Christians need to be “all about” evangelism. One of the ways to gain insights and find encouragement is to observe how Jesus, as well as our brothers and sisters who lived in the first century, taught the gospel.
When we talk about “evangelism,” we mean communicating the gospel to lost people. The ancient Greek city of Athens was a large metropolis in which many folks enjoyed human philosophy, practiced idolatry, lived morally corrupt lives, and did not know the God of heaven. They badly needed God’s gospel.
When we look at how Paul evangelized in Athens, what do we see? Let us begin with two Bible verses: “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:16,17).
Paul did not wait on others to join him before he made an effort to reach the lost. Paul anticipated that Silas and Timothy would join him soon in Athens (17:15), but he did not twiddle his thumbs before they arrived. In some scenarios, it is advantageous to have two or more labor together in the Lord’s Cause (Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1). That being said, we should not think that we must wait on “an evangelism meeting” or an assigned partner to join us before we can talk to lost people about Jesus and His salvation.
Paul saw the city stooped in idolatry, and “his spirit was provoked within him” (17:16). Like his Master, the apostle had compassion on those who were like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). Paul not only saw the widespread idolatry: in addition, he saw that they had a spiritual need, and he knew that he could offer them the remedy for their malady! Brothers and sisters, the gospel is God’s word of reconciliation. You and I have what the world needs!
In Athens, Paul reasoned with Jews in a synagogue, and he did the same with Gentiles, too (17:17). The word “reason” is from the Greek word “ /dialegomai” (it sounds like our English “dialogue”), which means “to converse, discourse with one, argue, discuss” [Thayer, word no. 1256 via e-Sword]. Paul communicated with people. He did not just look at them. He did not simply nod his head at them. He spoke to them. Now that, brethren, is what it takes. We have got to speak to people!
When Paul evangelized, he reasoned in the marketplace “with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:17). There were times, even in Athens, when Paul taught/preached “by appointment.” At other times, however, he would reach out to the folks who came into his life, whenever they “happened” to be around one another. Sometimes it is said that Christians need to “look for opportunities” to spread the gospel. Brethren, when the apostle Paul came in contact with a lost person, to him that was the opportunity right there! We do not see Paul wondering how he can find an ideal situation to talk to a person or to build up a two-year friendship before he approaches a lost soul. Paul approached people whom the Lord placed in his life, and he did so with urgency! Paul cared (Romans 10:1), and it showed.
In Athens, Paul approached lost people . . . he took the initiative . . . he did not wait on others to come looking for him. He was the seeker, like Jesus (Luke 19:10). Jesus initiated the conversation with the woman in Samaria (John 4:7). We need to learn that lesson from our Lord and His servant Paul.
When Paul evangelized in Athens, he reasoned with people on a daily basis (17:17). That may sound radical to us, but that is how the early church worked and grew, and it was exciting! See how Paul and others combined their efforts to get the word out every day (5:41; 16:4,5; 19:9,10). We are kidding ourselves if we think putting in a few minutes a couple of times a year is going to offset the stranglehold the devil and his false messengers have on the minds of men. Each day we “take off,” we are falling further behind.
Paul faced challenges in Athens. He faced ridicule, as some called him a “babbler” (17:18). He faced misunderstanding and labels. Some Athenians called the gospel that he proclaimed “new” and “strange” (17:19,20). In God’s eyes, it was neither. Paul kept sowing the seed, despite opposition. Being called names or having people laugh at us is nothing in comparison to what Jesus endured for us, correct?
He preached Jesus and the resurrection (17:18). To “preach Jesus” means to preach the gospel (Acts 8:4,5,12,25,35). Paul was not spreading politics or environmental policies, but God’s way of salvation.
When Paul evangelized in Athens, he was invited to speak to a group of Athenians at Mars Hill/ Areopagus, and he jumped at the chance (17:19-22). There are times when even non- believers help us have a chance to teach the Bible. By all means, let us take advantage of such. Thank God for open doors!
In Athens, Paul considered the mindset and religious background of his audience. Standing in the midst of the Areopagus, he spoke to them about God as the Creator (17:24), Giver of life (17:29), and future Judge through Jesus (17:31). Like Paul, we need to learn to adapt our lessons to our listeners.
— Roger D. Campbell