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Intentional Evangelism for Normal People

Jan 07, 2018 | Todd Stiles

The Issue of Perspective

Scared of it and bad at it. That’s how most Christians feel about evangelism. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In part 1 of this 3-week series “Intentional Evangelism for Normal People,” rooted in Acts 17,  Todd examines the issue of perspective and helps us form a truly theological basis for sharing the gospel with others.

Sermon Transcript

So before we dive into three weeks on evangelism, a series to kind of kick this year off with, just a short dive into this topic, I don't want us to miss the short of it and that's this: somebody near you needs Jesus. We're going to spend three weeks in this study and we will learn terms and facts and concepts and we actually get smarter about the subject, we feel like we know more, maybe we get some tactics or some tricks of the trade, even get some tips, but if we don't realize that actually all of that is for the purpose of talking to someone who is near us that needs Jesus, then what good is learning more information if it's not translated into action? So I just want to remind you over the next three weeks regardless of how much you learn or what you agree with or don't agree with or how you are challenged or pricked or prodded, it's all designed to help us realize that somebody near you needs Jesus. 

So could we just begin this journey through this short series by asking God to place that name in our heart and then never let us get away from their lost condition? Can we do that? Let's bow our heads, can we? I'm going to give you about 20 seconds to pray those two ideas. Just kind of run on those tracks, would you? Ask God for a name and my guess is you already have a name. If you work a job, live in the city, or are doing anything outside of your four walls, you've met people. You know them. Who is that person near you that needs Jesus and would you pray, then, that God would never let their lost condition get away from you? Take 15 seconds and pray that, would you?

With your heads still bowed, can I visit my past for a moment with you as a way to close this prayer time? Even driving in this morning just thinking of this exact prayer time and just what I'm asking God to do in my heart, the Holy Spirit brought to mind a simple chorus that I learned as a kid, probably junior high age, maybe high school, I'm not sure, but we sang this in our church sometimes and it captures the essence of what I think I'm going to ask you to realize in this short time of prayer as we enter into this series on evangelism. It goes like this, "Lord, lay some soul upon my heart and love that soul through me, and may I only do my part to lead that soul to thee."

Lord, that's my prayer and I am praying that for our people and I ask, Lord, that they would pray that with me. Who is the someone near us that needs you? And make their lost condition be ever present on our radar. In the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit we ask these things and the church prayed together, amen.

Well, as you know by now we are beginning a three week series on evangelism. It's called "Intentional Evangelism for Normal People," and why do I title it that way? That's kind of a bland title. I like catchy words and things that have double meanings sometimes and thinking they are memorable, but this is kind of plain and to the point. I think I used this title because this is something that I struggle with. I feel like I'm pretty normal, a lot like you, and I think evangelism should be intentional and I'm like, "Man, I don't do this real well." So I thought I'll just preach a series on it and we'll row this boat together and see what we can learn. So we are going to spend three weeks learning about intentional evangelism by people like you and like me.

I hope you have gathered that I am preaching this first and foremost, and maybe this is selfish, I don't know because I need it. Did you know that? I need this three week series. I battle intentional evangelism. I would love to say to you I'm really good at it but the truth is I'm really not. It's a daily struggle for me. I can easily get just kind of surrounded by the walls of the church and think that everything is hunky-dory and we're doing good and forget that really what's happening outside of these walls matters as well. Are you with me? Can you kind of row that boat with me? You can nod. Feel free to. So I'm preaching this because you need it but I need it, but I think that means probably you need it too. I don't think I'm that much different than a lot of you in a lot of ways.

Now as I was thinking this through, I thought to myself why do I think I need it? And I think it's because as I read through passages like Acts 17, I find that Acts 17, the last portion of it, it seems out of the ordinary to me and I don't think it should. Are you with me? So when I realized that, like, that seems odd. That seems like an outlier, out of the ordinary, but it really shouldn't be. Then I'm thinking I need some work in this area. Can we just read this text together and if you feel like that's unreal, that's crazy, that's out of the ordinary, actually it shouldn't be. It should be a template for how we engage people and maybe that would kind of open your heart and just realizing I need this too.

Here's what the last portion of Acts 17 records for us. I'll begin in verse 16. Just listen to this narrative. 

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, [this is Silas and Timothy, his partners]  his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, "What does this babbler wish to say?" Others said, "He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities"--because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean." 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new [i.e. first century Facebook]. 22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for "'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, "'For we are indeed his offspring.' 29 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead." 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, "We will hear you again about this." 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. 

