Sabbath School Lesson for December 2-8, 2023
Overview of Lesson 10, Mission to the Unreached: Part 1
Memory Text: ” ‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.’ ” Acts 17:24 NIV
What to expect from this week’s study:
- Sunday: A Hebrew in Athens–a city of commerce
- Monday: Paul in the Areopagus–a gathering place of intellectuals
- Tuesday: Paul and the Unknown God–a city of idols
- Wednesday: Introducing a New God–a loving God who made us
- Thursday: Crossing a Line–a just God who will judge us
- Friday: Our Challenge–how we can join God’s mission
It took a brave man like Paul to preach to the unreachable, like those in Athens. He still preached to Jews in synagogues, even associating with God-fearing Gentiles more passionately than many of his Jewish peers. But, God had plans for Paul to reach out even further to people groups that were thought to be unreachable.
The idol-worshiping Grecians in Athens, the city where Paul fled to escape persecution, had many highly-educated elites and philosophers who would not be the easiest audience for any speaker with such a different message as Paul’s. His methods of evangelism are therefore well worth our examination. He graciously handled the challenges in Athens and surprisingly made some enthusiastic converts there.
Sunday: A Hebrew in Athens
The story about how Paul found himself so far away in Athens is told in Acts, chapter 17. He had some pastoral success with several Jews in Thessalonica, but there were also a number of Jews there who resented his preaching about Jesus being the Messiah.
These unhappy Jews sent Paul away; but later chased him down when they discovered he was working in Berea, a place where the church members admirably searched the Scriptures to discover if Paul’s claims about Jesus were true (Acts 17:10, 11). The jealous Jewish multitude then found Paul and conducted him far away to the large metropolis of Athens, assuming he would never be able to create a following in such a sprawling, idol-worshiping city.
Paul, however, was able to adapt to the population’s needs in Athens. Motivated by his compassion for the individuals there, he learned much about their culture by visiting the marketplace. Like Jesus, he mingled quietly with ordinary citizens, making some important connections there, besides forming ideas about how to introduce them to the gospel.
- How did Paul find himself in Athens?
- How and why did God work with these unfortunate circumstances and continue to use Paul for His mission?
Monday: Paul in the Areopagus
We’re not sure how long Paul reasoned with people in the marketplace, but he eventually made such an impression on some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers that they persuaded him to present his ideas at the Areopagus, where such discourse officially took place.
It was at the Areopagus that Paul was given a chance to have his ideas about Jesus and the resurrection heard by a wider audience. A god who did so much for his people, who didn’t have to be appeased, but who willingly forgave them for their shortcomings, who even died for them, was certainly a strange, foreign god they had never heard of. Christ was, as always, central to Paul’s given mission.
We know that the oratorical skills and general knowledge Paul acquired during his education under the excellent teacher, Gamaliel, was used by the Holy Spirit to enable Paul to reach the Athenians. But it was also the informal education he gained on the streets of Athens that aided him in delivering such a difficult presentation of his beliefs.
Let’s not fail to recognize the value of adapting our message to those who are hearing it. It often takes uncomfortable intermingling with people to learn about their needs and how to help them.
- What were some of the various reactions to Paul’s comments about his religious beliefs?
- How did visiting with those in the marketplace help Paul know their needs and interests?
Tuesday: Paul and the Unknown God
Even though he was invited to speak about his strange religion, Paul began his discourse by complimenting his listeners for their religious devotion. The many lavish temples and idols he encountered in the city indicated they were serious about their spiritual life. People are more likely to hear our message when we sincerely treat them with respect.
Paul knew exactly where he was going with his expression of admiration. This devotion, he observed, included worshiping “an unknown god”, as Paul saw inscribed on one of their idols. Paul then claimed that he would like to introduce them to this unknown god that some of them already worshiped. He had grabbed their attention, making it difficult to ignore his further comments about this unknown god.
The same community-building bridges Paul used to evangelize the difficult, Athenian population are skills we can also use today to reach diverse people groups with the gospel message.
Acts 17:22, 23
- What were the bridges Paul used to reach his Athenian audience?
- How can we use these tools as we witness to others, even in unplanned, chance encounters we have with ordinary people?
Wednesday: Introducing a New God
It must have been energizing for Paul to have the opportunity to share his Lord and Savior with people who had no concept of a Creator God like his. Starting literally from the beginning, he pointed out that the “unknown” god they already worshiped loved them enough to create all the beautiful scenes of nature around them, without expecting anything in return. He also created ALL of humanity. Those of every nation on earth could claim Him as their God.
Furthermore, this Creator God did not live in temples made by human hands, because He needs nothing from mankind or any of His created beings. Instead of a needy god, He is a giving God. He is not far from any of us, if we search for Him and desire His presence in our lives.
We must also tailor our message to match the knowledge and awareness of God that people already have or don’t have. This might mean going back to the beginning, so a full picture of God, our Creator, is presented.
- What would have been particularly appealing to Paul’s audience, as they heard these attributes of the true God, or unknown god, as they knew Him?
Thursday: Crossing a Line
Only after proclaiming that his God was a loving, giving God did Paul announce a warning that He was also a fair and just God, and that those who oppose His kingdom would suffer for it in the end. Paul’s message further explained that the Son of God had lived and died, and was resurrected, providing us with the same opportunity of a future resurrection and eternal life, if we would only choose to believe and follow Him.
They were finally admonished to repent from their evil ways and prepare for the great Judgment Day that was coming. Some of his listeners mocked what he said about a resurrection, but there were also some who wanted to know more. There were several, such as Dionysius, and a woman named Damaris, who became believers in Athens.
We would do well to study Paul’s methods of evangelism (becoming familiar with the people, finding points of common interest, complimenting them appropriately and sincerely, and finally delivering the total picture of God, as he was given opportunity).
- Why did Paul feel compelled at that time to preach about the need to repent and to warn them about the Judgment–not very popular topics for any audience?
- Why is it necessary to understand that the number of baptisms or conversions is not necessarily evidence of our evangelistic success?
Friday: Our Weekly Mission Challenge
In prayer, ask for God’s specific guidance in knowing how best to witness to someone you know.
Explore social media as a possible “Areopagus” for you to represent the gospel–with Paul’s clarity and discretion–to unbelievers.
For discussion: What are some of the various ways you might be able to witness to someone in your circles of influence? What areas of common ground would allow a profitable discussion of your beliefs? Why must we be careful in how we portray ourselves on social media?
Next Week: Mission to the Unreached, Part 2
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