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What the Bible says about Paul, Diplomacy of
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Acts 17:22

If we read between the lines, Paul may be saying, "You people are better than I am in your devotion to spiritual things."

Instead of "religious," the King James Version uses the word "superstitious," which has undergone what linguists call "semantic drift." In Shakespeare's day and King James' time, this word did not have the negative association as it has now.

From the context of the account in Acts 17, it becomes quite clear that the apostle Paul was not, as some Protestant theologians like to characterize him, a feisty, wrangling, argumentative hothead. If that were the case, the philosophers of Athens, who vastly outnumbered him, could have made short work out of this smart aleck. Obviously, from their attention to his speech, they did not think of him this way.

David F. Maas
Godly Tact and Diplomacy

Acts 17:22

If we were to read between the lines, Paul might be saying, "You Athenians are to be commended for your devotion to spiritual things." The King James' rendering of "religious" as "superstitious" exposes the latter word as having undergone what linguists call semantic drift. In Shakespeare's day and King James' time, this word did not have the negative connotation as it does now.

From the context of this account, it is plain that the apostle Paul was not, as some theologians like to characterize him, a feisty, wrangling, argumentative hothead. The men of Athens, who vastly outnumbered Paul and loved a good philosophical debate, could have made short work out of any know-it-all smart aleck. The apostle Paul was thus lavish in his compliments.

Throughout his ministry, he frequently resorted to diplomatic language. At one point, he acknowledged a cultural debt both to the Greeks and to barbarians (Romans 1:14). In addition to complimenting strangers, Paul continually sought out similarities he shared between him and other groups. In a conflict in which both the Sadducees and the Pharisees were breathing fire down his neck, Paul masterfully ingratiated himself to the Pharisees, reminding them that he and they shared the same view on the resurrection (Acts 23:6-8). Paul, to the right people, let it be known that he was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37-39; 22:25-29).

We also need to find common ground, not only with people in the other groups of the church of God, but with the world at large, emphasizing (like mountains) the things we agree upon and de-emphasizing (like molehills) the things we disagree upon.

In the process of finding common ground, we dare not compromise our core values or syncretize them with the world. We should instead practice more of what one late church of God minister counseled, "You don't have to tell all you know." Oftentimes, keeping our traps shut is the most diplomatic behavior of all (Ecclesiastes 3:7; Lamentations 3:28-29; Amos 5:13).

David F. Maas
How to Conduct Ourselves as Ambassadors for Christ

Acts 17:23

In Acts 17:23, the apostle Paul deliberately builds a bridge of common understanding and similarity, referring to something the Athenians already understood. Later, in verse 28, Paul again seeks common ground by quoting from their own literature: "For in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.'"

The important thing to remember is that the apostle Paul started at the Athenians' current level of understanding, continually finding commonalities between himself and his audience upon which to build mutual understanding and foster growth. An ambassador skillfully demonstrates how his country and another's country share similar interests. As the late Rabbi Meir Kahane pointed out, an alliance is not so much built on friendship as on common interests.

David F. Maas
How to Conduct Ourselves as Ambassadors for Christ

1 Corinthians 9:19-22

Does this mean that Paul would compromise with God's law under special circumstances? Absolutely not! Does he endorse "situation ethics"? Absolutely not! Does Paul embrace syncretism? Absolutely not!

Paul understands that we need to guard and protect jealously certain core beliefs such as God's laws and statutes, which we hold as non-negotiable. But we find a rather wide variety of marginal beliefs (such as choice of music, automobile, food, clothing, etc.) upon which we can compromise without sin.

The apostle Paul had a keen sense of what part of his belief structure was negotiable and what was not. He had the knack to make things that he and other people agreed upon to seem like mountains and those he and others disagreed upon seem like molehills.

In I Corinthians 6:12, He expresses the realization that just because something was lawful does not mean it is the thing to do—especially if it will offend someone. In Romans 14, Paul sets some guidelines on dealing with marginal issues. If becoming a vegetarian or a teetotaler for a day proves the price of peace and not offending, he considers it a small price to pay.

David F. Maas
Godly Tact and Diplomacy

Galatians 1:10

Here Paul defends his message. He has already stated that there is only one gospel, but he is now forced to answer, "Why should yours be the only one?"

Since there is only one gospel, why could not an entirely different gospel be the right one? Paul's defense is to stress the origin of his message, and verse 10 is a transition that leads into his answer. What he preached was not done to please men at the expense of the message.

We must understand that when Paul traveled into an area, he did not just blast his audiences with everything that he knew. I Corinthians 9:19-23 informs us that he did all that he could to please people, to cultivate their appreciation of him, but even though he did these things, he never equivocated with what is true.

Acts 17 contains a good example of this. Paul began by speaking to the Athenians about their gods, even admitting to them that they were very religious. He noted all the statues around the Areopagusand highlighted that one was inscribed TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. "I see you have a statue here TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Well, I am here to tell you about that unknown God."

Paul never equivocated about the message, but he did approach people in such as way as to catch their ear and begin to get them to assent to what he was saying. He is not saying that he was always successful in doing this, only that he never equivocated about the message. He never preached merely to appeal to people, but the message he gave was always the truth of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 24)


 




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