After His resurrection, Jesus instructed His apostles, saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). The gospel of Christ must be taken to the world so that souls can be saved. Sinners have to hear, believe, and obey the gospel to be forgiven of sins and be saved (cp. Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:36-41; Romans 6:3-4, 17-18; 10:9-10).
To effectively teach the lost, we need to find common ground on which to build. The people we attempt to teach will come from different religious backgrounds, have different levels of understanding as far as what the Bible teaches, and will be at different stages in their thinking about the Lord. They all need the gospel, but not all are prepared to start at the same place. How will we reach them with the good news?
Let’s consider the following three examples of the apostle Paul’s work in the book of Acts. Note his emphasis on finding common ground to begin teaching.
Worshippers at the Synagogue
After arriving at the Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica, the Bible says, “Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ’” (Acts 17:2-3). The common ground between Paul and those at the synagogue was a shared belief in the Old Testament Scriptures.
Since this was the case, the apostle could simply appeal to the Scriptures to show that Jesus fulfilled what was written in the prophets. While the worshippers at the synagogue didn’t understand God’s new law completely, Paul started at their level of understanding and built on that foundation.
The Pagan Philosophers
Where the previous group had a religious background to build on, the pagans later in Acts 17 were an amalgamation of idolaters, spending their days debating the validity of gods. Paul took that common ground and built on it using the altar to the “Unknown God” that he had seen in Athens. Paul began to speak to the pagan philosophers, saying, “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things” (Acts 17:24-25).
Since these men did not believe the Old Testament Scriptures, he could not start with them at the same place he started in Thessalonica. Instead, Paul looked for common ground in the concept of an absolute Creator who made men, who is to be worshiped by men, and who will eventually judge men (v. 30-31).
The Roman Governor
When Paul was presented with the opportunity to preach Christ to Felix, the Bible says, “Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, ‘Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you’” (Acts 24:25). Again, we have a very different background compared to the previous two examples, but that did not stop Paul from being able to find common ground.
The governor was living an immoral lifestyle. In order to establish a common foundation in his efforts to teach Felix, Paul pointed out that God has issued a standard, man is expected to live in harmony with that standard, and man will be held accountable by God for transgressing His standard. Paul was no stranger to sin, even calling himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul took the common foundation of living in sin and pierced Felix’s heart with God’s Word.
Paul effectively spread the gospel in all three examples cited above, even though he needed to find a different foundation from which to build in each case. As we work today to reach people of differing beliefs, various backgrounds, and diverse lifestyles, we will need to work to find common ground on which to build to help them to understand and obey the gospel. May we never be ashamed of the gospel and continually seek out the most effective way to lead others to salvation (Romans 1:16)!