Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship —and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. Acts 17:22-27 NIV
If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel. Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I Corinthians 9:17-22 NIV
This sermon of Paul’s in Athens at the meeting of the Areopagus is unique in the book of Acts. Luke tells us Paul is waiting in Athens for Silas and Timothy to join him and that he has spoken to the Jews in the synagogue. Acts 17:16 informs us, “he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” Paul considers his audience carefully, learns about the types of idols they are worshipping, then he uses this knowledge to present the gospel to members of the Areopagus.
Paul noticed, “an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD,” Acts 17:23. He uses this altar as a means of introducing the God of the universe to these people in Athens. I don’t think this was the only time he had done something like this, although this is the only example we have in Acts. Paul later wrote to the church at Colossae urging them to, “pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone,” Colossians 4:3-6.
I believe Paul took advantage of every opportunity to proclaim Christ as the Savior of the world to whomever he met, wherever he was. He encouraged the Colossians to do the same, but to do it with words that were, “always full of grace, seasoned with salt,” Colossians 4:6a. In I Corinthians 9:17-22 Paul talks of becoming like a Jew, or a Greek as needed in order to proclaim Christ to all. He concludes with, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some,” I Corinthians 9:22b.
How can we apply Paul’s example to ourselves? Perhaps we need to think carefully about the words we use, and treat each person with respect – when speaking to someone who does not have a relationship with Christ. An opening might be “How can I pray for you today, what needs do you have?” Most people feel loved, cared for and are willing to share if I offer to pray for them. Try this approach this week.
By Grace Hunter