Matthew 10:16 – Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Romans 12:2 – And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Drawing from the experience of Paul in Athens in the above scripture in Acts 17, I found that Paul being of a Jewish heritage, a Pharisee, and follower of Christ with a mandate to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, had to be culturally savvy to reach this people and bring them to Christ. Some of the challenges he had to face were that being a Jew, his tradition prohibits him from eating or having fellowship with gentiles. Being a Pharisee, he is an upholder and interpreter of the law given to Moses by God. So he is meant to be seen at all time keeping the law and positioning himself above the rest of the Jewish people. But being an apostle of Christ with an assignment to reach out to forbidden people, he had a major conundrum on his hands. This is like being the child of God among sinners with an assignment to love them and bring them to Christ without compromising yourself.
The problem is God hates sin but loves the sinner. God wants you to save the sinner but he wants you to stay away from sin and there is no way you can save the sinner without going to where the sin is located i.e the world. God commands us to stay away from all appearances of evil but then he gave us a great commission assignment to go into the world where sin is happening on a big scale and bring his presence into the world. We are sent as sheep among wolves. Wolves eat sheep for lunch, but we are a different kind of sheep, we have the lion of the tribe of Judah inside us. So we may look helpless on the outside but greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world. We are sheep on the outside but lion on the inside. We have dual citizenship; we are both citizen of heaven and residents of the earth. The following are some skills required to be a culturally savvy Christian, Paul displayed them in Athens,
- Know and be aware of the culture you are in – in verses 16 and 23 of Acts 17, Paul showed to the Athenians that he had made a thorough observation of their culture and has a grasp of it. He highlighted their strong desire to serve and be connected to God through the worship of idols. He gave then credit and not condemnation. He also engaged with them in their comfort zones (market places, Areopagus) using their preferred pattern. He made them comfortable so that they could receive. He didn’t demand them to come and meet him in the synagogue , he went into their territory, to a place where people air their opinions freely. While I am for Christian schools, television etc, but I also think it is also important that we get involved with the secular media by buying air time and put Christian programs on their stations. We need to get involved with the non-Christian schools and bring in the light of Christ. Ungodly people watch secular television and not Christian television so we are actually reaching mostly the already reached with Christian televisions. We should get involved with our community, prepare to bring Christ into the market place and not restrict church to Sunday services in our buildings. So know your culture and engage with it. The world will not hear the gospel until somebody goes in and tell them.
- Know your liberty in Christ –who you are and what you have –Romans 14:17, Galatians 5:13 – This is important, while going into the world; we should not leave our Christian ethos and identity behind. We should be people of integrity, character and be dependable. We should bring the presence of God with us. We are the light and salt of the world, we are meant to know it and be it. Paul while appreciating and recognizing the culture of the Athenians, he was not ashamed of Christ. He did this by creating a bridge between the culture of Athens and the Culture of Christ. He enabled them to see that while their intensions were right, their focus was incorrect. So he showed them how to make adjustment. He did not force them nor did he point fingers at them but came to their side and made himself part of them. Friend, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. A wise man told me years ago, he said ‘Let them belong before they believe’. And I know that when they believe, they will behave. People are looking for role models, so model Christ in love. It is not you against the people of the world; it is you in the world showing the light of Christ.
- Discern the difference between the popular culture and Christ Culture – Not everything in the popular culture is bad. While Athens was steeped in idolatry, Paul highlighted the gifts of the people in Athens, He spoke of their poets, he spoke of their genuine thirst for the divine but also spoke of their ignorance of the true God, resurrection and eternal life. He made them see the godlikeness in them through their yearning for God. He actually called them the offspring of God even though they were not saved; he helped them to see their potential in God. But he also made them see how and why they are coming short and how to bridge the gap.
- Ask these 4 questions about your choices – To demonstrate that you are culturally savvy, in addition to the above you need to make choices because it is knowledge acted upon that brings results. Because if you don’t stand for what is right, you fall for anything. Making choices requires courage, after Paul spoke to the Athenians; he left them to make a choice to accept Christ. This is a crucial point in cultural engagement, you need to be aware that not everybody will accept your cultural persuasion so don’t be discouraged and don’t demonize them. In Paul’s case, three groups emerged. One group sneered at him; another group said ‘we will hear you again’, the third group accepted Christ. This takes us back to how people react to culture, some reject it, some assimilate, some selectively acculturate, and some keep to themselves.
As Christians, we need to make choices on what part of the culture we live, the one we choose to accept and the part that we will reject based on how it aligns with scripture and its impact on our soul and walk with Christ. While we cannot make choices for others and we should not, we have the responsibility of making choices for ourselves. We should have courage and be savvy. Remember whatever, you compromise to get, you will compromise to keep.
Before you make cultural choices ask the following questions:-
- Is it helpful?
- Does it bring me under its power or have controlling influence in my life?
- Does it pose a serious risk to the faith of other believers?
- Does it glorify God?
For Further Study
Questions for you to reflect on
- How do you make cultural choices?
- What cultural mistakes have made in the past?
- How would you handle it now?
I am culturally savvy Christian and I build bridges between the world and the kingdom of God.