When I read that, I think that's out of the ordinary. That just seems like, wow, what an amazing thing to happen. That could never happen to us. I could never do that. And actually I should think the opposite, that actually should be ordinary because why should the mingling with lost people, the chatting, the discussion, the conversation about what different people believe, the sharing of what we believe, and then the mixed response from that, why should that seem so out of the ordinary? So if you're like me you're thinking, "Man, that's just really out there." I think maybe it's just time to embrace the fact that maybe you need a series like this as well, a refresher, a reviver from God's word on what exactly is our role when it comes to evangelism.

You see, I think there are some reasons that I don't do well in evangelism. First of all, I think I'm scared of it. Now, I don't mean I'm scared of the actual concept of evangelism, I'm scared of people's response to my efforts at it, all right? I'm just with you, I can be really bold. Amen to that? I can be clear, accurate and you would think I am really enjoying telling you about Christ, which I am but pack the room full of lost people, put me in a restaurant with some folks who don't know Christ, put me on a soccer field, picking up a kid from an errand, hanging out with some friends we've met maybe at a social function, and the topic of Christ comes up and suddenly even your pastor, his mouth gets watery, tongue gets thick and you're like, "What should I say here? What's the right thing? When is the right time?" And sometimes I fear crossing that threshold, the line from just normal conversation to conversation that actually matters about eternal stuff. I just fear because I think, "What are they going to think of me? Will it affect my kids? Will they think I'm weird? Will it ostracize our family? Will they look at me with rose-colored glasses? Like what's going to happen if I actually take a step and talk about something that's much more important than the weather or the score of the game or are you a Hawkeye or a Cyclone?" I'm scared of it. I'll just be honest with you. I have fears in that area.

I'm also bad at it. Did you know that? Not in front of you. In fact, you're probably a lot like me. If I were to ask you to definitively lay out why you are a Christian, why you believe the Gospel and why it is that you are saved by grace through faith, you could probably do that well in here, couldn't you? But put you with some folks who don't know Christ and, again, the same thing happens. We get kind of like this and we suddenly can't talk and we get fearful and we're like, "Well, call my pastor, he'll tell you." We say that, right? Can I just be very transparent with you? Sometimes I'm not real good at evangelism and I'm somewhat fearful of it.

So for that reason, for those reasons, sometimes I don't muster up the courage, like I said, to initiate conversations. Oh, they may not be the kind of conversations that spill out all immediately but even just to begin that relationship, to begin that conversation because I'm fearful of what may happen in their response or I'm thinking, "Well, what if I don't answer all their questions?" And because I think you're a lot like me, watch this, a church filled with people who are scared of it and bad at it is not a good thing. Can we be just that honest about our own selves and look in the mirror and say, "Wow." If that is somewhat average that there are a lot of us who are probably scared of it and bad at it, what do you say we get some help with that? What do you say we look at Acts 17 and ask ourselves if this is really normal, if we should be able to mingle with lost people, have conversations, discuss what they believe and what I believe and be able to live with the mixed response after sowing seed, if that really should be kind of a template for our behavior, but man that's not happening because we are scared of it and bad at it, let's get some help. Let's dive into Acts 17 and let's see how the Lord can move our hearts towards loving evangelism, intentional evangelism for normal people like us who actually in a lot of ways are scared of it and bad at it. Can you join me in that journey?

Now today, I've got to be honest with you, I've got a lot to talk about. I won't get through with it all so tonight we're going to come back at 4:30 for those that can, kind of an impromptu symposium on evangelism. Our elders, deacons are going to join me, those that want to. We're going to talk about all the questions you're going to text in. We'll save those for tonight. I want to kind of dig into one of the texts and talk about what ambassadorship is. We're going to discuss maybe a few tactics. I'll recommend some books that have helped me. But I just want you to be aware that we are going to kind of build a long runway for this topic. Probably the next two weeks will be more on the tactics, more in the, like, how to side. This week there won't be a lot of that. I want to kind of build a runway that's pretty long to get this jet airborne, okay?

So that means, first of all, we've got a pretty long introduction to a single verse that I want to see in this text. So if you think I'm never going to get to the text, I will but it will be a bit, okay? So can you bear with me as I kind of build this runway for you because I want this plane either today, tonight, in the next two weeks, to really take flight well with you. I want to see our church, I'll just put this out there, I just want to see our church change in this area. I want to see us sharing conversations about the ultimately important thing more often. I want to see it in my life. I want to see it in your life. I want to see us become better evangelists. I want us to love evangelism but to see that take place by God's power and grace, we're going to need to kind of build a good runway. So that's our aim, is to get some help for something that we are scared of and bad at.

