On Sunday, November 30, 2014, I was privileged to preach from Acts 13 during Thanksgiving weekend. If you are interested in reading the outline of my message, delivered at Waukee (Iowa) Community Church, “Meet Them Where They Are,” my notes follow.
“Meet Them Where They Are”
By Dr. Bob Stouffer
Waukee Community Church
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Several of us in this body have shared the Gospel with Muslims in Africa and the Middle East.
Obviously, we could not go into these situations without some evangelism training.
We had to understand what Muslims believe.
We had to understand the Muslim culture and the culture of each country.
We had to understand certain nuances of the Muslim language or tribal language, even if we weren’t fluent in Arabic, which we most certainly were not.
We had to understand what we believe.
We had to understand the Gospel.
And we had to understand how to bridge the gap between what we believe and the Muslims believed.
We had to meet people where they were, not where we believed they should be.
Such is the main idea of today’s passage in Acts.
Paul and Barnabas met people where they were, not where they believed the Jews and Gentiles should be.
So, as we tour through Acts 13, please pay careful attention to the main applicable point of today:
As believers in and followers of Christ, we, too, must meet people where they are, not where we think they should be.
Body of Analysis
Let’s better understand the context of Acts 13.
“Luke, [the author], a first-century physician, walked away from his career and most likely surrendered the remaining years of his life to follow Jesus and to document the spread of [Christ’s] church.” (Jeremiah Study Bible)
Acts. . . .We are back in the Acts series. . .the Acts of the Apostles. . . . under the power of the Holy Spirit. . . .Luke refers to the influence of the Holy Spirit 55 times in Acts (Jeremiah Study Bible). One-third of Acts involves sermons or speeches. We encounter one of those messages in today’s passage.
Written around 62 A.D.
Paul. . .
Paul’s style of evangelism. . .
Paul met people where they were, not where he believed they should be. For instance, in another segment of Acts, Paul went to the Greeks and he said, “I see you are a religious person; you even have a monument dedicated to an ‘unknown god.’” Paul used that reality as a starting point for his evangelism. He proceeded to tell the Greeks about the “unknown God,” Jesus Christ!
Barnabas was the encourager to Paul and others. . . . “Son of Encouragement,” or “Son of Exhortation”. . . .
Imagine the scene of Acts 13 in your mind’s eye: “A synagogue service generally went like this: Opening prayers were offered, then there was a reading from the Law (the first five books of the Old Testament). Then a reading from the Prophets. Then, if there was an educated person present, they were invited to speak on subjects related to the readings.” (Guzik)
We must also understand the worldview of Jews in Paul’s time. Paul typically went first to the Jews in the synagogue.
“. . .the Jewish people believed that they were predestined for salvation by virtue of descent from Abraham, the idea that many Gentiles had been ‘ordained to eternal life’ (KJV) could be offensive” to the Jews. (Select Commentaries on Acts 13)
Please try tonderstand Paul’s audience at this time. See the world through the filter of the Jews. No wonder many of them acted angrily to Paul and other Christian evangelists.
Listen to one commentator’s words:
“Many of the Jews “wanted to keep the division between Jew and Gentile, and if Jesus was to be the Messiah of ALL men, they wanted no part of Him. ‘They simply could not accept a teaching that opened such floodgates. For themselves and their adherents they could accept a message as God-sent and tolerate some change in their teaching and practice, but they could not endure that the Gentiles should be made equal with God’s ancient people.’” (emphasis added, Guzik and Williams in Guzik)
Another commentator said it this way:
“It must have sounded to [the Jews] like a compromise. All these years they had been maintaining their Jewish distinctness, keeping themselves clean from the impure, pagan lifestyle of the wider world. They had been true to the commandments which marked them out from the world full of idols all around them. They had suffered many things, mockery, social ostracism, sometimes physical abuse or even death, to be true to this heritage and this calling. And now – all these pagans surrounding them were going to come flooding into their world. . . . This was blasphemous nonsense! . . .and corresponding exactly to the reaction of the young Saul of Tarsus only a few years before. . . .” (emphasis in original, Select Commentaries on Acts 13)
Paul fully understood the point of view of the resistant Jews – he had been one of them prior to his conversation – so he was able to meet them where they were, not where he thought they should be.
We must also understand the worldviews of Gentiles in Paul’s time, which were markedly different than the worldview of the Jewish people.
Gentiles were surrounded by idols and idol-worshippers. Non-biblical worldviews abounded. In that respect, the culture of the Gentiles of the 1st Century church is no different than the 21st Century church. Some Gentiles had been drawn by God to Himself, and they respected the lifestyles and commitments of the Jewish people.
