Paul knew that the heart will not warm to what the mind cannot accept. On the other hand, a purely intellectual grasp of the gospel is insufficient for salvation. Both elements of a person’s character are required to empower the will to submit to Christ and follow his commands.
In Thessalonica, a city of 200,000 people, there was a large population of Jews; Paul targeted the synagogue and reasoned with them from the scriptures. It is important that we are able to give a reasoned explanation of why we are Christians, which goes a little beyond simply giving our testimony. Minds that are able to be changed by reason, are well-balanced and logical; and our Christian faith is one that transcends reason, rather than being below it. Even the Resurrection of Christ is reasonable if one accepts the existence of the supernatural – and very little makes sense in Christianity if one doesn’t!
Many devout Jews were therefore persuaded – the evidence for Christ is truly compelling! – and they ‘continued in the grace of God’ by accepting Jesus as Messiah. Many God-fearing Greeks did too, and some notable women of the city. Of course, this stirred up jealousy in those Jews rejecting Christ as Lord, so they stirred up a riot!
Paul, Silas, and Timothy were staying at the house of a man called Jason – someone whom Jesus would have designated a ‘Man of Peace’; someone who, if not yet a believer, was at least favourable to the Christian faith and its values. Jason came in for the same attack as Paul and his team. In the end, the safest thing was for Paul to escape to Berea – where he began the same process all over again! Except that this time, the Bereans showed themselves to be more ‘reasonable’ than the Thessalonians, by examining the scriptures to compare them to Paul’s gospel. We must always measure any message against scripture, to see that, at very least, it is not contradictory in command or spirit.
In Athens – the world centre of Philosophy – Paul again reasoned with the gospel; the difference was that this time, he could not base his premise on the scriptures, since the Greeks did not accept them. Instead, he began from first principles: creation. Conveniently, he noticed a Greek expression of ignorance: an altar to “An Unknown God”! This was really a kind of ‘insurance policy’ by the Athenians, to avoid inadvertently offending a god that they had overlooked. They could therefore hardly object to Paul educating them on the nature and requirements of this enigma.
God created the whole world, including every human, and gives life to all. From one man (Adam), he made every human, placing them as he ordained in the space-time continuum. In fact, God is our Father, and we are his offspring, said Paul; even the pantheistic Athenian poets seemed to recognise this! (There is a distinction between God as ‘Father’ / Creator of every human, compared with God as ‘Heavenly Father’ of Christians, who have been adopted spiritually into God’s family).
Building on his argument, Paul makes it clear that the Resurrection of Christ is the ultimate proof that Christ is God and that every person on earth is commanded to repent and bow down to him. One day, we all will. Those who bow down now will live with him for ever!