by Graham Mol
In Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth he makes an interesting statement about how he uses his freedom in Christ. The following passage comes from 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Someone might say that Paul was being two-faced or hypocritical or inconsistent. They might say that he became a different person depending on who he was around. For example, Paul would be the guy “drinking tea” with the teetotallers one day and having a pint with the guys the next. Or eating kosher with the Rabbinovitz’s last night and having a cheese and bacon burger for lunch with the Joneses today. At first glance it may seem that Paul is inconsistent, “I have become all things to all people…” but that would be to ignore his reason for doing so.
“…so that by all possible means I might save some.” Paul was deeply committed to sharing the Gospel. He was one hundred percent devoted to winning souls for Christ. In this quest he was unwavering. Although he could act differently around different people, Paul always knew who he was, a child of God and a servant of Christ. And as Christ’s servant he was always trying to reach the lost with the Gospel message.
Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Paul’s words really captures that heart of what Paul was saying. “I kept my bearings in Christ – but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view.” In this Paul was a pioneer of missionary work. Those who go as evangelists on missions to different nations and cultures begin by getting to know and understand the people they are attempting to reach with the Gospel message. They take the time to grasp the people’s values and points of view. They don’t dismiss them but seek to show how Jesus is the answer to their questions, the solution to their struggles.
We are all on mission. You do not have to travel to another land or do a mission trip to participate in the work of evangelism. There are people all around us who need to hear the Good News. The thing is, they are all different, with many varying values, practices and worldviews. If we are to have a hope of reaching them we need to be able to adapt. We cannot be rigid “stick-in-the mud” Christians but rather those who are able to bend and flow in the freedom of Christ. Remaining true to our Lord and yet being able to be “all things to all people”.