Now because you know that, I want to kind of lay out for you also a couple of goals for this three week series. They are these: I want to show you, first of all, and I'll do this mainly this week, that evangelism is actually highly theological. Now don't think I'm going to take you and enroll you in seminary. I'm not going to do that but I do want to start where evangelism begins and that is with God, and I tend to think a lot of the reason we struggle with evangelism is because we begin at the wrong place. We typically begin with man. Man is part of the picture but it isn't the beginning point. 

So understand one of my goals is to show you that evangelism actually is highly theological but it's also plainly – and watch this – necessarily accessible. We all should be embracing our roles as an ambassador and sharing conversations about the ultimately  most important issue. How do we do that? We're going to talk about that in this series. We're going to make it plainly accessible. I think you'll be shocked, and I hope that word is what happens, at actually how, I don't want to use the word easy but how accessible true evangelism actually is. I think we don't think it's accessible and what I mean by that is attainable, because we have some misconceptions about evangelism. Again, I'm just building a runway. Everybody hang with me, okay? We're kind of on the tarmac, the pilot is saying, "There are 10 more minutes and then we'll take off." That's where you are right now, okay?

Here are some misconceptions that I think we have about evangelism. I don't think they are false lies, I think they are incomplete truths, and for some reason we have come to kind of adopt one of these. Most people will say, "Well, I'm one, two or three." Here they are. Misconception one is that evangelism is only a presentation of the Gospel facts; that until you get there, you're really not evangelizing. Like no other talk matters, no other kind of relationship or interaction matters, you've just got to get to the facts and then you've got to spit them out. So often we say, "Well, I presented the Gospel." And so it's almost like evangelism takes on this salesman idea. "I presented, I finally got to that point and I spit the facts out." 

We think it's only presentation of Gospel facts or we think it's only observation of a Gospel act. Like, "Dude, I don't ever say a word. I'm just living my life. People ask, they can, they can watch and see and do you know what? If they want to know I'll tell them but I don't say where I just live, I just live in front of them." Like, that's probably very admirable but it's unbiblical. In fact, I'm beginning to actually think that there is no evangelism without words. I think I can prove that biblically. I'm not quite ready to have that conversation yet but in my own personal study I'm just beginning to wonder can you even really evangelize if at some point you don't use words?

Then we have those of us who think it's only proclamation. It's a Gospel sermon. And so because some people think that, all they do is give invitations to Gospel services. "Hey, come to church with me." And then when they say, "Why do you want me to go to church? Why do you go to church?" "Don't ask me that, just come to church with me and then call my pastor and he will tell you." They have this idea that we are just like a walking billboard, "Come to First Family. Hear the Gospel. Come to First Family. Hear  the Gospel." But if they were to ask us, again, we have the old kind of thick tongue, dry mouth. 

I don't think any of those in and of themselves are necessarily bad but I don't think there evangelism. I think evangelism is all three of those contained within a circle that is surrounded by two things: relationship and conversation. I don't have a picture here for you but just kind of picture in your mind observation, presentation, proclamation, invitation, all of those are in a circle but it is surrounded by relationship and conversation, and until you have a relationship and conversation, what you're going to find is those three things will probably, they may be effective but they're going to be less effective and if you attach them together in an environment where there is relationship and conversation, because in a natural relationship fed and fueled by a conversation, you gradually then find times for presentation of the Gospel, invitation to a Gospel service, proclamation of the Gospel message. Those things happen in that environment. Without conversation and without relationship, a lot of times they seem kind of forced or stale.

Now I'm just going to be very vulnerable with you for a minute. The one exception to this is the idea often of street preachers, door to door witnessers. Those have their place but I'll be very vulnerable with you: I think personally they are the least effective way to evangelize. I didn't say they never work. I didn't say they don't have their place. Some would even say that in this passage Paul is street preaching. I'll disagree and explain to you why tonight. I think the most effective evangelism is the kind that centers in on a relationship fueled and fed by a conversation that in the course of time will include things like observation, presentation, invitation, proclamation. Those are all part of it. That's the place when we sow the seeds of the Gospel, I think the best fruit is born.

