A couple weeks ago, I was invited to speak at our weekly worship night on our campus. It’s nothing big by any means, but there’s something about communicating what God has given me a passion for. I feel called to step into full time ministry in the years to come, and to follow God’s direction wherever that may be. After going on a recent mission trip up to Salt Lake City, I’ve found a new desire for the North West region of the U.S. and even now praying about possibly planting a church in that area.
I also realized that I have a particular desire to see people of the Mormon faith come to Christ through the Gospel. They’re the people group that God is hard wiring me for right now. Some people might disagree with me here, but I believe we all have our “people groups.” We speak to all, but spend the most time investing in our groups. So where I want to study the Mormon faith and its inconsistencies, someone else does it for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now both of us will speak with individuals from other beliefs, but most of our time is invested in our people groups and hopefully both groups are effectively reached with the Gospel. Biblically, Paul was called to the Gentiles (Galatians 1:16) but he still spoke with and spent time with the Jewish leaders. God has given us certain desires and skills to reach particular people groups. Maybe it’s the program or major you’re in at school, maybe it’s co-workers in a rough environment, maybe it’s atheists on your campus, or maybe you have an overwhelming desire to go and reach Muslims. I pray God has laid a people group on your heart, but my question to you is, how are you reaching them?
What does this have to do with speaking on my campus recently though? Well, the passage that I had a desire to preach then was Acts 17:16-34, when Paul is speaking to the philosophers in Athens on his second mission trip. I would like to point out some key things that you can take from this and go back and study the passage in order to grow your passion for reaching the culture and the people groups God has placed you in.
1.) Paul took the time to understand the worldviews in the culture he was in.
Do you see some of the action verbs in the passage that described how Paul spent his time in this culture? He reasoned, conversed, perceived, observed, found, and he saw their culture. He spent time wandering in the city and he had conversations in the marketplace to challenge the culture, and also to learn how to challenge it more effectively.
We have to understand the culture we are reaching so we can address repentance in a specific manner and to challenge their worldviews when we introduce the Gospel. How are you to challenge the people you come in contact with if you are not knowledgeable of the inconsistencies in their beliefs?
2.) Paul was bold in his Gospel presentation.
Paul’s message never changed. He always spoke about Christ crucified and Christ risen. He preached it in the marketplace and he was mocked for it. You would think that maybe when they gave him a second chance at Mars’ Hill, he wouldn’t talk about the resurrection. One could argue that he could reach more people if he didn’t mention it so people would be interested first and then preach the Gospel to them later when there is a strong relationship there already.
Paul was mocked in the marketplace and Paul was mocked at Mars’ Hill. Both resulting from him boldly proclaiming that the Son of God has been risen from the dead. Even on his biggest stage, Paul’s message remained constant and bold. He never compromised his message and he always preached the Gospel with a passion to reach the lost. Believers have been mocked, beaten, persecuted, and killed for the Gospel, and we dare compromise it in the hopes of not offending anyone. What are you preaching to the people around you, and how boldly are you preaching it?
3.) Paul challenged the culture without attempting to identify with it.
One of my favorite recorded sermons in the New Testament is when Paul is speaking at Mars’ Hill. Why is that? Because Paul sets a great example to contradicting the culture he is preaching to. He challenges the worldviews of the philosophers attending by giving the biblical narrative from creation to the day of judgement, and every statement Paul made about God was in complete contradiction to the culture he was addressing. Not only does he introduce the biblical narrative, he now ushers in the Gospel into the conversation. Paul finishes his message by proclaiming that God has provided a sacrifice to those who believe, and that sinners can be reconciled with a holy God. In a culture that pursued the idols of fleshly pleasure and human intellect, Paul lays forth a God who is set apart from humanity, who made us and provides for us in His divine wisdom.
We are called to contradict the culture, not connect with it. If we “bait and switch” the culture with the Gospel, all we have are relationships that aren’t Gospel centered to begin with. We must not take the offense out of the Gospel, because if we do, we risk proclaiming a false gospel that does not call sinners to repent.
Paul’s sermon at Mars’ Hill is one that can speak to any believer. Honestly, it’s almost poetry how beautifully Paul challenges the culture with the Gospel as he never compromises his message even though some mocked him. One of the many reason’s why I love this sermon.
Ironically, as I spoke this passage to my peers a couple of weeks ago, and it was one of the worst massages I’ve ever presented. It was a trainwreck. It was not engaging and I was sloppy in my preparation. I did the passage a disservice and the people who were there a disservice. And I read articles and spoke with people around me and they assured me that the Spirit can still move in an imperfect attempt to make known the Gospel.
Yes the Spirit moves, but that’s no excuse for a poor presentation. No excuse for not being prepared.
God has called me to preach, of that I am certain. But I cannot make excuses to stop growing in my craft. I preached a bad sermon. It wasn’t my first and certainly won’t be my last. But the real question is, what am I doing to learn from it? What will I learn to do differently?
Yes, the Spirit is at work in those I come in contact with and those whom I have conversations about the Gospel with, but He is also at work in me and in all believers. And we’re all still growing in sharing the Gospel and challenging the culture around us. Even more beautifully, the Spirit uses our mistakes to teach us and correct us, giving us a greater desire to pursue forgiveness and holiness.
So whoever your people groups are, rest in the fact that the Spirit is working in your faithfulness to move in those whom you’re reaching. And you don’t have to be perfect in your preaching, but we must be prepared (1 Peter 3:15).
Continue to work in faithful obedience. Study in the preparation for the presentation of the Gospel. And always be faithful in serving the Lord, because He has shown us that He is faithful towards us.