For a long time, I’ve had an uneasy understanding of what it means to share the gospel. Being concerned only with the message—that is, being quick to mention Jesus and to point out sin when I saw it—left me feeling like a clumsy, jerky clod. On the other hand, focusing solely on avoiding awkwardness by sidestepping controversial topics such as God and sin made me feel like a coward, more concerned about my own comfort than the eternal well-being of others.
The balance point of effective, genuine witnessing eluded me. How do you speak honestly without alienating the listener? How can you be relatable and sensitive without sacrificing the truth—which often offends?
While struggling to reach this balance, I’ve found the Book of Acts to be eye opening. Here, the saving message Jesus first trusted to an intimate group began to spread, as per his instructions: “You will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). One fine example of this is Paul’s ministry in Athens (Acts 17:16–32).
Paul did not go to Athens based on his own plans or timing. Opponents of the gospel were chasing him and his fellow evangelists from city to city, agitating crowds and inciting animosity as they preached. Fellow believers brought Paul to Athens so that Silas and Timothy could join him.
In the meantime, he was troubled to find the Athenians steeped in idolatry and eager to entertain any spiritual ideas that piqued their interest. Paul reasoned with residents there and was eventually invited to speak to a group of people meeting at the Areopagus, the place where new ideas were vetted.1