So that leads me to kind of explain to you, kind of relate to you what my definition of evangelism is. If someone were to force me to say, "Well, what do you think evangelism actually is by definition?" I would say this: it is simply a natural conversation about supernatural conversion. Now I didn't steal that from somewhere. I didn't read that or hear that. After just studying and reading through several passages and thinking how as a normal person, what I hear that? I tend to think this is actually how the Bible presents evangelism, as a natural conversation about supernatural conversion, which means, let's put it even simply: it's just sowing seed. It's talking about what matters most.

Now, if this definition is true, that means we need to have a couple of, I think four guardrails for it where it could be detoured, it could be derailed. So I think four guardrails you need as you think about this definition. Remember, we are still on the tarmac, okay? We're about taking off. We're maybe taxiing now a little bit, okay? Here are some guardrails for that definition. I think it will make a lot more sense if you think about this. That conversation that's natural and ongoing about supernatural conversion, it needs to be initial, which means you are willing to talk about the weather, sports, your kid's dance class, why you signed up for football, why you are coaching Little League softball, why you chose this preschool, why you bank here, why you get gas here, what brings you to the gym so early, on and on and on. All those are great things to begin conversation but that's not the point of the conversation or the relationship.

So it is initial, it's also progressive. That means you are willing to invest time in a relationship and in a conversation. You don't have to have it all presented on day one or in hour one, but you're going to have this conversation and you're going to make it ongoing and progressive so that you can eventually talk about the most important thing which is why number three guardrail helps here, you know that the conversation has an ultimate point and that is that you want to share with them what ultimately matters in life. Have they responded to Jesus Christ? Do they know the truth about who Jesus was and what he has done for them? And that is done best in a relational context.

So I think the definition that evangelism is simply a natural conversation about supernatural conversion is understood best within these guardrails, that you have an initial aspect to it; a progressive aspect, as well as an ultimate aspect, but it's all best done within that context of relationship. Now listen very carefully, let me address something here that I think is important: sometimes people criticize us, and I say us as general, evangelical, Protestant believers, they'll say, "Well, then you see people like projects. You are just loving them for the ultimate ulterior motive of seeing them come to Christ. You just really don't want to get to be their friend just for being their friend, you have another purpose behind your efforts." That's partly true and it's high time we embrace that.

For instance, if you didn't know me but you were sitting in our parking lot right here and I was crossing the street from on the north side of the street coming toward the church, and about that same time a big sanitation truck was just cresting that small little hill there going pretty fast, let's say, and I didn't hear and had my earphones in, let's say, just kind of skipping along and I get into the middle-of-the-road and that sanitation garbage truck is just a dozen or so feet away, barreling down, honking their horn, and I don't hear a thing, I'm oblivious, but you didn't know me and you're kind of in the parking lot, would you say, "You know, I don't know him and I really don't know if I want to get to know him. My ulterior motive here is to save his life but actually that's probably, I don't know if I trust that. I'm not going to say anything." You should laugh at that. That's ludicrous, people. You would say, "Hey, stranger! I don't know you, watch out!" You would and you should. You maybe would run over to me, you might push me down, you might actually injure me temporarily to actually save me from physical death. You wouldn't care if there was an ulterior motive. I come to on the sidewalk, "Oh, do you really want to get to know me as an individual? Do you really care?" You say, "I might actually not like you but I saved your life." That's what you would be saying, right? 

And I think the American church has gotten so used to hearing the world accuse us of ulterior motives that we've actually bought into that lie. There is actually some truth to the fact that we do want to get to know people for reasons that they may not be aware of right now and one of them is this: that every person, according to this text, was created by God and will spend eternity somewhere when they are judged by Jesus Christ. You need to know this. So, yeah, I will start a conversation over a counter at Chipotle, I'll get to know the bank teller, when I'm paying for gas, all kind of environments which we are going to start conversations to see how they respond, to see whether or not at some point in that conversation and relationship we could tell them about what really matters. And if you're uncomfortable with that, you're going to be uncomfortable with evangelism. I don't think that's completely an ulterior motive, personally, but the world has made us think that. So when you read this about these guardrails, understand something: it does take intentionality to build conversations into existing relationships for the purpose of sharing what ultimately matters most.

As we think through these misconceptions, as we think through how they actually occur and what we should believe, I was thinking this week if I'm saying that basically it takes, you've got to risk even to know someone to some degree, in other words, you've got to kind of cross that line and have a conversation, you've got to be willing to kind of start that ball rolling, so to speak, very few people actually, I believe, come to Christ in a situation where it's with someone they have never met, they have never known. I'm not saying that it does not have its place. It does happen but a lot of times that's the exception. But it usually happens with somebody we know. It's in conversations that have a relationship kind of surrounding them. But is that really true? 

