Declare, Cease, Reason, Persuade!
By Curt Wildy
Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. 23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.
In Acts 17:23 we see that the Apostle began to declare [καταγγέλλω / kataggellō / kä-tän-ge’l-lō] the Gospel to those around him. This word is synonymous with announce, promulgate, make known, proclaim publicly publish, denounce, report, etc. The Apostle was proclaiming the Truth to them, yet, he stopped not long after he started. In verses 32 and 33 we read “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them.” From this we should gather that we are to witness readily, plainly, and boldly before men. However, once our words are met with mocking, derision, jeers, scoffing (all incorporated into the meaning of mock / χλευάζω / chleuazō / khlyü-ä’-zō ), and once it is clear that the hearers no longer want to hear, we are to stop. We should not proceed once it becomes clear that those ‘listening’ are using the occasion to blaspheme God and to ridicule His word. We also do not want to force the matter when the person clearly wants nothing to do with the Gospel or the Christ it proclaims. If others present want to continue to hear, meet with them separately (away from the scorners) as is implied in verse 34: “Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed…” We should witness when God opens the door and we should cease to witness when God closes it by hardening the hearts of the hearers. Remember Matthew 7:6 “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.“
But what do we do in those instances wherein the hearers do not believe, at least not initially, but they also do not mock? If they disagree but want to hear you and want to continue to discuss Gospel matters, do you continue to do so? Are Christians to simply declare the Gospel and them move on or do we attempt to dialogue with them, reason with them, and even attempt to persuade them? Do we just proclaim the Truth or do we also attempt to explain, refute, and clarify the doctrines of grace? In Acts 18:4 and elsewhere, we read that Paul reasoned [διαλέγομαι / dialegomai / dē-ä-le’-go-mī) with men. This word, when not applied to internal dialogue, means to converse, discourse with one, argue, discuss, even with the idea of disputing (as used in Acts 17:17). In so doing, in so reasoning, Paul was said to have persuaded (πείθω / peithō / pā’-thō) both Jews and Greeks (Gentiles). That word persuade means to induce one by words to believe or do something, to cause a belief in something. We know that Paul had no natural ability to quicken and convert anyone; he could not give them divine faith or cause them to rest in the Lord. However, through the God-ordained effort he put forth to reason and persuade men concerning the Gospel, the Spirit of God quickened those who were ordained from eternity unto life.
So, as long as someone is willing to hear, willing to discuss, even if they disagree and have questions or views of their own, so long as they are not blaspheming God or deriding His word we should continue the dialogue to the degree that prudence allows. Even if it remains respectful, if the dialogue becomes circular, if you find yourself repeatedly covering the same ground, and if the discussion persists without any real progress then it is likely time to end it. You can always discuss at a later point as God gives opportunity. We do not want to belabor, argue for the sake of it, get caught up in oneupmanship, etc. However, we do not want to simply abandon the dialogue out of some misconceived notion that we should declare only… and then off we go. The Lord says in Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” If the Lord can reason with us; if Paul can reason with Jew and Gentile alike, then surely we can reason with those whose words and conduct do not prohibit or inhibit such dialogue. Whatever we do, and for however long we do it, it must be done to the glory of God and to the edification of both the intended hearer(s) and those around them (for others may also be listening and, hopefully, learning).
To God be the glory.