the weblog of Alan Knox

But some men joined him and believed

Posted by on Feb 24, 2012 in discipleship, missional | 11 comments

But some men joined him and believed

Biblical scholars, theologians, missionaries, church planters, and plenty of other people who don’t have any kind of title study Acts 17:16-34 to learn about proclaiming the gospel to different contexts. Of course, in the Book of Acts, we read about Paul and others proclaiming the gospel in many different contexts, and this is only one of those. However, this is one of the only examples in Scripture of someone proclaiming the gospel in a non-Jewish or a Jewish majority context.

I do love the way that Paul begins at a point that the people around the Areopagus would understand. Then, he works toward a simple statement about repentance, judgment, righteousness, and resurrection. Well, it’s simple in the fact that it was a very short statement. In fact, his entire “speech” was probably very short. At the point that Paul mentioned the resurrection, the crowd reacted strongly.

And, this is the point that I’d like to consider in this post. You see, while this passage can help us understand something about proclaiming the gospel in different cultural contexts, it can also help us understand an important point about helping people follow Jesus as his disciples – what could be called “discipleship.”

When Paul mentions “resurrection,” Luke tells us what happened next:

Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. (Acts 17:32-34 ESV)

Paul did not tell the crowd at the Areopagus everything there was to know about God, Jesus, the gospel, etc. He made a simple proclamation. Some were interested in hearing more, so he told them more. However, even all of those were not disciples. Only some join Paul in following Jesus, of whom Luke mentions one man and one woman.

It’s clear that Paul told the “some” more than he told the crowds at the Areopagus. In order to do that, he had to have spent more time with the “some” than he did with the crowd. Of course, this sounds very similar to what Jesus did with the crowds and the people who followed him. There are other examples in Scripture as well.

What do we see in this example of Paul at the Areopagus in Athens?

1) Short, to the point – but limited – proclamation that is understandable by the crowds listening.

2) More information given to those who are interested.

3) Most time spent with those who actually go beyond “interest.”

Now, remember that Paul is considered a “missionary.” A missionary. An apostle. An evangelist. Yet, it seems like only a small amount of his time and energy is spent in actually proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers. More of his time is spent with believers – the church.

What do you think? Am I reading too much into this passage and similar accounts in Scripture? Or, is this a good pattern for us to consider? How do we see this pattern followed or not followed today?


11 Comments

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  1. 2-24-2012

    Is this really a pattern or just the natural way things work?

    Some people get bored. They don’t hang around to hear more. Other people are interested so they stick around. Some of those people eventually also get bored or don’t buy into what is being said, so they leave too. It only makes sense that when you are talking to a large group people will fall off and eventually you’ll be left with just a few people.

    Did Paul make this a rule, or did it just happen that way?

  2. 2-24-2012

    Dan,

    I agree. I don’t think this was Paul’s rule or anything like that. I think it “happened” because Paul wanted to spend most of his time and energy in a way that was conducive to kingdom growth. The point this leads me to is that we should not be spending all of our time with people who don’t really care about following Jesus. It doesn’t mean that we ignore those who are not following Jesus. We should definitely continue to share the gospel in words and deeds with those who are lost, and continue to encourage those who are in Christ but who are not following him. However, I do think that it means that we spend most of our time helping those who actually want to follow him.

    -Alan

  3. 2-24-2012

    so if i hang out with people who aren’t Christians, should i stop?

  4. 2-24-2012

    Dan,

    Absolutely not!

    -Alan

  5. 2-24-2012

    Alan,

    Terrific post.

    I would rather ask, “Is this really a pattern or the way the Holy Spirit works?

    My experience has taught me that it never “just happens” even though,at the time we are not aware that it is otherwise.

  6. 2-24-2012

    You say, “In fact, his entire “speech” was probably very short”.

    How can we possibly know how long he talked or what other points he made. There is nothing to indicated he spoke briefly. I fear that you are just reading that into the text.

    I have not been to seminary and do not have the education you do. Why do you want to add things to the text?

    I totally agree with your point about proclaim the gospel and look for those who are interested.

    I am interested because I am usually asserting to my pastor that he preaches way too long! There is no indication in the Bible to my knowledge about how long or short messages should be.

    Nice blog.

  7. 2-24-2012

    Aussie John,

    When you say, “It never ‘just happens’,” do you mean that the Holy Spirit leads into this pattern or that we must be intentional to follow this kind of pattern?

    Greg,

    It is not my intention to add to the text. In fact, one of the reasons that I say Paul did not speak for very long is that we only have a short speech in the text. How would we say that Paul spoke for a long time without adding to the text?

    Of course, we can’t know with certainty, which is why I said “probably.” But it is interesting that almost every gospel proclamation in Scripture is extremely short and would usually only take a few minutes at the most to say.

    To be honest, if this were in the context of the church (and it’s not, it’s in the context of Paul speaking with unbelievers), I would say it is much better to have several people speaking for a few minutes than one person speaking for a long time.

    -Alan

  8. 2-25-2012

    Alan,

    Neither! I don’t believe there is any “pattern”. The Holy Spirit leads as and how He wills.

    It’s when we try to bind Him to some kind of “pattern” or “convention” that He leaves us to our own devices, programes and systems.

  9. 2-25-2012

    Good post Alan.

    I think Paul was more of an apostle in the sense of a church planter – as opposed to our modern day idea of a missionary or evangelist. He clearly shared the gospel wherever he went, but his focus I think, was to disciple new churches in such a way that they continued the work of teaching, discipling, evangelizing, one-anothering, etc. That’s why he was able to move on so quickly after each church he planted and the gospel continued to spread. He left them, not with a set of methods and gimmicks, but with a lifestyle that focused on community.

    Shalom.

  10. 2-25-2012

    Aussie John,

    Awesome! I love it!

    Nick,

    I love your last sentence. I would simply add one thing: “He left them, not with a set of methods and gimmicks, but with a way of life in and with Jesus Christ that focused on community.”

    -Alan

  11. 2-26-2012

    Alan and Dan,
    I have enjoyed reading your posts this morning. There were similar discussions around a camp fire here in Rock Hill, SC last night.