While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.”(All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) Acts 17:16-21
A short 16 years ago the social media giant Facebook went international. Since then, a plethora of social media platforms have sprung up to offer “free” memberships, almost unlimited personal expression, and opportunities to link to a myriad of new and long lost friends and relatives. They have drawn billions into a planet wide Areopagus of news and ideas that have power to both thrill and threaten us.
Like Paul and me, you are likely distressed by the false and deadly ideas so easily glamorized and disseminated to the gullible and impressionable. The social media Areopagus and its surrounding marketplace can be fickle, volatile, and dangerous.
As we read further in Acts 17, Paul delivered his famous Areopagus or “Mars Hill” speech. In that speech he skillfully gathered bits and pieces of ideas familiar to his pagan audience in order to relate the message of the resurrected Jesus. The reaction of most of the audience to the speech was either dismissal or a false promise to hear him “later”. Only a couple people responded positively.
If you posted your most thoughtful appeal on social media to help your friends see the resurrection of Jesus as the answer to all human suffering and confusion, would you be intimidated and discouraged by the kind of dismissive or weak response received by Paul in Athens? Are you frightened you might be pursued by a politically motivated or religious mob as Paul was in Thessalonica and other cities? Yes, all those things are possible, even probable.
The possibilities also scare me. I want others to think well of me. I want to be the “nice” Christian who is adorable…superior to all the rest of the Christian rabble through the ages. Sometimes I think if I remain uncontroversial many will trust in Jesus because of me. But, so far, being uncontroversial has proved unsuccessful in attracting outsiders to Jesus.
How does my approach need to change? Adhering to a political agenda or intentionally starting an argument about a controversial subject will likely turn heads in the wrong direction. I believe Jesus is who He says He is. I want others to know Him too. What should I do?
Here is an idea for those of us not as bold or clever as the Apostle Paul. Stories are time-honored in their power to carry a truth message. Would you join me in asking Jesus to help communicate His truth to social media friends using real-life stories we’ve observed or experienced? Let’s see what might happen.
By Kathleen Petersen