing utter rubbish. Second group - the interested. They wanted to think this thing through, maybe talk amongst themselves about it all, or check with the wife at home, or whatever. But they wanted to get together with Paul again and chat more. Third group - those won over. Some actually came from that one discussion to be followers of Christ, and one of them, Dionysius, was apparently a leading official in Mars Hill.
Here’s the bottom line. We have to see people without Christ, no matter what kind of lifestyle choices they are making, or how distressed we might be by some of that, as those who are victims of the world system and its leader, Satan. That they are people who are without hope and in desperate need of rescuing. They are in the kingdom of the world, and we want them to change sides, to be people in Jesus’ kingdom. And for us to be involved in seeing that come to pass, we have to be the people willing to do anything to be their lifelines. We will not succeed if all we do is act disgusted by the things those people are involved in, or the things those people believe, or even if we’re just angry at them because they disagree with us or are seeking to do us harm in some way. We’ve got to find a way to love them through the three steps mentioned before, whatever it takes.
We closed out with a vignette from my time at CIA about an opportunity I had to share Jesus with co-worker in a staff I was leading. I probably didn’t emphasize this enough during the message, but I really did determine that my job as a manager was to serve the people who worked for me and serve the people I worked for, trusting that whatever was going to happen to my career God would take care of. People hear that kind of stuff all the time; it’s just rare that they actually see it in action. And when they do, it marks you as something different from the world, different from what they are used to. And that led me to a great opportunity lay Christ on the table for this person. And it also allowed me to know what was motivating this person to engage in self-destructive behaviors.
The final thought is this. Our job is to share Christ, not to make Christians. God is the one who makes Christians. We can be blessed to be a part, but in the end, it’s all a God thing. Our job is to love God enough that we love the people God loves enough, that we find a way to connect enough that Jesus Christ gets explained enough. If we do that, anything is possible, because God can do anything.