Paul provides us a wonderful model for engaging the culture of his day as we engage the culture of our day. In the first place, Paul understood that the world he inhabited was made by God and it was good, but sin had entered in and it profoundly affects the thinking and living of our fellow human beings. He recognized that this world system is under the influence of the devil. Paul was under no illusions about the world in which we live. It is populated by human beings who are profoundly affected by the fall.Paul never went off message or accommodated his message. He proclaimed the “Whole Council of God”.
How did Paul respond to that? Before his conversion Paul responded to this with anger and with violence. We see him persecuting what he believed to be a heretical sect: the Christians. He traveled great distances, bound them, and brought them before the authorities to be put to death if necessary. In Acts 17, when Paul comes to Athens we see a remarkable way that grace transformed the way Paul engaged the world around him. Scripture says that when he saw the idols of Athens, he was provoked to anger. The way he acted on that holy anger was by going into the marketplace and reasoning with men and women and preaching the gospel of grace to them. He took every opportunity to the Jew, to the Greek, to men, to women, and to whomever would listen to make known the saving mercies of God in Jesus Christ. That chapter tells us that he knew very well the world and its world view as he engages philosophy.
As on other occasions he engages the thinking of other groups of people, but Paul never went off message and he never accommodated his message. He proclaimed what he called the “Whole Council of God”. He prayed and relied on the spirit to open hearts so that sinners by grace would receive that message. That’s how Paul carried himself in the world and that’s how we should carry ourselves in the world, too.