So I'm going to test that right now. Can we do that? If you have our app, pull your phone out, would you? I want you to take a survey with me and I might have egg on my face in 10 minutes, I don't know, we'll see. But I want you to answer this question. It will be a simple survey we'll have on the screen behind me. So far I am 0 for 1 but I was introduced to Christ, led to the Lord through someone I knew or someone I didn't know. I'm just curious where it is with our church family. If you have the app, go ahead and take that. It might take a little bit for it to come through. I probably should have given you a little heads up notice, actually. I'm just kind of curious if this is actually ringing true in the way we actually live our lives. So far we are at 16, 21. And this is not to minimize the proclamation, street preaching, tract distribution, doorknocking aspect. It's simply to make a point that's actually a very small aspect, and if we are depending on that to get the job done, then we are missing the boat. Actually, the vast majority of people, they have come to Christ through a relationship that existed and a conversation that occurred. Does that make sense, guys? This is the runway that we're building and I think I'm feeling pretty good about the risk I took here. That's good. 86% of the folks who responded are saying, "Yeah, it was with someone I knew." That's true for me as well. I didn't take the quiz yet.

So are you seeing what's happening here? So here's my hope and then I want to unpack one single verse for you. Let me just say one more thing by way of introduction. My hope is that as we watch this, as we see this survey kind of unfold before us, as we kind of understand more about why we are afraid of evangelism and what we should do and so forth, here's my hope: is that we will become committed to having more Gospel conversations and we will become more committed to initiating relationships and conversations for the purpose of what matters most. 

To help you with that, I want you to visit a website sometime before next Sunday. It's this website right here, it's called It stands for Gospel Conversations dot com. And we're joining in with this for about six months. Their goal is by the end of June they would have recorded a million Gospel conversations. Now, recording doesn't mean it didn't happen, I mean if you don't record it, it doesn't mean it didn't happen. I get that. It's just a kind away to motivate us and help us kind of track progress, but across the nation folks who are joining in with this, you can take your phone and let's say you're at Chili's and you actually have a chance with the waitress to talk about something more than just what you ordering and you actually maybe have a chance to maybe whet her or his appetite, maybe invite them to church, or maybe you're going to talk more about what they believe or what you believe. I don't know, however that works, but if it kind of crosses some sort of a line and it becomes a Gospel conversation to some degree, what they are asking you to do is this: when you get back to your car or your house, take your phone and just simply take 30 seconds and tell us about that. It will automatically upload and we'll kind of keep like a collection of those who are saying, "Do you know what? I'm committed to more Gospel conversations." Maybe that might be down your alley, your call, but check out this website, would you, and see if God might use this strategy and this tactic to help you be more Gospel fluent, be more courageous to cross the pain line, I'll call it, I'll tell you more tonight about the pain line, but to cross that more often, be more willing to say, "Do you know what? I'll take this extra step at this point to talk about what matters most."

Now, to get to that point to where we are talking about it more, we're having relationships and conversation more often, we've got to start at a place in the text that is verse 16 because what we're describe here, Gospel conversations, some kind of fluency, some kind of readiness to cross the line conversationally, that's like verse 22, I think. That's in, what, verse 17 perhaps. Paul is talking, he's reasoning. Before any of that occurs, something very intriguing happens in verse 16. I want to spend the last remaining moments because the plane is taking off now, by the way, okay? We're in the air. I want to spend the last few moments showing you that we have to start with verse 16. This is where it begins because most of the chapter and most of what we're after is action. Evangelism means doing something, conversing. How does that need to look? What does it look like? But I want to submit to you that before we ever will act right in evangelism, we have to think right about it, and the last portion of Acts 17, verses 17-33, all hinge on verse 16. Every bit of it. And I don't want to look at 17 through 33 and send you out with some tactics and tips and tricks of the trade if you don't have the right foundation, and I want to submit to you that the right perspective for evangelism is theological first.

Look at the verse with me, Acts 17:16, "Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him," there is the first phrase, "as he saw that the city was full of idols," there is the second phrase. Two phrases here show us that really Paul saw before he shared. Would you say that with me? Paul saw before he... That's going to be our first principle in this three week series, is that you've got to see first, share second, but most of us run to the sharing first, don't we? We feel guilty because of a sermon like this, perhaps. Or in prayer and Bible reading and we just feel maybe rightly convicted and so we just run to some kind of like quickfix kind of action. "Well, I'll just talk about it more." Then that dies away and it seems to be low with motivation. Why? Because I don't think we've really understood what 16 is saying. It gives us in a very quick fashion the theological basis for Paul's action for what I would say was Paul's evangelism in the rest of the chapter.

