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Jesus gave the “Great Commission” to the disciples fifty days after His resurrection, before ascending back to heaven (Matthew 28: 18-20), and this imperative has become the driving force behind Christian missionaries in a multitude countries around the world. Having planted the seed of the Word in many places, the gospel fruit seems to spring from among the most impoverished, illiterate, and poorest people on the planet- so why is this the case? It is one thing to convert an individual who is malnourished, shabbily clothed, sickly, feeble, and diseased; or where there aren’t schools, safe drinking water, no hospital or doctor, working toilet, and whose parents can’t read and write or living in a dilapidated house that is a makeshift construction of whatever is available.
I wonder what would be the results if missionaries would take the “Good News” to some of the most secular and high standard of living countries like Denmark, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Austria, Canada, The Netherlands, or New Zealand? Of course, this is not to say that there are not Christian missions or Churches in these countries but the concentration appears to be overwhelmingly among those living in the most dire and urgent circumstances of poverty, and experiencing all the ills of what this condition brings with it. With these thoughts in mind, I want to find something in the New Testament that would give me a picture of how the first missionary efforts were conducted, especially who were the targets of receiving the message of salvation. Let’s look at the following:
Acts 8: 26-27
Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch (royal official) of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship.
NOTE: This was not some poor illiterate villager.
Acts 10: 1-2
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with his entire household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.
NOTE: This man was a military commander in the Roman Legion.
Acts 13: 1a, 2, 6-7
Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Now when they had gone through the islandto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.
NOTE: This is technically where the Christian missionary work [outside of Judea, Samaria, and Syria] begins as it launches into Asia Minor and Europe. Also, this named person is a high ranking official of the entire province and educated as well.
Acts 16: 12a, 14
and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a [Roman] colony. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.
NOTE: Philippi was an important metropolitan city and Roman colony, not some remote village somewhere. Lydia was a successful businesswoman and most likely was educated or quite literate at the very least.
Acts 17: 1-2, 4
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures. And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.
NOTE: These were intelligent and educated people in all likelihood, too. Paul “reasoned” with them which is another way of saying that he used philosophical argumentation or ‘inductive reasoning’ or some type of logic. Interestingly, a few of the leaders, or socially prominent Greek women, whether business owners or officials of some sort, were part of those who were persuaded.
Acts 17: 10-12
Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures (Old Testament) daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.
Acts 17: 18, 21, 34
Thencertain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him (the Apostle Paul). And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection. For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
NOTE: I think Athens was a very important cultural learning center and metropolitan city that valued intellectual debate and reasoning. Dionysius was a judge in the Areopagite Court.
Acts 18: 1, 8
After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.
NOTE: Corinth was not a small village, either.
Acts 19: 1, 8-9
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples. Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.
Acts 19: 17-20
When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
NOTE: A Greek “drachma” was about a day’s wages so these adepts of the magic arts must not only have been literate enough to read the scrolls, but they must also have had the financial means to practice their craft.
Author Wayne K. Meeks wrote a book titled: “The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul” in which he makes several valid points, as cited by blogpost below:
Paul was a city person and planted small cells of Christianity in households "strategically located" in cities around the northeast of the Mediterranean. Meeks argues that city life created a stable and secure atmosphere for urban people - local government, law, consistency in application of law, roads built and maintained, stable taxes, education, etc. (12) Road maintenance and military presence also make travel much easier/safer, which plays into Paul's story. (17) Sea travel is also faster and cheaper than travel by land. (18)
City life allowed for more, if perhaps still limited, social mobility. Physical and social advantages weighed in favor of city living. Cities "were where power was." (14-15) Paul's role as an artisan tent-maker made travel easier for him, natural relationships for him with artisans in places he visited. (17) Movement of artisans and tradespeople facilitates movement of religions/cults: Foreign settlers find neighbors, set up shrine to gods, and increase in numbers, demand government recognition. (18) Cults spread not just through intentional 'evangelism', but through chatter and 'gossip.' (19) Families and households of individuals are important starting points for Paul, with connections of work and trade. (28)
Ephesus is the center of Paul's and his circle's activity. (41) Takes root in 4 provinces in Empire: Galatia (although what region this is exactly can't be determined), Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia. (42) Trade centers. (44) Philippi (Asia) has a more Latin character than other of these because of "double colonization" and constant passage of military through area. (45) Also different because was primarily a center of agriculture, not commerce. (46) We know less about Thessalonica because of modern city built on top of remains without less disaster/destruction through history. Was a free city, with own coins, government, no Roman garrison, etc. (46-47) Achaia: Corinth. Italian. (47) Wealthy. Commerce. Entrepreneurs. Many freedmen, who, in unique setting, could actually be local aristocracy, (48)
Paul's world, his target, is the Greek-speaking Jew of the Roman world. (50)
NOTE: References supplied by bethquick.blogspot.com
I think this information reveals that the earliest missionary endeavors centered on reaching Jews living among the Greeks of the “Dispersion” living in the cities and larger metropolitan areas of Asia Minor; not remote villages. The purpose of this article is not to demean or criticize the tremendous success and personal sacrifice s made in the Name of Jesus by Christian missionaries, but why not follow Paul’s example? Why not take the gospel to the Philosophers, Scientists, government officials, police, and military? There is a big difference between persuading a poor laborer who works for a dollar a day and someone else who can afford to stop by a local Starbucks for a “Frappuccino.” How about a quick look at some of the Apostle Paul’s coworkers and/or probable converts- Erastus was the Director of Public Works (Romans 16: 23-24); Caesar’s household (Philippians 4: 22); Luke the Doctor (Colossians 4: 14a); Zemas the Lawyer (Titus 3: 13); Philemon who had a servant/slave named Onesimus (Philemon 1: 1). I know the gospel is to be proclaimed to the poor (Luke 4: 18a; 7: 22b) but I am sure that He didn’t mean “mainly” or almost exclusively to the poor.
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