Lesson in Listening

07. February 2024 Acts 0

Acts 17:1-18

Theme: Those who listened to Paul were often changed.

Key verses: “As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with people. He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, ‘This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah.’ Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women. But some of the Jews were jealous, so they gathered some troublemakers from the marketplace to form a mob and start a riot” (v. 2-5a). “That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas to Berea. When they arrived there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men. But when some of the Jews learned that Paul was preaching the word of God in Berea, they went there and stirred up trouble” (v. 10-13). “While Paul was waiting…in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there. He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, ‘What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods'” (v. 16-18).

What I believe God said to me: Dwayne, you should expect that sharing the Good News may stir up things with people. My Gospel demands a decision. The message of redemption is not hard to understand–a little child can comprehend it–but it can be hard to apply. It requires repentance and turning from one’s sin. People will either embrace the Truth or deny it. But those who take time to really listen are more likely to respond positively. Listening is key to understanding, but people have to choose to listen. And that usually means they also have to want to listen. Two major points to draw from this chapter: First, people who truly listened to Paul and Silas were often changed. Secondly, those who listened were often people who already had a bent toward me. They were already “God-fearing.” That’s not to imply that only God-fearing people can be saved. I am able to reach down into the lowest depths of a person and seize their attention so they have to listen. Countless stories have been told of people walking by churches or randomly tuning into a radio program when they first encountered the message of the Gospel. They weren’t “looking for God” per se, or wanting to know me, and they certainly weren’t fearful of me or trying to serve me. The point here isn’t that people have to be seeking me in order to be saved. However, when one’s heart is pliable and humble to want to know the Truth and serve the correct master, then they are often more fertile to receive the Gospel when it’s presented to them. There are some clear indicators written into this narrative for if or how well people truly listened to Paul. First, don’t miss the beginning of the chapter when the writer of Acts said it was Paul’s “custom” to go into synagogues and “reason with people.” Later in the chapter, while he was in Athens, some called him a “babbler,” but he was no babbler. Whoever called Paul a babbler did so to their own discredit, for they had obviously not listened to what he had to say. He spoke with intelligence and purpose. He intentionally and systematically led people to an understanding of truth. Next, look at how differently people responded to Paul’s message. The narrator writes, “Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas…But some of the Jews were jealous.” Why were some persuaded while others dissuaded by Paul’s teaching? The passage doesn’t explain why. The writer doesn’t say that all those who listened were persuaded. But this much is certain: Those who were persuaded by Paul first listened to Paul. The trouble-makers may have heard Paul’s voice echoing through the synagogue halls, but it’s doubtful they took time to consider his words and allow his message to really get inside their hearts.

What I said to God: Good morning, Father. Thank You for allowing me another day to live, move, and have my being. I am blessed beyond measure. I have grown to love the book of Acts, especially learning about Paul’s missionary journeys and how he moved from place to place and used every opportunity to glorify You. His intentionality and bold faith are inspirational and challenging, to say the least. The line I heard recently in a movie rings true: “God gave us two ears and one mouth. So, we should listen twice as much as we talk.” This is something I admit I struggle to do. I love to talk. I love to hear myself talk. Larry King was wise when he said, “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” Lord, please help me first of all listen to You and learn from You, for You are humble and gentle at heart. This is the only way I will find rest for my soul.