The Stone of Stumbling

Bring it 'round to Jesus. Again and again.

Strangers in Our Times (7)

And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed…Acts 17.32-34

Our task
In a secular age such as ours, as in every age of any sort, the Christian’s task is to live as a witness for Christ and an ambassador of the Kingdom of God.

It is not our task to convert anyone to faith in Jesus Christ.

As Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 3.5-9, our work involves preparing the soil, sowing the seed, cultivating and watering what’s been sown, and working patiently to encourage rooting and growth. It’s God’s responsibility to bring people to the knowledge of the truth.

Not everyone with whom we talk about the Lord will come to faith in Christ. It didn’t happen for Paul, and it’s not going to happen for us. But as Paul was effective in fulfilling his calling as a witness and ambassador, without seeing everyone with whom he talked come to faith, so we may expect to fulfill our calling as well. The better we understand our times, the better we’ll know what we need to do.

And as we are faithful in our calling, we can be certain that God will do what He will do in His own way and time.

Bringing up Jesus
Bringing up Jesus and the resurrection was no “gotcha” at this point in Paul’s message. He had been talking about the Gospel in all his conversations in Athens, so he was always up front about what he believed and why it mattered so much. When he came back to the Gospel in his presentation at the Areopagus, it triggered a series of responses, each of which we can expect in our own witness as well.

Jesus Christ is the Rock of offense, the Stone of stumbling for those who insist they can make their own way in life apart from trusting in God. We shouldn’t be surprised that, as we insist on the necessity of repentance and faith for forgiveness and eternal life, some will make light of our message. The god of this world continues to blind many to the truth, even when they are shown contradictions and inconsistencies in their own worldview, or their trusted authorities are shown to be not so reliable.

But don’t miss the two positive responses Paul received. First, some people believed the Gospel, and joined themselves with Paul. We can be sure that he began at once to teach and disciple these people, so that they could become rooted in Christ and His Word, and begin to grow as believers.

Others were not quite ready for such a commitment; however, they didn’t write Paul off, either. They wanted to hear more, and wanted to talk about this strange truth further. We know that Paul did this on various occasions – as in Ephesus and Rome (Acts 19, 28) – making himself available to any who wanted to come and talk further about the things of the Lord. We should be ready to do this as well.

Keeping the conversations going
One good way to keep such conversations going is to give people something to read – such as C. S. Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity or Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ – and then meet with them to discuss it. Or you can invite your friend to begin reading the Gospel of John, and discuss it a chapter at a time.

But we must return, as often as we can, to the Gospel and its demands. As Paul noted, God is calling all people to repent of their sins and prepare themselves, by following Jesus, for the judgment which is coming soon. We’re not doing our friends any favors just by showing them how strange their own views of truth are. We must lead with the Gospel and return to the Gospel, as strange as its truth may sound to others, because this is the only hope anyone has for finding the salvation of God (Rom. 1.16, 17; Acts 4.12).

So make sure you understand the main points of the Gospel, and take every opportunity, during the course of your conversations, to explain what it means and what it requires.

Christian truth may seem strange to unbelievers, but that’s mainly because they don’t understand how strange and untenable their own views really are. Our job, motivated by love for Christ and our neighbor, is to lead our unbelieving neighbors to see the bankruptcy of their chosen worldview against the beauty and glory of Christ and the Gospel. With patience, prayer, and persuasion, we can make real progress in helping others to discover their need of something more than what they have always believed, and to consider Jesus as the best – indeed, the only – viable alternative for all their disenchantments in life.

But we must devote ourselves to understanding the times in which we live, and pursuing our calling faithfully every day.

For reflection
1.  What is the role of a witness? What do ambassadors do? How do you fulfill these callings in your life?

2.  What is your approach to understanding the times, and the strange ideas about truth that people embrace in this secular age?

3.  How can Christians encourage one another in their calling as witnesses and ambassadors in our secular age?

Next steps – Conversation: Make an outline of the main points of the Gospel. Run this by one or two of your Christian friends. What suggestions do they have for improving it? Then go back to the folks you’ve been talking with and ask, “Would you mind if I shared just a bit of what I believe about the matters we’ve been discussing?” Follow as the Spirit leads from there.

A free PDF download of this week’s study is available by clicking here.

Do you understand the Gospel? Feel confident in proclaiming it? Our booklet, The Gospel of the Kingdom, can help you share the Good News with confidence. Order your copy by clicking here. While you’re at it, order a copy of Joy to Your World! and see how you can conduct a consistent witness of joy to the people God sends you to each week (click here).

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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