Let's analyze it briefly. It says that his spirit was provoked within him. What does that mean? It means that Paul experienced some type of internal irritation. That's actually the best word for the word "provoke" here. It means "to arouse someone to anger." It means "to provoke them." It means "to agitate them." Paul here in a righteous way was brought to an agitation within himself, a spiritual irritation. He was brought to some kind of righteous indignation. He was provoked. Why? That's the second phrase, as he saw the city was full of idols. So watch this, his internal irritation was brought about by cultural idolatry.

I was just reviewing this last phrase again this morning, the city was full of idols, the phrase "full of idols" in your English translation, it's actually one word. It's the word "idol" with the Greek preposition "throughout." So here's what Luke is saying in this chapter, in this verse, that when Paul looked at Athens, throughout the city idols galore, and in this city they weren't like Ankeny where they were kind of formed with four wheels or front doors and windows or jobs or dollar signs, they were actually graven images set up to, you know, mythical gods and goddesses. And throughout the city were stone carvings and creatures and as Paul looked at this city deeply embedded in idolatry, the worship of other things except for Yahweh, he was irritated by that.

Now, as you read that and as you contemplate that, as a listener or a reader you should ask yourself one more question: why was he irritated at cultural idolatry? We know why he is irritated because of the idolatry but why did that irritate him? Why was his spirit provoked, agitated, by so much cultural idolatry? Was he mad because he wasn't getting his place at the table like, "Hey guys, this is discrimination. I'm going to sue somebody. I need a place for my God too." Is he saying that? Did he feel left out? No, none of this revolved around Paul. Paul was provoked, internally irritated, by the cultural idolatry because he realized something, theological realization was this: God is yet to be worshiped here, and that grieved Paul. 

You see, Paul understood something, that the real aim of God's plan is that all people in all places worship him. From Abraham and I don't have time this morning to walk you through the narrative of Scripture, but from Abraham when God said all the nations will be blessed, I'm going to send one through your line who will bless all the nations, you could track this all the way to Paul when he was sent to areas that had never heard the Gospel. The goal, God's goal is to get his name to all the nations so that there will be worship in all the nations from all the peoples to God alone. That's been the aim, that's the historical narrative of the Bible. Paul is in Athens and he sees God is yet to be worshiped here and yet these people are craving to worship something, and it provoked him. Church, please hear me, may your heart be open to this question: does it grieve you that God isn't worshiped fully in all places by all people? This is the deepest why behind these two phrases.

So it motivated Paul. Look at the first word of verse 17, "So he reasoned." Do you see the word "so"? Paul is understand that God isn't worshiped here yet. It motivated him to take action, to begin to converse, to reason, to establish relationships, to mingle with lost  people, to accept invitations, to talk. It wasn't because Paul had a chip on his shoulder or he thought, "I've got to have my platform." Paul was grieved, provoked that God was yet to be worshiped in Athens. That's the highest motivation for evangelism and I will submit this to you: until that grieves our souls, until the fact that God is yet to be worshiped by all peoples in all places, until that grips us and grieves us, we will not be very good at evangelism. We will have a streak here or there but it is too man-centered. We will have a moment of compassion for someone who is down and out or in a crisis situation but it won't last. Only when we realize that the greatest motivation for evangelism is the glory of God and the worship due his name by all peoples in all places, that's when evangelism will become a lifestyle that we chase. This is what's going on in this one singular verse, Acts 17:16. Paul's theological perspective shaped his evangelistic behavior.

Can I give you briefly, can I just read through five sentences that will kind of explain to you this flowchart I just explained? You might want to snap a picture of these. I'll just read them because maybe you're thinking, "Well, Todd, how did you get there? How did you get from this one verse that Paul was concerned about God's glory and worship and that's what irritated him and that's what motivated him?" Here are five statements I wrote this week that I think will walk you through this train of thought. I'll just read them to you. Snap their picture and then we will kind of close this out, okay?

