The book of Acts records the beginning of the church in Jerusalem as the apostles testified regarding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In the first few chapters of Acts, it is recorded that thousands of people became followers of Jesus and the church was born.
Acts also records the spectacular conversion of Paul and his subsequent trips to take the gospel of Jesus to as many people as possible. He went first to the Jews and, when they did not respond, he took the message to the Gentiles.
In Acts 17, Paul is in the city of Athens. The people of Athens worshipped many gods, even erecting a statue to “The Unknown God” just in case there was one they missed. The didn’t want to offend a deity. Paul attempts to tell these people about Jesus and he did so by recognizing the multiple gods they worshipped and then used the statue to “The Unknown God” as a segue to Jesus. Simply speaking, it didn’t work. It was a brilliant idea as human wisdom goes, but it didn’t break through the barriers in the hearts and minds of the Athenians.
18He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, “What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?” Others said, “He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.” 19Then they took him to the high council of the city. “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said. 20“You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.” 21(It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.)Acts 17:18-21
And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about. 24“He is the God who made the world and everything in it.Acts 17:23-24
When Paul left Athens, he visited the city of Corinth where he stayed for several years. His efforts were much more fruitful, resulting in a thriving, growing, albeit troubled, church. It seems he changed his tactics after leaving Athens.
1When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. 2For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. 3I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. 4And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. 5I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.1 Corinthians 2:1-5
I am impressed by Paul’s adaptability. I am also challenged by the simplicity of his message to Corinth. After trying the impressive human wisdom approach in Athens, he cut the fat from his message and stuck to the plain facts. “Jesus came, lived, died and rose again. He did it for you and me. This salvation he offers is a free gift. Would you like to accept it?”
I make it life so complicated at times. Sure, there are ways to craft the message to reach a particular audience, but maybe the simplest approach is the best. I ask myself how I can follow Paul’s example and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit rather than my own cleverness.
In what way are you relying on your own wisdom, persuasion or cleverness to accomplish a task when the simple approach coupled with the power of the Holy Spirit would be more effective?