‘For though I be free from all men , yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you. ‘ 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
We continue in our series through the book of Acts, and this week we are focused on Acts 17, but the text from 1 Corinthians 9 helps us understand Paul’s sermon in Acts 17. The discourse in Acts 17 is a prime example of Paul contextualizing the message of Jesus to help his audience understand. At first, this seems entirely natural for most of us, but the question we must ask is, how far can we go to contextualize the message of Jesus before it loses its core truth?
I confess the title of this post makes me a bit nervous a. You see, the scriptures are so dear to me, which is true for most of us. After all, the scriptures are the reason we know anything about Jesus. The No Bible Sermon is a title that causes me anxiety because I would generally frown upon a sermon not anchored in the scriptures. If I were to hear about a preacher who doesn’t even directly reference a passage of scripture, I would seriously doubt their authority, but that is precisely what we find in Paul’s sermon here. Instead of quoting from the scriptures, Paul quotes several secular (pagan) poets and points out visual illustrations from around the city. What are we to do with this?
We don’t have the time to unpack an entire theology of the scriptures (bibliology). Instead, I point to the implications of our/my discomfort. There is a tendency in the evangelical stream of Christianity to worship the scripture more than or equal to God. The truth is, God seems quite comfortable using all sorts of things to draw people to himself. God uses broken people, secular poets, storms, and more to communicate to his creation. God uses Paul’s sermon in Acts 17 to accomplish his goal even with its lack of scriptural references. Let us not reduce the God we worship to paper and ink. The text is just a means to knowing him.
Take a moment to thank God for giving us his word but then ask him to teach you to hear his voice through other means as well. Ask him to use nature, poetry, secular music, the conversation with a friend, and any other means to help you hear and know him.
By Aaron Bjorklund