Tuesday, February 26

All Things to All People

13:13 Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia, but John left them and went back to Jerusalem. 14They continued their journey from Perga and reached Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15After the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, you can speak.”

16Paul stood up and motioned with his hand and said: “Fellow Israelites, and you who fear God, listen! 17The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors, made the people prosper during their stay in the land of Egypt, and led them out of it with a mighty arm. 18And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness; 19and after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. 20This all took about 450 years. After this, he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22After removing him, he raised up David as their king and testified about him:’ I have found David the son of Jesse to be a man after my own heart, who will carry out all my will.’

23“From this man’s descendants, as he promised, God brought to Israel the Savior, Jesus. 24Before his coming to public attention, John had previously proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25Now as John was completing his mission, he said, ‘Who do you think I am? I am not the one. But one is coming after me, and I am not worthy to untie the sandals on his feet.’

26“Brothers and sisters, children of Abraham’s race, and those among you who fear God, it is to us that the word of this salvation has been sent. 27Since the residents of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize him or the sayings of the prophets that are read every Sabbath, they have fulfilled their words by condemning him. 28Though they found no grounds for the death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him killed. 29When they had carried out all that had been written about him, they took him down from the tree and put him in a tomb. 30But God raised him from the dead, 31and he appeared for many days to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 32And we ourselves proclaim to you the good news of the promise that was made to our ancestors. 33God has fulfilled this for us, their children, by raising up Jesus, as it is written in the second Psalm:

You are my Son;
today I have become your Father. 

34As to his raising him from the dead, never to return to decay, he has spoken in this way, I will give you the holy and sure promises of David. 35Therefore he also says in another passage, You will not let your Holy One see decay.  36For David, after serving God’s purpose in his own generation, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and decayed, 37But the one God raised up did not decay. 38Therefore, let it be known to you, brothers and sisters, that through this man forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to you. 39Everyone who believes is justified through him from everything that you could not be justified from through the law of Moses. 40So beware that what is said in the prophets does not happen to you:

41 Look, you scoffers,
marvel and vanish away,
because I am doing a work in your days,
a work that you will never believe,
even if someone were to explain it to you.

42 As they were leaving, the people urged them to speak about these matters the following Sabbath. 43After the synagogue had been dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who were speaking with them and urging them to continue in the grace of God.

44The following Sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear the word of the Lord.  45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what Paul was saying, insulting him.

46Paul and Barnabas boldly replied, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first. Since you reject it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47For this is what the Lord has commanded us:

I have made you
a light for the Gentiles
to bring salvation
to the end of the earth.” 

48When the Gentiles heard this, they rejoiced and honored the word of the Lord, and all who had been appointed to eternal life believed. 49The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50But the Jews incited the prominent God-fearing women and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their district. 51But Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet against them and went to Iconium.

Act 13:13-51 (CSB)

Paul’s and Barnabas’s next stop on their first missionary journey is Antioch of Pisidia (which is different from their home base of Antioch in Syria). They follow what will become their usual pattern, going to the synagogue to teach and share the Gospel with their fellow Jews first. There are a lot of sermons in Acts, so by this point it is tempting to skim through them, assuming they all say the same thing. While each message ultimately points to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, if we minimize each message to a single point we miss both the fulness of the message and the brilliance with which Paul carefully constructs each argument. 

Paul is a master of the classical art of rhetoric. The word “rhetoric” today often refers to insincere and non-substantive language that relies on fear more than facts, but originally rhetoric referred to the highly developed art of persuasion dating from ancient Greece. Three of the primary principles of rhetoric is the establishment of pathos—an appeal to emotion, ethos—an appeal to character/expertise, and logos—an appeal to logic. These three elements change with the audience, not the speaker or the message, so even if the main point remains the same, the approach differs from audience to audience.

Paul is constantly attuned to his audience and adjusts his approach accordingly. In this passage, Paul addressed his fellow Jews, and this shared ethnic identity is enough to establish ethos (his character); he establishes pathos (emotional appeal) by referring to their shared history and covenant relationship with God; for logos (logical appeal) he quotes prophetic Scripture and explains their fulfillment in Christ. And it works. Brilliantly. The next week “almost the whole city” assembled to hear Paul preach. 

 This lesson on rhetoric might seem overly academic, but it illuminates two important points. First, classical rhetoric was the means by which people in the first century presented arguments and attempted to persuade people. Paul used the wisdom and systems of surrounding culture to present the Gospel most effectively. Second, Paul will adjust his message—how he establishes his authority, what emotional appeal he makes, what facts he presents—depending on his audience throughout the book of Acts. Paul’s speeches are one (small) example of how he practiced his philosophy of 1 Corinthians 9:22 to become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. Paul never alters the Gospel Truth, but he never hesitates to match his presentation to his audience so that as many as possible might be saved.


Have you been taught or do you believe that there is only ‘one right way’ to preach the Gospel? How have you seen that approach backfire? Think of one or two situations where you could change your approach (not the message) to best appeal to your audience so that you might ‘be all things to all people.


Lord Jesus, thank You that all true wisdom is Yours, and we can use it for the good of the Gospel, rather than fearing it. Grant us humility to learn different methods to reach different people with the same Gospel Truth. May we be people of one faith and one mind, but never hesitate to become all things to all people. In Your name, Amen.

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Megan NessonComment