First and foremost, understand this is what we believe here. I want you to kind of see this biblically. God delights in and deserves glory from his creation and he does so primarily through the saving of his people by the Gospel. Ephesians talks about how that for eternity God will display the riches of his grace through Christ Jesus in the church. Did you know that? So one of God's goals is to show just how gracious he is by saving a people unto himself and then for all eternity displaying that. So this is what God's goal is, to delight and receive glory from his creation, the saving of his people. He'll ultimately garner this when Jesus comes and consummates his kingdom. You may be saying, "Well, Todd, not all people will worship Jesus one day." That's actually false. One day every single thing created in heaven and earth will give glory and honor to Jesus. Not all in a redemptive fashion but they all will give glory to Jesus and they will say he is King of kings and Lord of lords and this will be done according to Philippians 2, to the glory of God the Father. So we believe that one day is coming when everything created will give God glory.

Okay, so this is what he's after. In the meantime, to prevent that, Satan deceives people. He blinds them to the Gospel so that they do not worship God and instead they worship themselves and other things. The word for that is called idols. Are you with me? This is Romans 1. The Bible says that when we keep saying no to God we are changing the truth of God unto a lie and he says that people worship the created things more than the Creator. Romans 1, this is what happens as Satan deceives people. He blinds them to the Gospel. So until this consummation of the kingdom when all will give God glory, there is this time of blindness and deceitfulness that Satan brings and it hurts and destroys people.

Number three: this is sin and unbelief when people worship idols instead of God. This is fueled by Satan's deception and it robs God of worship and glory temporarily. Key word there. But it destroys people eternally if those idols are not exposed and exterminated. 

So maybe you're wondering what exposes and exterminates idols? What would Paul do in Athens when he is so grieved that God isn't worshiped here yet? He brings the Gospel to them. This is statement number four. The Gospel does this. It exposes and exterminates idols. It frees people from sin and it empowers people to give God what he rightfully deserves and joyfully delights in. Would you say it with me? Worship and glory. And what is God after ultimately? God is after worship and glory from all people in all places.

Now watch the last statement here: when we, say it with me, evangelize we are prioritizing God's glory. You say, "I thought we were helping somebody get saved. I thought we were sharing the Gospel." We are but above that and below that is this magnificently glorious truth that what you're actually doing is making God's glory matter most because it grieves you that God isn't worshiped fully yet. So we are going to share the Gospel, the great news of Christ, his death, his resurrection, that you can be saved by his grace through faith. We are going to prioritize God's glory because that's what he's after from everyone he created. Evangelism does this, it showcases and prioritizes God's glory. It does show compassion for man's condition, yes, and it battles Satan's schemes, but above all of those, it mainly prioritizes God's glory. It aims at bringing people into worship to the one who deserves it.

When you grasp that, when you see that you're participating in God's ultimate aim, then evangelism becomes something more than, "I just want to keep you out of hell." Like, that's a good motivation but there is something even deeper for why you should talk to your neighbor, that they are yet to worship God and the one who has saved you and died for you and loves you deserves to be worshiped by everyone. And let's do what we can to expose Satan's schemes where he is robbing God of worship temporarily and destroying people eternally. Let's share the Gospel. Let's enter into conversations. Let's cross the pain line so that as we sow seed, God would bring the fruit. 

That's all I'm asking us to do is just be willing to sow more seed, have more Gospel conversations. They are not all going to produce fruit. I know that but that's not a reason to stop sowing seed. I didn't think that seven months ago. I kind of said to myself, "I'm done sowing seed." That's right, your pastor thought that. "I'm just going to sow seed on Sunday mornings but I'm done talking to folks about the Lord outside of the church because, man, it is getting me nowhere." I had been through three situations, two of those with Julie, where we just got flat denied. I'm working with one young couple that they are not in our church, none of these are in our church, just folks in and around our community, got to know them, become friends with them, they come over to the house and we're helping them with their marriage and just one night they come over to eat and our kids came over and we had a really good time and then I went over to their house one day and they were like, "You know, we're kind of done with this, Todd. We don't want to do this. We're not really into the Bible's rules about how it should be, and so we kind of know what you believe and so, hey, thanks but no thanks." For a while I thought, "I must've done something wrong." Now, maybe I did, maybe I didn't. I don't know right now. But I was like, "Man, rats. That hurts." 

This couple came over even later, another couple, and the lady seemed very perceptive. They were in dire need and the guy just after hearing the Gospel and just having conversation a number of times, he said, "You know, I appreciate you sharing that but, like, I don't even believe that. So we're not going to be back." And his wife visibly was distraught by that. He was like, "Yeah, we're done." Never heard from them again. We reach out but he's got no interest. I thought, "Man, what did I do wrong in that?" Maybe I didn't do anything wrong. Maybe I did, I don't know. The jury is still out.

