• Acts 18:24-28; 19:1-10
Over the past few decades, it has become somewhat fashionable to be religious. Celebrities increasingly have paraded their personal choices in religious beliefs through the media. The religious beliefs of political candidates have played an increasing role in elections. It has become acceptable to openly discuss personal experiences in our individual quests to understand the deep spiritual hunger we all feel.
One thing this situation has revealed is the error in the frequent assumption that people from the same area or with similar backgrounds share religious beliefs and understandings. This is simply not true in many cases. Even in the midst of what many see as a “Christian nation,” there is widespread misconceptions or accepted half-truths about the Christian faith.
In order to address this, many churches develop “seeker-sensitive” ministries through which they seek to explain Christianity to those who are religiously curious. Yet in doing so, some merely emphasize the religious aspects of Christianity by watering down or adding to the Christian message.
God created humans to seek spiritual connection with God and calls all believers to help others understand how to truly make that connection in a way that brings purpose to life. The story of Paul’s encounter with the people of Ephesus has much to teach us about how we can respond to religious people.
Listen to what others say (Acts 18:24-28)
In order to know what someone believes, we must first listen to what they say. Often due to a person’s reputation or position, it is possible to assume they have a complete understanding of what they are talking about. Yet when we take time to listen, we may find their understanding is in error or incomplete.
Apollos apparently had a reputation as one who was highly educated in the Scriptures and was an effective teacher. Perhaps he had the right degrees from the right schools. Yet when Priscilla and Aquila heard him speak, they quickly saw he did not fully understand God’s plan for salvation. He knew and could thoroughly explain the external rituals and practices of the Christian faith, but lacked an understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. In other words, he was an expert in Christianity as a religion, but did not understand it as a relationship between the individual and God.
Many today similarly know the vocabulary of Christianity well enough that, on the surface, they sound as if they are a growing believer when in fact their Christianity is only incomplete head knowledge. Only as believers really listen to them can they help them more fully understand.
Ask others questions (Acts 19:1-3)
As we listen to others share what they know, we may begin to detect shortcomings or weaknesses in their understanding. It is at those points that believers need to ask questions.
As Paul talked to the residents of Ephesus, he sensed they had an inadequate understanding of the Holy Spirit. Yet rather than brush it aside by assuming they understood, Paul asked a question directed at the area where their understanding was incomplete.
Today, many may see Christianity as a set of rules like other religions or they may see salvation as simply securing a future home in heaven. Both of these are simply inadequate beliefs which need to be corrected. The best way a believer has to assist in that process is to refuse to assume someone understands Christianity is much more about freedom and meaning in life and has great significance for life prior to death and to ask questions about their perspective on Christianity.
Teach what’s needed (Acts 19:4-7)
Once areas of misunderstanding or incomplete understanding have been identified, then a believer can teach the other person the truth. This is an area where many believers feel inadequate. They may come to a certain point in the conversation and then refer them to a pastor or minister.
While this is not always a bad idea, it may instill the erroneous idea that one needs some special training or education to fully understand the Christian faith. This strengthens the perception that Christianity is a religion. Correcting misconceptions or filling in incomplete understanding of Christianity does not take a seminary degree. It simply takes a believer faithfully walking with God on a daily basis through Bible study and prayer.
Seek opportunities to help (Acts 19:8-10)
The Bible clearly teaches Satan is an enemy of the Christian faith constantly seeking ways to weaken or discredit it. One of the most effective tools in Satan’s arsenal against Christianity is misinformation and half-truths. Once these are part of a person’s thoughts, they can lead the person to assume their salvation and relationship with God is good when in fact they may be lost or living an ineffective Christian life.
Because of this, it is important that faithful growing believers always be watchful for opportunities to help others understand and grow in their relationship with God.
Everywhere Paul went, he sought out those groups or individuals who lacked something in their beliefs. This does not give believers license to take a “holier-than-thou” attitude and seek to correct every minute detail in someone else’s theology. Such action would simply further discredit Christianity as a religion of strict detailed regulations and dogmatic doctrines.
Yet when we see one whose beliefs are misguided or incomplete, we should all follow Paul’s example in seeking out opportunities to help them grow in a deeper relationship with God.