I've been reading in Acts lately and discovering things I never noticed before.
The book of Acts has much to say to those of us in the 21st century who want to influence our culture for good and for God. Some things haven't changed in 2000 years, and we can learn from Paul's experiences as he introduces the pagan world of his time to God's truth.
Acts 17:1-4 gives an account of Paul's presentation of the Gospel in Thessalonica, where "a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women" became believers, and verses 5-9 describe the opposition to Paul's preaching.
It's interesting to note the parallels between the two sections of the story. Both involve actions by people designed to change other people. Both succeed in bringing about change. But the contrasts between the two halves of the story are even more striking.
The choice of verbs in both passages casts the two events into stark relief.
In the first part of the story, Paul, preaching in the synagogue, reasons, explains, proves, and proclaims his message. As a result, people are persuaded. Changes in the hearts of Paul's converts come about voluntarily as a result of Paul's approach--his thoughtful, rational arguments.
In the second part of the story, "other Jews," in the marketplace, "rounded up some bad characters. . ., formed a mob, and started a riot in the city." They rushed to the house where Paul was staying, they dragged the homeowner to the civil authorities, they shouted their accusations, and "the city officials were thrown into turmoil." They made the men post bond and then let them go.
The first approach is rational and thoughtful. It gently and reasonably persuades. The second is irrational, passionate and violent. It brings about change by force.
OUR NEW-AGE WORLD
This kind of violent and unreasoned response to the Gospel is rampant in our age. It flourishes on the internet, where random and thoughtless rants are so easy to spread "in the marketplace."
The mob that is firmly attached to the world wide web is so huge, so uncontrollable, and so easy to stir up, that I believe Christians proclaiming the Gospel today are going to suffer more vicious attacks in the next few years than they did in Nero's time.
Scary? Yes. But just as human nature has not changed in the last 2000 years, so has God's character not changed. His promises still stand. The encouragement he gave to Joshua as the Israelites were moving into the Promised Land is ours to claim as well. God said to Joshua, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9)
We do not need to be afraid. We just need to trust and obey.
If we're looking for specific things to take away from the story in Acts 17, here are three:
1. First, we need to be aware of this reality so we aren't surprised when the persecution comes to us.
2. Second, we should cultivate in our hearts the same desire Paul had under the circumstances: "that I should never be in any way ashamed, but that now, as always, I should honor Christ with the utmost boldness by the way I live, whether that means I am to face death or to go on living." (Philippians 1:20)
3. And third, we need to be careful that we don't become a part of the raving, maniacal, internet mob. The other day I, wise, careful, critical thinker that I am, sent out a warning to my Facebook friends that turned out to be a hoax. And that's not the first time I've done something like that.
So much for the intellectual and spiritual pride, full of disdain for the foolish mob, that has crept into my heart since I've become internet savvy. I may have escaped some of the wrong-headed thinking out there, but I have absorbed more than I'd like to believe of the critical, cynical attitude that pervades the secular worldview "proclaimed" on the internet.
We, as believers in this unbelieving age, need to be "as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves" as we move in and out of the synagogues and marketplaces of our world. We need to "speak the truth in love."
We need to become Acts-age Christians in our New-age world, for Jesus' sake and for the sake of people around us who belong to Him but don't yet know it.
P.S. Here's an interesting news item that illustrates how mob mentality might be being used by violent, angry people to throw our present day world into turmoil.