December 13, 2014.
Paul is probably one of my favorite characters in the New Testament. His story is quite unlike any of the other apostles, as he calls himself as one “untimely born (ref. I Cr. 15:8).” Being stopped by Christ on the way to Damascus where Paul was headed to persecute and arrest any of those who were followers of The Way, Paul received direct mercy and grace that changed his life immediately and completely, making him a follower of The Way rather than a persecutor. Though this was a marvelous example of the steadfast love of the Lord, it had a tremendous lasting effect on Paul. Some would go so far as to say that he had a chip on his shoulder for the rest of his life, feeling the obligation to preach and teach the good news because of all the persecution that he had displayed towards it before. He could surly never make up for his sins by his own works, just as we cannot do such either, but it would seem that he sure did try. Perhaps this revelation and immediate change truly exposed him to the meaning of grace and mercy, which would influence him to believe in a salvation that was not based in any merit of our own, but in the powerful working of Christ, as he would so often write about.
One of the most profound letters that he wrote (though they are all profound really) in terms of theology is the book of Romans. Someday I man do a series on Romans, but today I want to focus in on something Paul writes in the beginning. As is customary for his writing style, Paul begins and ends his letters with a more personal note than what we would view as the middle, though I suppose to the people he was writing to, it was all personal. In the opening of his epistle to the Romans, Paul writes about how he has been trying to get to Rome for some time now, but has been prevented along the way for one reason or another. Then he makes this statement:
“I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”
Notice what Paul says about his obligation. He felt obligated to preach the good news of Christ to everyone. Jews, Greeks, civilized, uncivilized, wise, fools… everyone. Paul did not feel that there was any one group that he was not to evangelize to; he even says that he wants to reap some harvest among the church that was already meeting in Rome! This would imply that either there were those there who were never truly converted, or had since conversion turned their back on Christ, though presumably not outwardly showing this change of heart. I would imagine that this is one of the reasons that Paul had not made it to Rome yet (perhaps before he went to Jerusalem and was taken into custody)- he was stopping everywhere along the way to preach the gospel! What zeal, what passion, what commitment! Why did Paul do this?
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Paul knew of the importance of the gospel, and he was not ashamed of it. He tells the church in Corinth something very similar about his attitude towards evangelism:
“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 because of the example that Paul sets before us. Just two chapters later, Paul would tell the Corinthians church to be imitators of him as he imitated Christ (ref. I Cor. 11:1). I believe the same would apply to us, for it is also our mission to preach and teach the gospel, just as it was the mission of the early church. Notice Paul’s insistence and urgency in this passage. He did whatever he could to show Christ to, well, everyone. When he was with the Jews, he understood the Jews culture and norms and worked through them to show them Christ, using the prophetic word. To those outside the law, he approached in a different way, not using law, but reasoning (see Acts 17 for an example). To the weak, he was as one who was weak, that he might win the weak. He became all things to all people.
That’s a phrase we hear a lot, but I don’t know if we grasp the depth of it. Perhaps those closest to understanding this concept are missionaries who live in foreign lands and have had to adapt to the cultural society and norms in order to effectively teach the community about Christ. How many missionaries (long term missionaries that is) do you know that live overseas but do not speak the language, at least a little bit? Who do not try to fit in? Who do not learn what is polite and what is rude in their culture? I would imagine you don’t know very many who do not display at least some of these qualities, and that is a good thing. But why do we stop there?
Yes, Paul was a missionary. He went about from region to region, preaching and establishing churches. He would then go back to visit the churches that had been established to make sure everything was running smoothly and to answer any questions. He would have correspondence with them through letters and trusted messengers who were fellow laborers with him in the kingdom of God. But Paul said he became all things to all people, which would imply that it didn’t matter where he was. When he was in Rome, he did as the Romans did (see what I did there?). When in Corinth, as Corinthians. When in Jerusalem, as Jews. This did not mean he followed all their religious practices in whatever region he was in, of course, but he did spend time around the religious community to proclaim Christ to them as well. He still acted according to their culture. It is very apparent that the culture of the church was even different in different places, as Paul was spoken bad about by the Jewish Christians because he was telling the Gentiles that they were not bound by Jewish law (ref. Acts 21). When he was confronted, he simply did as the Jews did in that region, which was what he was requested to do. Paul was truly all things to all people.
What about us today? Do we have the zeal of Paul? Do we have his passion for spreading the gospel, no matter the cost? Sometimes I wonder what Paul (or rather Jesus for that matter) would do if he lived one day in my shoes. What would he say to my friends? How would he treat my coworkers? How many times would the name of Christ be brought up in any given day? When I think about this, I can’t help but to think that it would certainly be more than the times that I bring it up. Where is our zeal? Where has it been lost?
To often do we think of our Christianity as what we do on Sunday mornings or when we are by ourselves reading the word of God. Both of these things are very good things to do, but they do not culminate our Christian lives. They are not indicators of our walk with Christ any more than reading a book about lab techniques indicates how well you actually preform in the lab (sorry, my inner scientist came out through analogy). Reading the book definitely helps, but its what you do that really matters. The same way with Christianity. Reading the book is very beneficial (and necessary), but it is what you do that counts. This is the point that James makes in his epistle.
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
Paul lived out his Christianity. There was no question as to what he believed and whether or not he would teach it. He became all things to all men, so that he might win some for the cause of Christ. In the same way, we need to find this passion and zeal for spreading the gospel to all those who are around us. We don’t have to be heroes, saving every soul that we encounter and preaching to the whole earth (as it often seemed as what Paul’s goal was), but we do need to preach it where we can. We all have a sphere of influence to whom we could introduce Christ. It is time for our spiritual awakening. Will you become all things to all men?
Suggested Daily Reading: Romans 1-4, James 2.
To Him be eternal glory and power.