Faith in Action: All Things to All People
All Things to All People (Acts 17:16-34)
Aside from his conversion (Acts 9), Paul’s speech at the Areopagus is perhaps the most well-known event in his life. As it is described in the book of Acts, Paul is in the city of Athens and he becomes agitated by the number of temples and idols in the city. He can’t stand the idea of so many people worshipping false idols, so he decides to do something about it.
Paul goes to the synagogue in town and talks to them about Jesus. He goes to the marketplace to talk about Jesus. He stopped anyone who would talk with him and had a conversation about Jesus. While he was doing so he ran into some local philosophers. This wasn’t that unusual in Athens. Athens was the one of the centers of learning in the ancient world. It had been the home of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus. There were philosophers all over the place.
These philosophers were intrigued by Paul because he was saying something they had never heard before. So, they took him to the Areopagus. The Areopagus was a small hill just to the north of the Acropolis. In earlier days the city elite met on this hill to discuss, debate, and decide the direction of the city-state. By Paul’s time it had become a place for sharing and debating ideas.
When they arrived at the Areopagus, Paul launched into a doosie of a sermon, the longest of Paul’s speeches recorded in scripture. He told them that he knew they were a very religious people because of all the idols they had, they even had an idol dedicated to an unknown God, just in case they had left one out. While the Athenians were religious, they were mistaken. God couldn’t be contained in a temple and no image or idol could be made of God because God is beyond our imagining. God, Paul said, demanded repentance. God demanded that people turn from their wrong-headed ideas and embrace the truth. Paul told them that the resurrection of Jesus was proof of what God was up to.
That’s when he lost them. Some of them began to sneer; they began to giggle. Surely Paul was just babbling now. The truth is often too difficult to hear. But a few of them wanted to hear more. By the end of the day some of them had begun to believe.
Truth be told, it wasn’t the most successful of Paul’s speeches. Not many were convinced that day. What makes this story so interesting is they way that Paul went about talking to people about Jesus. He met the Jewish people at the synagogue. He met others in the marketplace. He went to debate at the Areopagus.
Paul met people wherever they were. He engaged them in their real lives. He spoke the truth about Christ in ways that fit his setting and his audience. This is a real-life example of Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
In what ways are we willing to become all things to all people?