Have you ever tried to explain something to someone and you simply could not connect the dots? When my wife and I were first married, we often had this problem. We came from different families and had different assumptions. She thought that cleaning the table meant putting the dishes in the sink. I thought it meant washing them or putting them in the dishwasher.
Sometimes, Christians who seek to evangelize different cultures experience this same problem. We try to explain the gospel in the same way that we understand it, but our listeners cannot seem to grasp God’s amazing grace. Luckily Paul gives us guidance through his example in the Book of Acts.
To combat the cultural assumptions that might inhibit the spread of the Gospel, Paul lived out in Acts 13 and Acts 17 what he advises the church in Corinth to do. In 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 he says:
20 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. 21 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. 22 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.
Paul, when he spoke to a synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, addressed the “Men of Israel” (Acts 13:16-41). He used stories of Israel, Abraham, and David. He quoted the Old Testament and emphasized the freedom found in Christ that could not come through the Law of Moses. Paul used the language of his audience to communicate the Gospel to them.
Later, in Athens, Paul preached a sermon to the “Men of Athens” (Acts 17:22-31). Here, he made no reference to Israel or the Old Testament, but rather created a philosophical argument for God. This was effective because Athens could be called the Philosophical Capitol of the 1st Century World. He learned about their culture, values, and assumptions. Then, he presented the Gospel in such a way that they could see their need for repentance and trust in Christ.
Today, there are many different cultures around the world. Some are based on an Honor/Shame system. Some are built upon a Fear/Power system. By learning about different cultures, we can become relevant to that culture and earn enough respect to be heard and understood by its people. Following the example of Paul, we can become all things to all people in order that we might win some to Christ.
This post if part of a series called the 1st Principles of the 1st Church. The book of Acts describes the 1st Century of the Church. Led by those who had seen the risen Jesus and empowered by the Spirit of God, they multiplied from a small band of mostly Jewish disciples to a massive “Way” and eventually to a world religion. We desire to see such multiplication and Kingdom advancement in our generation. Thankfully, we have the Word of God to guide us through discovering the basic principles that drove the success of the early church. Join us as we learn from Acts how to partner with God’s Kingdom work.