Your Life – On Mission
2. Building Bridges
Acts 17: 16 - 34
Last week we discovered 3 marks of living on mission - • We need to demonstrate our faith by making sure Christ is Lord of our lives • We must be ready to defend our faith by giving reasons for the hope within us • We’ll disarm people when we show them gentleness and respect.
Living on mission is really a mindset change. We need to see ourselves as missionaries, strategically positioned in this city, and cleverly disguised as students or engineers or waitresses or as neighbours.
As we learn to live with a mission mindset, our focus should be in 2 directions -
• Missional. We are called to be ambassadors of Christ – we are agents of God’s mission in the world. We could call this “go and tell” evangelism.
• Attractional. This is where we use our church - weekend services and ministries to attract unbelievers and evangelize the lost. We could call this “come and see” evangelism.
We want to attract families and individuals to our services and we want you to get involved with people where they live and work and play. • Gather • Grow • Give • Go
We’re focusing on the “go” element. We gather, grow and we give in order to go. We must break down barriers and build bridges with those who don’t yet know Christ.
The Apostle Paul had to bounce out of Berea because of persecution and now he’s in Athens to wait for Silas and Timothy. He did what most people do when they go to a beautiful city – he went sightseeing. Instead of being impressed with what he saw – v. 16 “his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols.”
One ancient writer tells us that there were 30000 gods in Athens! Paul was deeply distressed about the depth of their depravity. Instead of leaving the city or complaining to the officials, Paul went to work. He spent time both in the religious centres, and in the marketplace, with those who knew about God…and with those who didn’t. We must do the same if we hope to connect the disconnected to Christ.
Athens was the intellectual center of the world. There were lots of smart people who attended universities. v. 18 - 2 groups of philosophers wanted to debate with him.
• The Epicureans were atheists; they denied God’s existence and the afterlife. They were content to just live for today – we might call them materialists. The pursuit of pleasure was their chief goal and the avoidance of pain was their deepest desire. Their motto was, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
• The Stoics on the other hand, were pantheists – they believed that everything is God, and that He does not exist as a separate entity, but in the rocks and trees and in every material thing. Stoics tried to live in harmony with nature and were self-sufficient. Their attitude toward life was one of ultimate resignation – their motto was, “Grin and bear it.”
v. 18 – 21 -Some of these smart people treated Paul as one of the little birds in the marketplace that flitted around pecking at seeds here and there. In their minds, Paul was little more than a collector of fragments of truth – and they dismissed him.
But others were interested. In their theology, they had some room for additional gods. That reminds of a Hindu I talked to recently. He has a ton of gods and to him Jesus is just one more.
Athens was filled with idols and ideas. Things haven’t changed that much have they? They just go by different names. If we want to make bridges, we must travel to where people are and interact with them.
In particular, the Athenians liked to hear about “new” things. If something was “trending” on Twitter, they were all over it and so they brought Paul before the Supreme Court of Athens to explain what he believed. This is one of the most dramatic scenes in the NT – Paul preaching the gospel in the intellectual capital of the world. His words are clear, concise, and very much to the point.
Likewise, we must break down barriers and build bridges with those who don’t yet know Christ.
Before we look at how he built bridges to the people of Athens, it’s important for us to know that there’s been a big shift in how non-Christians think today. Our post-modern culture is different than it was a generation ago, or even a decade ago.
Characteristics of Today’s Unchurched Person -
1. They don’t all have big problems. Many are quite content with their lives without God.
2. They feel less guilty than we think.
3. You can’t call them back to something they never knew.
5. They want us to be Christian and they hate our hypocrisy. Enough said.
6. They’re intelligent, so we need to speak to that. I want us to see Paul’s approach as a model for us as we mix with the intelligent, atheistic and apathetic people in our own lives.
5 Things that Paul did to Make Gospel Bridges -
1. Be Courteous v. 22
“Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious.’” Don’t miss this. Paul was repulsed by all their idols and their ideas but he was respectful! What a great approach. He didn’t denounce them or attack their idolatry. In fact, he paid them a compliment. He basically said, “As I’ve been walking around your city, I’ve noticed one thing about you: You are a very religious people.” He didn’t begin by saying, “I’ve come to expose your sins, you dirty, wretched, hell bound, idol-worshipping, heathenistic pagans.”
