Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us… -Hebrews 12:1
One of the great things about God is that He always has a contingency plan. Among these plans of His is a way to provide us with examples on how to be a great man or woman of God and witness for Christ. The original verse in Hebrews tells us of the many precedents we can look up to. One such man of God in the great cloud of witnesses would be the Apostle Paul, a man whose arguments for Christianity brought millions to Christ in his time and billions since. I can’t think of a better example to start with when it comes to apologetics. One such masterful witness is mentioned in Acts 17: 16-32:
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry… Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.) Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.
Have you ever been asked the question, Is there any specific moment in history you would love to visit? For me, I would love to be sitting at Mars’ Hill at this particular moment in time listening to Paul speak. The Greek’s in this passage are very similar to what we would think of as modern academics, always looking for something new to intellectually sink their teeth into. Paul was happy to oblige and presented Christian thought in a way the Athenians could easily understand. In other words, he presented Christianity on their level and he even incorporates the Athenian altar to the unknown God in his defense.
Another point presented in this passage is the fact that Paul does not win everybody to Christ even with one of the greatest Christian presentations in history. This issue is a very important one to consider, we will not convince everyone we come in contact with so do not be discouraged if some refuse to listen.
The last example we should take from Acts 17 is the love Paul puts into his speech. Not one time does Paul speak in an unloving tone of voice. Far too often atheists and other unbelievers can push our buttons and can force an air of condescension or ridicule (I know it’s happened to me once or twice). However, by using the altar of the unknown God, Paul is neither ridiculing nor condescending to the Athenians but accommodating. This is an important lesson to take from the passage. Many times the opponents of Christianity are deprecating and condescending and we need to separate ourselves from that narrative as believers in Christ. Following Paul’s witness will only benefit us in those terms.