August 27, 2014.
“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”
(I Corinthians 9:19-23)
This is one of my favorite passages in the new testament as I believe it reveals perhaps the key point to successfully spreading the gospel to the world. It is truly amazing to me the amount of zeal, passion and love that the Apostle Paul showed to all men. Even when he was writing stern words of correction to churches, his love shines through the ink as it embraces his fellow Christians out of an honest desire for their well being. This passage indicates that his love for people didn’t stop with the church but extended to all people, for all should have the opportunity to hear the gospel. I believe that Paul gives some vital insight to his evangelism plan that we could certainly benefit if applied practically to our plan. I would like to break down each category that Paul cites here and discuss a practical category that I draw from it for today. I do not claim that these are the exact categories that Paul had in mind, but I believe they are useful nonetheless. It is my prayer that we can learn as well to become all things to all men, in order that we might save some.
To the Jews, a Jew: Using our experience.
I think a major point that Paul is hitting on here is that we can use our own lives, the lives that we lived before coming to the Lord and the lives we presently live, to minister to people. This is not a new idea, but one that perhaps gets overlooked at times. Before Paul became a Christian, he was a staunch Jew. This is how he describes himself to the Philippians:
“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel,of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
Paul was a Jew, and he used that to win the Jews. If you read of any of Paul’s interactions with the Jews, notice how he reasons with them. He goes into the law, he quotes the prophets- he uses the Hebrew Scriptures to preach the gospel! Why? Because they were Jews- that’s what they knew. That was their culture. That’s how he related to them. There are many examples in the book of Acts where Paul appeals to his Jewishness to proclaim Christ (and even once to distract a crowd that wanted to kill him so that he was brought out in safety, ref. Acts 23).
So what is our take away from this? We have all lived through unique situations that other Christians might not have been through that help us relate to people who have. Maybe you were an alcoholic before you became a Christian. Could you not use that experience to help others who struggle with alcohol, both inside and outside the church? Or maybe you are a doctor of medicine. Could you not relate then to other doctors and even the scientific community in order to proclaim Christ? The point I’m making is, in the concept of becoming all things to all people, sometimes we can even skip the first step. Paul was already born and raised a Jew. He used this to glorify Christ. We can use what we have done or are currently doing as a way to minister to those of like-minds. This is perhaps the easiest category of all the ones listed.
To those under the law, as one under the law: The religious.
Both Jesus and Paul address different people they came into contact with in different ways, depending on the situation. One of the most obvious differences came from when they were addressing people who were supposed to be serving God and people who had not really made that commitment yet. I think with this statement, Paul was addressing the former. Certainly Paul is talking about Jews who lived under the law of Moses with this statement, but I think it is more specific than just Jews, because he has already said “to the Jews I became a Jew.” I think for us, this can be applied to those who claim to follow any religion, Christianity or not. Paul uses whatever the people that he is talking to believe as a starting point for proclaiming the gospel.
Think about it. When Paul is in a synagog, he uses the Hebrew Scriptures to point to Christ. When Paul writes this letter to the Corinthians, he uses the law of Christ to plead with them and even is harsher than they would like him to be. And when he talks to people of a different religion, he carries himself as so:
“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth,does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.”
He even goes on to quote their own philosophers and poets. In the end, he relays to them God’s message of redemption, and some responded. Notice what he did not do. He did not consider them ignorant because they were not serving the true God. (Well, ignorant in the sense that we use the term today- not intelligent; in the King James it does say “whom you ignorantly worship,” but he is not insulting them as we would use the term, but simply saying that they don’t know who God is that they are worshipping, as the term actually means). He did not think they were lesser people. He did not assume they would never change. On the contrary, he had a heart for them that they might come to the knowledge of the glory of the risen Christ, so that they might respond to his call. And indeed, some did. This is becoming all things to all people.
To those outside the law, as one outside the law: The non-religious.
“And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples,“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
I said that Jesus responded to different people in different ways. This is what I mean. To the religious, the leaders of the Jews, the ones who should have had it right, he was pretty harsh. He called them hypocrites and cleaned out the temple in a not so quiet manner. But to the common people, as they would have been considered, he had compassion. He did not proclaim, “You’re all going to hell!” but rather “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” That’s not to say he ever approved of sin, however. To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus had compassion, but he told her “Go, and sin no more.” Paul even makes it a point to add a parenthetical explanation after he says to those outside the law as one out side the law: “(not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ).”
The point is, Paul did not approach those who did not live under the law of Christ with explanations of why they were sinners and going to hell from the scriptures. How could he? They didn’t live by those standards. If you tell an atheist that he or she is going to hell, they will just respond with “what hell?” because they obviously don’t believe that there is one. So many times have we taken the wrong approach with people and further driven them away instead of showing the love of Christ. Look at how Paul puts it earlier in his letter:
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
(I Corinthians 5:9-13)
I don’t think there are words that I can say that can more adequately convey the point I’m making than those above. We have to have a different mindset when we are ministering to those that who are outside the law.
To the weak, weak: Humility.
Ah yes, I believe this one could be a whole post in and of itself, but I will keep it brief (for a more thorough discussion about weakness, refer to this post). I think this category is for those of our fellow brothers and sisters who have been trapped in a sin that could so easily beset us. You cannot go to one who is weak in pride and hope to in any way help them. They need to know that you too are weak, because we all are, and that you want to help them and lift them up. We should do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain glory. Pride helps no one, especially those who are weak. It is our job as Christians to bear one another’s burdens, fulfilling the law of Christ:
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”
To the weak we must be willing to reveal our own weakness, so that the power of Christ may be perfected.
All things to all people.
I think you probably get the point by now. We need to carefully study and think about how we respond to everyone, choosing our words and actions wisely to fit the present situation. The bottom line is that this is a big deal. It is not a game. It is not a “well, I’m just going to live my life and not really worry too much about others.” This should be our whole being, because it matters. For real. More than life or death- Spiritual life or death. Saying the wrong thing to someone could totally seal off their hearts towards the gospel, resulting in the loss of their soul. If you can’t tell, I’m really trying to drive this point home, because I think we know it intellectually, but we don’t fully get it yet. What we do matters. It could mean the difference in eternal salvation or eternal damnation for a lost soul. Eternal. This is so much bigger than us, than our lives and than our egos and reputation. We must follow the example of Paul. We must follow Christ.
We must become all things to all people, that by all means we might save some.
Suggested Daily Reading: Matthew 9, Acts 17, 23, I Corinthians 9.
Be strong and courageous.