The Gospel was “good news” to Gentiles, but in many respects also very startling. “God’s surprise move is that through his incarnate and risen Son Jesus he makes salvation blessings available to all who will believe, INCLUDING GENTILES – apart from the law! For legalistic, ethnocentric Jews and even for God-fearing Gentiles this might indeed be unbelievable, perhaps even outrageous and offensive.” (emphasis added, Select Commentaries on Acts 13)
So, such is the context of Acts 13:13-52. Let’s look at those verses more carefully now.
. . .
Paul’s message is eerily reminiscent of Stephen’s message in Acts 7. But there were important differences.
In Acts 7, Stephen had “wanted to demonstrate that the old era with the temple and the law of Moses had given way to the new.” (NIV Commentary on Acts)
“Stephen had concentrated on Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. . . .” (Select Commentaries on Acts 13)
Stephen had focused on “Israel’s rejection of God-sent leaders. . . .” (ESV Study Bible)
In this passage of Acts 13, Paul made his way swiftly through the early years to arrive at the [monarchies] of Saul and David.” (Select Commentaries on Acts 13)
Paul stops at David “as a classic penitent, dependent on God’s grace for forgiveness. . . But the point is not that the story stopped at David [the king of Israel].” The point of the story is that “the true King, the ultimate King, ‘great David’s greater son,’” would come from the line of David – JESUS CHRIST! (Select Commentaries on Acts 13)
Whereas Stephen had focused on “Israel’s rejection of God-sent leaders, “. . .Paul stressed God’s grace in providing the leaders [AND THE LEADER, Jesus Christ].” (emphasis added, ESV Study Bible)
Old Testament truth was fulfilled in the New Testament – in the person of Jesus!
“Paul’s strategy is a challenge to us all, to understand our audience well enough to know how to tell them the story in a way they will find compelling, how to set up signposts in a language they can read. . . .Stick with the story. . . .Learn it, live in it, live from it. Don’t imagine you can possess it. Let it possess you.” (Select Commentaries on Acts 13)
On this Thanksgiving weekend, we must be thankful for the Gospel:
- A sinless Savior
“The resurrection means that Jesus truly is the unique Son of God (Psalm 2:7), and it proves he was utterly holy even in His work on the cross (Psalm 16:10)
Let’s speak now of applications in our own lives today.
Matthew 28-18-20 details “The Great Commandment,” not “The Great Negotiable.”
Jesus said, “GO.”
We think people will “COME” to Waukee Community Church. . . .
The unvarnished reality is that we love us more than others love us! Go where the people are!
Understand what you believe. Understand the Gospel.
The B. of B.L.O.S.M. stands for BELIEVE. Such was one of the purposes of NT60. . . .
You must know what you believe. And L.ove. And O.bey. And S.erve. And M.ultiply! One of our chief values at Waukee Community Church is “BOLDLY GOING.” Go boldly!
Be among non-Christians.
Invest in relationships with non-Christians.
Understand non-Christians and what they believe. This is a tall-order.
- . .
- Secular Humanists. . .
- Pluralists/Universalists. . .
- Muslims, Buddhists, New Agers, Mormons, Wiccans, etc.
Meet people where they are, not where you believe they should be.
Build bridges from your beliefs to the beliefs of non-Christians.
Share the Gospel. Plant the seeds. Water and fertilize. God will bring the increase. You do not do the saving. God does.
At the beginning of my second journey to Yemen, a 30-year-old American missionary pointed out a truth which bears repeating today.
Many people say that it is enough for non-believers to see Christians engaged in what is known as “lifestyle evangelism.” The idea of lifestyle evangelism is that we will live our lives before men and women in such a way that they will be drawn to Christianity.
Lifestyle evangelism is not enough.
We must speak/preach/teach the Gospel, this young man reminded us.
We live in a biblically illiterate culture. Even Christians who know Jesus as Lord and Savior are not knowledgeable of the Scriptures.
Approach different audiences differently. Different person, different approach.
Meet people where they are. Not where you think they should be.
Help them move from where they are to where we ALL should be as Christians – conforming to the likeness of Jesus Christ.
Evangelize AND disciple! One commentator calls this “evange-sipleship”! One without the other is incomplete Christian living.
Do all of this not just on Sunday morning!
Do all of this every moment of every day of your entire life on this earth!
Let’s pray. . .
Guzik, David. Online Commentary on Acts 13.
The Holy Bible. English Standard Version. ESV Study Bible. 2001.
Jeremiah, David. The Jeremiah New King James Study Bible. Nashville, Tennessee: Worthy Publishing, 2013.
NIV Commentary on Acts.
Select Commentaries on Acts 13.