Are you courteous when you spend time with people who are not yet Christians? Or, are you secretly angry with them because of some of the things they do? We should never be surprised when non-Christians act like non-Christians. Are you kind and accepting or are you cold and abrasive? Non-believers will pick up on our attitudes so we need to be careful. Let’s make sure we’re building bridges, not burning them.
How Will You Respond?
With all the cultural chaos and sin swirling around us, it’s not easy to respond correctly. Here are 4 possible ways we can respond.
a. Isolate. At times in church history, the world was so wicked that some believers retreated to monasteries and others did even more unusual things.
b. Insulate. It’s not easy to isolate so some people choose to insulate themselves from the problems and pain of those who don’t yet know Christ. These people spend almost all their time with other Christians and when they do have conversations about lost people their words are often judgmental.
c. Imitate. I’m afraid this is where many of believers end up. Instead of fighting the world, we just want to fit in and end up caving in to the culture.
d. Infiltrate. This is the heart of Jesus. We must break down barriers and build bridges with those who don’t yet know Christ.
2. Be Contemporary v. 23a
He established some common ground with his listeners. Here’s another way to say it: When he was courteous, he broke down barriers; when he was contemporary, he built bridges to the heart of his audience. “For as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.” Paul was out where the people lived and worked.
Paul had taken the time to get to know their city. This is a key principle, isn’t it? You’ve got to get to know people if you want to build a gospel bridge to them. Then Paul found a natural point of contact. He came upon an altar with a strange inscription: “To an unknown God.”
Brothers and sisters, are you spending enough time with people in your sphere of influence? Do you know what their interests are? Do you know what they are concerned about? Do you know those things that make them happy? The things that make them cry? Have you discovered any idols in their hearts? We must break down barriers and build bridges with those who don’t yet know Christ.
3. Be Courageous v. 23b
Notice how bold Paul was - “Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you.” This probably made them sit on the edge of their stone seats. It’s as if he is saying, “You admit there is a God you don’t know. I happen to know that God and I will now proclaim him to you.”
v. 24, 25 - Paul gives them a theology lesson, courageously speaking of God as the Creator and the Giver of all things. • You didn’t make God; He made you. • He doesn’t need you; you need Him. • He’s looking for you even when you’re not looking for Him.
4. Be Christ-Centered v. 31
It’s not enough to just be nice and spend time with people. Nor is it enough to just be bold. We must look for ways to talk about Jesus. “Because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
Paul hit on sin, righteousness and judgment because that’s how the Holy Spirit convicts people.
Paul was not afraid to speak of an inescapable day of judgment. He did not shrink from speaking the truth about the resurrection of Jesus, even though he knew that many of his listeners would not want to hear it. He lifted up the supremacy of Christ and didn’t shy away from speaking about sin.
Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, one of the richest people in the world, made a stunning statement: “I’m telling you if there’s a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.” If the Apostle Paul hung out with the former mayor how do you think he would build a gospel bridge to Him?
As God gives you opportunity, speak boldly for Christ. Be unashamed. Tell people that Jesus died in their place and that they can be forgiven for all the sins they have committed. Tell them about His resurrection so that that they can have hope for eternity. Tell them about the love and peace and joy that will be theirs once they surrender to Christ.
Let’s break down barriers and build bridges with those who don’t yet know Christ.
5. A Call to Commitment v. 30
“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.” I see at least 3 responses in the text that are still very common today. Let me remind you that we’re not responsible for how people respond.
• Some rejected v. 32a: “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked…” When they heard about the resurrection, they rejected it.
• Others were reluctant v. 32b: “…others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter.’” Their appetites were whetted and they told Paul that they wanted to talk some more.
• A few received v. 34: “some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” It’s normally just a few who will be convinced. Many reject. Some are reluctant. A handful receive. Whatever their response, it’s our responsibility to do what we can to connect them to Christ.
We’re going to need to build some new bridges if we hope to connect with people who don’t yet
know Christ. Think of how God may want to use you to build a bridge to someone who does not yet know Christ. Start by getting to know their names. Then find out more about each one. Look for a way to serve them.
John 5: 24 “He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”