It is a joy to preach through the book of Acts! It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply. As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid. Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.
As we arrive in Acts 17 in our sermon series we find Paul doing typical Paul stuff — talking about Jesus until people run him out of town. As he would go from region to region and city to city, even into the heart of Athens, Paul’s practice of teaching about Jesus seems to center on this Act of REASON! Let’s look at some lessons we can learn from the example of Paul’s practice of reasoning with the people he would meet.
- Respect: We live in a time when it appears that people really believe the loudest voice wins every discussion. I’ve seen people treated very poorly because others were certain everyone should agree with them if they just talked loud enough, forcefully enough, and long enough. Unfortunately, there are times when our attempts to share about our faith come across that way. Peter tells us that we do need to be ready to give an answer for the hope we have — but we must do so with gentleness and respect. When Paul would reason with people about the truth of Jesus he did so with respect. He kept at it as long as he could, teaching in both the synagogues and marketplaces as people would listen. When he arrives in Athens, he finds a way to encourage them for their efforts while pointing out what was missing in their efforts to worship. When God calls you to grow in the Act of REASON, recognize that God’s desire is that your reasoning with people would be done with the act of Respect.
- Examine: How often have you heard some version of the statement, “My God isn’t like that or wouldn’t do that.”? One of the difficulties we have in fully engaging in this “act of reason” as we share about Jesus is that many have exchanged “giving reason for the hope that is within them” for a watered down version of “what do you think is reasonable”! If we are going to be effective in reasoning with people in a meaningful way, we must take seriously the background work — the act of Examine. Instead of accepting, and teaching, that which sounds reasonable, what does God’s Word say? The Bereans are described as being of “more noble character” not only because they accepted the message but because they examined scripture to see if what Paul was teaching was true. I believe our Christian message is often missing its power because we have accepted, and teach, that which sounds reasonable instead of examining the scriptures to see if it is really truth. We preach, teach, and live an American gospel and not necessarily a Jesus gospel. One example: we have come to believe as an American society that we have certain rights from God that are an integral part of who we are as people — we’ve been endowed by our creator with the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. I suppose if you examine scripture for God’s definition of each of those terms you could make an argument for the validity of those “inalienable rights” but that’s not the way we use it. It sounds reasonable, and even right, but it doesn’t take a very lengthy examination of scripture to see that if this “reasonable belief” is true then the apostles, the early church, and even Jesus himself missed out on even the basic rights God has promised everyone. Anyhow, that is another sermon for another time. 🙂 The point is, we need to be diligent in examining scripture and allowing it alone to be the basis of our “reasoning” with people. Learning to Examine scripture and test every teaching is a vital part of an effective Act of REASON.
- Accept: Have you ever had a “discussion” with someone that went nowhere because the outcome had been determined ahead of time? The act of REASON is ineffective at best when one party refuses to accept that the other has value of any kind. We struggle with the act of accept because there are things people do that are completely unacceptable. Paul writes in Romans 15:7, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” A critical question out of this verse ought to be, “How has Christ accepted me?”. Can I tell him, “It’s my life! I can do what I want! If you really accept me, you would understand that!”? Of course not! But many believe that is what accepting them ought to look like. A better comparison is like an “as-is” sale. I love auctions and typically at an auction things are sold “as-is” because they are used and the seller cannot, or doesn’t want to, verify an item’s condition. There are times I will see something and it is obvious it needs work. With some TLC, some repairs, and some changes it can be a very useful item but not so much “as-is”. My purchase of it — my acceptance of it — isn’t based so much on its current condition, but on the potential value I see it having when it has been restored. If I don’t accept it as having value beyond its current condition, rarely will I give it a second look. Christ accepted you and I as having great value beyond the current condition He found us in. When we see that same value in all people, we learn to accept them at a level that allows us to really engage in the act of reason with them. When we are growing in the Act of REASON, we begin to Accept people because of the value all people have when they are restored through Christ.
- Surrender: Do you ever find yourself at places you would just as soon not be and wonder how you got there and how are you ever going to get out of there? Many times it is hard to surrender our will and desires to be in one place so that the act of REASON can be effective in our current location that we may not have chosen. When it comes to sharing the reason you have for the hope that is within you, is God in charge of when and where you do that or do you decide when and where it’s appropriate? Even when the timing of Paul’s movement from city to city seems to be dictated by angry mobs and not by his choice, he surrenders his will to God’s and goes about reasoning with the people wherever he, and they, happen to be. God was in charge so it didn’t matter if it was the local “preaching/teaching” building, the marketplace, or the riverfront, Paul was going to reason with people about their need for Jesus. There is also a surrender of results seen in Paul’s efforts to reason with the people. We would like a storybook ending to all of Paul’s missionary efforts — the people heard, they understood the reasoning Paul presented regarding the truth of Jesus, they all accepted the message, everyone repented of their sin, all were immersed into Jesus Christ, and everyone lived happily ever after! 🙂 But that is not the way it went for Paul and it is not the way it goes for us. We need to learn, as Paul did, to do our part and trust God for the increase. The Act of REASON lived in our life requires that we fully engage in the act of Surrender to God’s will in everything.
- Observe: Have you ever stuck you foot in your mouth? Of course! We’ve all been there — saying something that once it is out and we look around and hear it in context of where we are, it was rather inappropriate at best. Without the element of observation, it is easy to do that even within the Act of REASON. The act of observe works closely with the previous points. A good practice is to look around, pay attention, and think before you say anything. Observe a person, a family, a city, and the context so that the starting point for sharing the reason for the hope that you have makes sense with the listener. Acts 17 gives us a great lesson in observation and then what to do with what we observe. It was through careful observation that Paul was able to see beyond the surface elements of the city of Athens and into the heart of what was happening. Paul could see that this was a people who longed to worship and were very religious in that pursuit — they just had no knowledge of the only true and living God. When you take the time to observe people, pray that God would help you see beyond the surface actions and into what deep desires those actions are coming from. It is when you begin to connect the true and holy qualities of God with how they meet the very desires a person is trying to fulfill through everything else that the act of reason begins to take hold. To meet a person where they are at with the Act of REASON requires that you are serious in your practice of the act of Observe.
- Notice: This is tied very closely to the act of Observe but often takes it to a finer level. It is one thing to observe people and surroundings, it is another to notice the importance of what you see! Paul observed many objects of worship, even one to an “unknown god”, as he walked about Athens. What he noticed was a deep desire to worship and a longing for a God that would make Himself known to them. Many times when we do observe people, we are so put off by what we see that we fail to notice that which we don’t see. We condemn the pagan practices of pagans while failing to notice how those practices and desires can be key in our attempts to reason with them about the good news of Jesus. (As a side note, we shouldn’t be all that surprised when pagans act like pagans. It is when Christians act like pagans that we have the real problem.) When God gives you opportunity to reason with people who are yet to be in relationship with Him through His Son, pray that God would help you to notice the real desire or need that exists under the sin that might be more obvious than the need. By showing how God can fill that desire or need you are able to present hope because you took the time to notice. When we spend the time needed to fully engage in the act of Notice, we often find a foundation to build on with the Act of REASON.
So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of REASON? Do you fully and genuinely treat all people with Respect? Do you spend the time needed to Examine scripture to be sure the answers you give others are accurate according to what God says? Are you able to Accept all people as having great value in the eyes of God and see their potential as restored people? Do you Surrender daily your will, location, and results to God? Are you willing to slow down and Observe people and surroundings to have a more complete picture of who they are? Will you pray for God’s help to Notice the importance of what you observe? I pray that the act of REASON expressed through your life will boldly show the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!