Slowly read the following record of the Apostle Paul visiting Athens …
"While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the market-place day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, 'What is this babbler trying to say?' Others remarked, 'He seems to be advocating foreign gods.' They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus where they said to him, 'May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.' All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas. [Acts 17:16-21. NIV]
Here we see Paul engaging in three different spheres or ‘spaces’ while in the city of Athens.
1. First Space
Paul began by speaking to those inside the synagogue. These were Jews and God-fearing Greeks who would have been believers in God and who would have known the Old Testament Scriptures well (note the sermon content in the Book of Acts to Jewish people). He already had common ground with them and was able to connect to them in language they understood from their religious environment and experience.
'First Space’ refers to inside the church community or to relationships with people who believe in God and know about Christian culture. This is easy for us as we have lots in common – beliefs, customs, and language.
2. Second Space
Paul also spent time in the market-place. This was outside of the synagogue where people went about their daily life and work. In this second space there is less common ground. There is a range of beliefs and insider language doesn’t connect. ‘Second Space’ refers to the marketplace – outside the church community, where people live, work, and do life. This is where most Christians spend the majority of their time. The challenge is to connect and bring the good news of Jesus to people into this space in a language they can understand.
3. Third Space
Because Paul was able to build rapport and generate interest in the second space, he was invited to a meeting in another place. This was a place where he had no previous influence and no common ground. He was in another world. He only entered there because 'they took him' there.
‘Third Space’ refers to places and people groups where Christ is unknown and where we can only enter through invitation. In this space, we need to be able to speak the good news of Jesus in language that they understand.
This thought was gleaned from Erwin McManus when he ministered at our church earlier this year. Erwin's book Soul Cravings was written to ‘third space’ people. It starts with people (not the Bible) and then points them towards God. It speaks of the cravings for intimacy, meaning, and destiny within the heart of every human being and how these cravings can only be truly satisfied through a relationship with God.
Tomorrow we'll talk more about the implications of these spaces for our lives ..