The Missionary Church (Acts 17:16-34)

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The Christian church in the West has largely fallen in effectiveness, relevance, and respectability. The way the Church at large has responded to this has often consisted of anger and separation. In Acts 17, Paul gives a speech that informs us how to be missional. He first blows up the stereotypes that his audience had of Christians, identified with the crowd where they were, and showed them how to get from where they were to a place where they could meet God. This does not mean that we tell people what they want to hear. There are distinctions and costs to the Christian life, and these mean that sometimes there will be very small perceived return for sharing the gospel.

These questions can be used as ice-breakers in the beginning OR interwoven between the questions below to draw the group into the discussion.

1. Have you ever needed help from someone and had that person offered something that was not helpful to you in response? Discuss examples.
2. Think about your friends and neighbors. How many of them are different than you in race, income, education, working class, sexual orientation, etc?
3. What do you think that people outside the church think of when they think of Christianity? If some of the stereotypes don’t seem like they are biblically based, do you think your life defies those stereotypes, confirms those stereotypes, or does something in between? Discuss.

1. In 5 minutes or less. Briefly give a synopsis of this week’s sermon. What insight, principle, or observation from this weekend’s message did you find to be most helpful, eye-opening, or troubling? Briefly explain.

2. Read I Corinthians 9:16-23:

“16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not misuse my rights as a preacher of the gospel. 19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

  • What do you feel when you read Paul’s statement in verse 16 that he is “compelled” to preach the gospel? Do you feel guilty? Do you feel like it is something that you should feel, too? Or do you already feel the same as Paul, compelled by God’s grace and salvation to share the gospel that has reached out and found you? Share your emotional responses and thoughts to the notion of feeling “compelled” by the gospel to share the gospel.
  • In verse 18, Paul says his reward is being able to offer the gospel free of charge. What is the connection between how we present the gospel and how we understand it for ourselves? If we have trouble extending the gospel “free of charge,” are we truly walking in the freedom of the gospel?
  • When you encounter people that do not know Christ, do you see their sinfulness as an “obstacle” to the gospel, or an opportunity for the gospel? Do you use these sins of non-believers to excuse yourself from preaching the gospel to them? If so, what sins in particular do you see as obstacles? Discuss.
  • Read verses 19-22. What’s Paul’s message here? Who needs to bend first for the gospel to be preached, a believer or a non-believer? Do we expect people to find us when they are “ready” to hear the gospel, or do we take it where they live?
  • Based on verse 23, do you think Paul believes the gospel is a dead message or something living and active? What does it mean to do something for “the sake of the gospel?” Can that statement make sense if we only view the gospel as a few doctrinal truths by which people are saved? Is the gospel something living and active in you? Would it be easier to preach the gospel if it was? Discuss the idea of the gospel being an ongoing reality in your life and how that would affect your ability to preach the gospel.
  • Paul mentions sharing in the blessings of the gospel (v. 23). When you think of the blessings of the gospel, do you think of the future, of the present, or both? Take some time to list the blessings of the gospel in your life.
    3. The gospel is as much about how it is shared as what is shared. In the words of Pope John Paul II, Christians are to “propose,” not “impose,” the gospel. It violates the freeing nature of the gospel to impose it on someone or to lead them into a Christian stereotype instead of a genuine encounter with Jesus.
    We want to preach the gospel, but we need to be connected with the gospel and what it looks like to share the gospel in a way that keeps it’s power intact. Consider the verse below, and meditate on its three phrases as you ask the Holy Spirit to come and teach you how to preach and live out the gospel.

    I Peter 3:15
    (1) But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. (2) Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (3) But do this with gentleness and respect