Philippi. Thessalonica. Berea. Athens. They might be just a list of ancient Bible cities to us, but to Paul, Silas, & Timothy these places represented the commitment they had made to live out the call of God, day by day, as “chosen instruments in God’s hand” to bring this Good News to people who hadn’t heard it before.
Acts 17 tells of this life-investment of Paul & his companions, and their travels from city to city as the Spirit led, discerning the local culture, then finding a way to present the Word of God. They reasoned from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ, explained why Christ had to suffer, and celebrated His resurrection from the dead. What strikes me is that these missionaries didn’t use a cookie-cutter, one-size fits all approach to ministry, as each place they traveled had vastly different peoples, places, and cultures.
How Paul presented the gospel in Berea and how he presented it in Athens were radically different. This Spirit-led contextualization – a.k.a. Paul being ‘all things to all people,’ caused the gospel to be brought forward in each place with maximum effectiveness. In Berea, it meant entering a synagogue and reasoning from Torah that Jesus is the Christ. In Athens, it meant going to the public square and presenting in a much different manner, using as reference even the myriad graven images and altars that littered the city, illustrating Christ with the words of a local poet.
The longer I am in ministry, the more likely I am tempted to lean on what I know, my gifts, and my competencies. The problem is, while God can use all of those things, His Kingdom is built and the gospel effectively takes root with the work of the Holy Spirit. I pray for eyes to see my local context as God does, and for insights to be able to speak the gospel in a way that it can be heard. So whether it’s in the exegesis and discussion of Romans, or quoting Bono, it’s not me or my cleverness that shines through, but the clear, saving message of Good News.