FINDING COMMON GROUND
Lord, help me to connect with those around me and to share the message of the Gospel.
Read ACTS 21:37—22:5
37 As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?”
“Do you speak Greek?” he replied. 38 “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?”
39 Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.”
40 After receiving the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic: 22 1 “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”
2 When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.
Then Paul said: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. 4 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5 as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.
New International Version (NIV)
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“Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name” (Psa. 103:1).
Despite the noise of the crowd clamoring for Paul’s death, Paul manages to address the Roman commander, who betrays his ignorance of Paul’s identity. He thinks Paul is a certain Egyptian who has previously attempted a coup against the Romans. The Romans captured and killed many of that man’s followers but the Egyptian has escaped (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.7.6; Wars of the Jews, 2.13.15). Evidently, the commander thinks this Egyptian has returned to Jerusalem.
Paul’s response is to clarify his identity (39). Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 15:16), never ceases to identify himself as a Jew. Having received permission to speak — and somehow managing to quiet down the crowd (40) — he addresses them in the main language spoken by Jews in Israel at that time. By the very language Paul speaks he demonstrates his identification with the crowd and thus gains a hearing (22:2). The beginning of Paul’s defense (1) is an autobiographical narrative (3–5) highlighting his Jewish credentials. Few have a better claim on Jewishness than himself (cf. Phil. 3:4–6), and no one can plausibly accuse him of following Jesus earlier in his life.
Paul would never compromise the message of Jesus — but that is not where he begins. He wants the crowd to listen to what he has to say, but he knows that he needs to begin with something they will heed and accept so that, potentially, they will still be listening when he proclaims the message of salvation through Jesus.
Ours is the same message. It is an uncompromising message, so if we want people to listen, we have to find areas of common ground with our audience. This can be difficult, but we need to try. After all, if people do not hear the message, they cannot receive it.
Pray that you will find areas of commonality with those with whom you share the Gospel, so that they will hear and receive that message.
Lord, help me to know how to find an ingratiating means of sharing your Gospel with others.
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