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We are placed here and now for a reason. We know the people we know; we have the neighbors we have; we are in groups with the people we are because God has appointed this place and time for us. In our groups, we are in the same place at the same time, often in the same season of life, and that proximity gives us opportunity.     

In Acts 17, we see Paul spending some time in Athens. Acts 17:16 tells us that while he waited, he walked around the town and was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. Ancient writers tell us that at this time in history, Athens celebrated over 30,000 different gods. The Greek word for “distressed” in verse 16 is the same root as our English word, seizure. He was morally shocked and shaken. Because of that, Paul started to preach — because that’s what Paul did.   

Paul’s approach to his audience is a model for how we should interact with those around us.   

Paul met the Athenians where they were.

He didn’t come in disparaging their culture. He didn’t attack them and their choices. Their culture troubled him, but he took some time to get to know a little bit about it. He started his conversation by finding common ground. People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious (Acts 17:22 NIV). He was not approving of their gods and idols, but he was commending their interest in God.  

Paul knew that the best way to reach the unbelievers in Athens was to build a bridge.

He connected with their need. He spent time where people lived and worked, so he could get to know them and ultimately connect with them in a familiar place. In verse 23, he mentioned their altar to an unknown god. They wanted to be sure they covered all of their bases; even in the midst of the 30,000 gods, there was a concern that they missed one. Paul knew that their multi-god type of worship was so empty. Their fear of missing one god meant that their search for God and peace would never end. They were searching for God, but they couldn’t find him. They were in the same place we all were before we met Jesus.

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Paul clearly presented what he knew about God in a way that would resonate with the listeners.

Paul’s words were kind. They were direct, but they weren’t harsh.   

Paul called them to think about God in a different way.

He pointed out that God isn’t an image we can form and create on our own. He is a powerful, gracious and righteous God who calls us to repentance. He is a God who creates, sustains, supports and forgives, but he is also a God who will ultimately judge those who have chosen a way other than him.   

Paul did what he could, and then left the results to God.

In Acts 18:1, we see Paul commit the results of the message to God. After this, Paul left Athens. Paul shared what he knew about God and urged people to turn to him. The same is true when you and I talk about Jesus with those in our community. It is our responsibility to do what we can to connect others to Christ, and then let the Holy Spirit do the rest. Then we will rejoice together as “the Lord adds to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)   


  • Who first told you about Jesus? How did that person approach you with the Good News?   
  • How can you build a bridge with those who don’t yet believe? What can you say to start a positive gospel conversation?