Paul's Heart for the Lost
I love the Apostle Paul. Not just because of his intellect, snark, or perseverance, but because Paul had a real heart for others. While, he’s known for being a church planter, many forget that there were no Christians to start these churches, Paul first evangelized and then planted a church. How was he able to do this? How could he reach so many with the Gospel? I believe it was because of Paul’s heart for those without Christ. We can see his heart in Acts 17:16-17. “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.”
Here we find Paul in the city of the philosophers, intellectuals, and critics – the city of Athens. This is where Paul gives possibly his most well known sermon of all time; he gives the sermon of “The Unknown God.” Before he preaches though, we get a clear look at his motive. It says that when Paul saw their idol worship that his spirit was provoked or stirred with him. This word provoke comes from the Greek word παροξύνω which means to sharpen alongside with or to exasperate. John Gill put it this way in his commentary, “not only his soul was troubled and his heart was grieved, but he was exasperated and provoked to the last degree: he was in a paroxysm; his heart was hot within him; he had a burning fire in his bones, and was weary with forbearing, and could not stay; his zeal wanted vent, and he gave it.”
Paul was so concerned about the state of the Athenians’ “lostness” that he was essentially heartbroken over it. He was so concerned he was moved to action, he could not be silenced. Paul’s motive for evangelism is love. He loves these strangers and wants them to know Jesus. Could this be said of us?
Is that our motive for evangelism today?
I think if we honestly had this innate desire to reach souls for Christ there would be revival first in our own lives, then in our relationships, our churches, our communities, our nation. If our heart was really “exasperated” about the souls of others around us, we would be able to say with Paul in Romans 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation."
So how did he respond to this innate desire? Vs. 17 says that “Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews.” Another way of saying this is that he reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue. Because of his desire to win the lost for Christ, he went into the synagogue and in the marketplace declaring the Gospel of Christ to anyone who happened to be there. He went to them with the Gospel. All because of his motive. God did a great work through Paul’s message, beginning with his motive. He could do the same with us if we have the proper motivation.
John Gill's Commentary