Jamie Child answers some more of your questions from the series in Acts at 6pm
Last week you said God uses oppression/suffering to create opportunities for the gospel to spread. So should we seek out suffering/oppression?
The short answer to this is ‘No’! Christians should be seeking peace where we can (see 1 Timothy 2:1-2 and Matthew 5:9), there is no merit in seeking out suffering for its own sake, and God certainly doesn't need suffering to advance the Gospel. The point that this section of Acts makes is that there is an inevitability to the opposition that comes as a side-effect of the Gospel being proclaimed. The message is that ‘there is another King’ (Acts 17:7), and so opposition is likely to arise from kings who feel threatened. The message is that Jesus is the Most High God who provides the way of salvation (Acts 16:17), and so others who want to present a different God and a different way of salvation will often oppose that. The great news is that God cannot be opposed and, even better, he can turn the opposition into an opportunity, so we should be optimistic!
Paul's custom was relevant because he spoke in the synagogues to Jews who were already familiar with the Scriptures. In our present culture, is this approach directly transferable? How do we get our modern day culture to get interested in the Scriptures again?
Whilst Paul was speaking to Jews, I think there is reasonable cause to think that he would have had similar principles in mind when evangelising Gentiles. As we saw, his message and method were the same as Jesus' in Luke 24, and in that chapter, Jesus suggests that it's a message that should go to the ‘nations’ or ‘Gentiles’ (v47) as well as the Jews. Having said that, Paul's approach in Athens (Acts 17:16-34) is interesting to observe. Whilst it appears the gospel he proclaims is the same (v18), it does seem as though he is looking for particular connection points within their culture to help him speak the Gospel in a way that will help them hear it. So, in the same way that he says to the Jews of Thessalonica, ‘The Christ you are seeking is Jesus’ (17:3), he says to the Pagans of Athens, ‘The God you are seeking is my God.’ In turn this helps us think about helping our culture get interested in the Scriptures again. Prayerfully we should be thinking about the ways our culture has rejected the true God/Saviour/King in favour of false versions of him. As we see that, we can show them from the Scriptures how Christ is so much better than whatever/whoever they are putting their hope in and then call them to repent and believe.
It is surprising that Paul doesn't just talk about Jesus from his experience or recent history but rather he uses the Old Testament. Why do you think that is? What bits of the 'current' Bible would Paul have had available when preaching in Acts?
It's difficult to know exactly what bits of the Bible Paul had but Acts 17:2 and 17:11 are clear that the Scriptures are his reference point, and given that he was in a synagogue in those moments it's likely he had the whole of the OT. I imagine that Paul did talk about Jesus from his experience and recent history, but he probably interpreted those events through the lens of the Old Testament. That's what we see him do in Acts 13:13-52 (see here and Acts 2:14-41 for those of you who asked how the OT shows that Jesus is the Christ who must suffer and rise). It is worth keeping in mind though that Paul was Jesus' apostle, divinely commissioned to reveal the gospel (Ephesians 3:2-6). In light of that, we can also look to him and the rest of the New Testament to get the authoritative revelation of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
What tips do you have for sharing the gospel with people who are illiterate?
Biblically faithful evangelism doesn't mean you have to have the Bible open and people reading it. More often than not that's going to be a good way forward but it isn't necessary because we can speak the message of the Bible to people. Indeed we should be well practiced at that because we can't always get a Bible open in the moment and, even if we can, we want to be able to discuss it and explain it in our own words. So when you're with someone who's illiterate, speak the gospel to them and read to them from the Bible (remembering also that the Bible is wonderfully accessible, consisting as it does of stories and poetry as well letters.)
Practically, how do you go from finding it difficult to read the Bible to loving it and receiving it eagerly and it having an impact on your life?
We talked a bit about this on Sunday night, but my experience is that it takes prayer, time, effort and creativity as you would expect with any relationship. I don't expect to have a deep and satisfying relationship with Susie (that's my wife!) on the basis of 5 minutes chat once a week. It's interesting to see that the Bereans ‘examined the Scriptures daily.’ The implication is that there was a habit in place and plenty to occupy them each day in their examination. Growing in knowledge of and love for God through his Word involves daily discipline, but over time that grows into more complete understanding and has a deeper impact. We need to be patient therefore which isn't something we are used to in our sound-bite loaded, everything now culture. But we can also be creative. Listening to speakers you enjoy, finding books that help, meeting with others to chat, memorising verses, listening to Biblical songs are all great ways to help. Then pray. We aren't naturally inclined to listen to God so ask him to give you that hunger and receptivity and keep on asking him.
Image: visual.dichotomy (Creative Commons)