I’ll never forget my very first Bible Study that I led for my small group in college. We met informally around a dining room table in the dining hall and I had prepared a study on Acts 17:16-34. In that teaching I laid out a plan for evangelism that involved being with people where they are and not forcing people to come to where you are. Let’s go backwards through this chapter. Let’s look first at Paul’s visit to Athens which for me contains such relevant approaches to those who do not know Jesus. He went to Athens and found himself in the middle of the people and was not afraid to speak his mind. When they invited him to speak openly and to the leadership of the city in front of the Areopagus, he used words and referred to people that they would know intimately. He uses their material, the idols, to point to Jesus as the one who is the great Creator and who came so that we would be raised from the dead. Many joined Paul as a result, including a number of the leaders of that community.
Let’s break down this interaction and apply it to today. We have become a people who expect those whom we want to reach to come to us and become like us. We expect to evangelize by providing the right programs and the right opportunities for those who might want to wander into our sanctuary. We are capturing people who wander into our sanctuary, but this is not at all the strategy that Paul and other Christians used to wins people to Christ. They were constantly on the go. They had no office hours. There were no bulletins and no courtyards with memorial tress. They simply identified individuals, and groups of people, that they were exposed to and let them know about the truth found in Jesus. This is the type of calling which is exciting and worthwhile.
The beginning of chapter 17 provides us with a continued stream of conflict and persecution that Paul and Silas faced. You see in vs.2 that he was in the synagogue for three Sabbath days. That is at least 3 weeks. This was not something that he just came, tried, and if it didn’t work, he moved on. No, he stuck to it. The city officials of Thessalonica became concerned and drove them off. But Paul and Silas just moved down the road to Beroea and continued their work. The people of the much larger Thessalonica become even more enraged and pursue them there. At this point Silas and Timothy stay while Paul moves on to Athens.
Here is the map for Paul’s second journey. Again, it is hard to follow but all the cities are there and you can at least see how close they are to each other.