Another time was an instance of a personal thing with a guy who was in crisis and I kind of knew him but as I shared more about how to solve his deepest need, he just said, "You know what, I really didn't come to you to talk about that. I just need some help with my situation. So forget it." I thought maybe I did something wrong, maybe I didn't. I don't know. The jury is still out. Are you with me?

After three of those I said, "Hey, God, do you know what? I'm kind of done with this whole seed sowing thing. Like I'm 0 for 3 lately. I'm done." Then God said, "Okay, that's fine. You can take that attitude." He said, "By the way, here is the kind of seed that will never bear fruit." I'm like, "What?" He said, "The kind of seed you keep in the seed bag and never sow." He said, "That will never bear fruit so good luck with that." Unlike, "You know, Lord, once again you're right, I'm wrong." I just said, "I'll keep sowing." 

But sometimes you don't know what the result is going to be, do you? That's what makes us fearful of their response because you sometimes cast it out and you don't know what they're going to say. They could be hungry or hostile. So I've kind of said, "I'm done crossing the pain line." But God's Spirit was so gracious, convicting, and I just want to recommit myself to saying, "Do you know what? When the time is right I want to take the step and just have the conversation about what matters most eventually." There are ways to do that I think I can help you with in the next two weeks, but just know first of all that we commit to that, we recommit to that, not because, not only because of things like people going to hell, people needing solutions, those are true but we mainly commit to that because God's glory matters and the worship of God by all people in all places matters. So I'm just trying to set your theological foundation in the best place possible this morning for this task of evangelism, all right?

And this is what happened to Paul: he saw something before he ever shared something. This is principle number one. See first, share second. Can you say that with me? See first, share second. Don't mess up the order. See first. And what is it that we are to see? Watch this, some of these aren't real words but I'm going to give it to you anyway: we see God's rightful position deserving of all worship from all people in all places; we see man's plightful condition, it's not really a word but it works for me, that he is being deceived and worshiping false things; and then we see Satan's frightful schemes. This is all from the enemy. So because we love God and we want to see him worshiped, we will endeavor to sow seed, to have Gospel conversations, to – watch this word – evangelize. It doesn't mean you're manufacturing fruit. It doesn't mean you're making the converts. It doesn't mean you're winning the soul. It simply means you're sowing the seed, having the conversation within a relationship about what matters most ultimately.

So the question as we close is this: do you see it? I didn't ask you if you shared it. Do you see it? If you can drive around Ankeny or Metro Des Moines and not be moved by the people trapped in idolatry via the disguise of safety, image, money; if you can coach your kid's teams and not be stirred by the way Satan traps people through the appearance of belonging when really it's often just busyness to avoid the pain inside; if you can go out to eat and not be mindful of the deep unmet spiritual hunger of those who take your order and serve your food; if you can shop and still not see all the multitudes who are actually craving something that money just can't buy, that possessions will never fill; if you can go to school whether it be high school, junior high, elementary of college and not be aware of deliberate attempts to replace God and change his glory into a lie; if you can watch the news or scan the political scene and not be sickened by the pride and arrogance of pseudo-leaders who parade solutions to things that are actually just symptoms of a much deeper need in our country; if you can attend a church and not wonder why there is such little passion for God's fame and yet so much concern for our own name and comfort and convenience, temperature and parking, God help us; if you can watch what's happening around the world in regards to the persecution of believers, inexpressible plight of refugees, the escalating world of degrading slavery and trafficking, the inescapable desperation of many orphans; if you can bear the thought that over 3,000 language groups still have no actual copy of the word of God and no clear understanding that Jesus loves them, came and died for them and will save them by his grace through faith; if none of those things weigh upon your soul, you're not internally and spiritually agitated and irritated by them, if you are not rightfully jealous for God's glory when all those things are in front of your attention, if you're not appropriately frustrated with Satan's schemes that are plunging men and women into blindness and darkness, then something is wrong with your heart spiritually. You are either generally not born again or you are considerably calloused to God's heart for the nations.

So my call to you is not to leave these doors with some trick of the trade or newest tip to tell your neighbor about Christ. That may come in week two or three. My call to you this morning, church, is to see that God isn't yet fully worshiped by all people in all places and this should move us.

Let's pray.

Series Information

Rooted in Acts 17,  Todd helps us form a truly theological basis for sharing the gospel with others, speaks about frequency of sharing, and urges us to create room for interruptions.