The Art of Engagement

Paul stood up in the middle of the council on Mars Hill and said, “People of Athens, I see that you are very religious in every way. As I was walking through town and carefully observing your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown God.’ What you worship as unknown, I now proclaim to you. God, who made the world and everything in it, is Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t live in temples made with human hands.                                                                                    Acts 17:16-17

In this present era, we experience a type of communication where people are talking across one another instead of to one another. We see Paul as an example of one who knew how to engage people. Paul had a message of good news which he desperately wanted to share with people, because he believed that spiritual life and death were at stake. Instead of demeaning and mocking the primitive beliefs of the idol worshippers at Athens, Paul showed respect for them in their search for truth. He acknowledged their sincere search for truth, and he showed his interest in their culture. He walked around the city and observed what was important to them. He did not judge them, but pointed out and affirmed their own desire to know the “unknown god”. The Athenians were open to the idea of a god that they did not yet know, and they had made idols to various gods. However, in the interest of not leaving any out lest they anger one of those deities, they made an idol to the “unknown god.”

Paul was able to use their own language and concepts to help introduce them to the God that could offer them peace and salvation. He did not mock their feeble attempts to placate the unknown god, he introduced them to the God of their need, the God that they sought and did not yet know.

Paul’s approach is needed today. We need to listen, and understand the language of people with whom we disagree. We need not, and should not, shame and dishonor those with whom we disagree. We need to love them enough to hear their world view. It may be very different from ours, yet people come to a particular world view for a reason. It is arrived at due to a journey different than ours oftentimes.  

As we enter the heated environment of political rhetoric which is so visible these days, let us pause to understand that with which we disagree. You will read, if you complete the 17th chapter of Acts, that Paul gained a hearing from the people of Athens because he cared enough to hear their story and their world view, different as it was from his. Let us be intentional in respectfully hearing views with which we disagree.

It is good for our soul, and the souls of those whom we love and yet do not agree with.

Prayer: Lord, grant us the patience to hear what we do not agree with, and the grace to patiently share your love, Amen.

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