For many years, my dad led seminars at colleges and universities. Once when speaking to a group at Harvard, he noticed the crowd losing interest. After all, what could this Southern business man have to tell them? So he began quoting a poem by the great New England American poet, Robert Frost. Suddenly, every person in the room became fully engaged. He had earned the right to be heard.
When the apostle Paul spoke with the cultural elite of Ancient Greece, he too quoted a famous Greek poet. Why? Paul was showing an interest in Greek culture. He showed appreciation for Greek culture. It showed them that he was well read. Paul was earning the right to be heard by a group of people who might have easily dismissed him as an irrelevant and ignorant foreigner. Instead, they were curious to know more.
So what can we learn from how Paul connected with the intellectual elite?
- Find Common Ground. Paul quoted a Greek poet and began his conversation by discussing one of the many idols the Greeks worshiped (Acts 17: 22-28). Rather than condemning from the start, Paul found common ground and won the right to be heard.
- Identify a Felt Need. Why did the ancient Greeks worship so many different idols, gods? They were searching for something to believe in – they were searching for God even though they didn’t know who He was. We do the same thing. We search for value, purpose, and identity in money, career, success or relationships – our modern day idols. But God is the only one who can fully satisfy this search.
- Be Bold. Paul did not tip-toe around the truth. Without quoting a single Bible verse, (the Greeks didn’t know the Bible), everything Paul shared came from God’s Word. And in the end, he challenged them to repent – to turn away from their old ways of thinking and living. If he had spoken at Harvard, he would have said the same thing, “Repent and believe in the man who rose from the dead.”
With whom will you share? Don’t just dismiss a person because of their differences. Follow Paul’s example and take the time to find some common ground. Maybe then you’ll earn the right to be heard.