1 Corinthians 9
Paul has been critical of the Corinthians for using their freedom, knowledge, and rights to tear down and turn off fellow believers and non-believers. He contrasts this with the model of Jesus he follows, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” He explains that to the Jews, he became a Jew. To those under the law, he became one under the law. To the one on the outside, he became one on the outside. To the weak, he became weak. He became all things to all people. Paul is sensitive to where people are and attempts to identify with them and meet them there.
Our first thought may be that this seems very inconsistent. But an important key to each statement Paul makes is the “so that” which follows…he did all these things SO THAT he might win them to Christ, save them, share with them in the gospel’s blessings. The one consistency was the goal of making Jesus knows as Messiah, Lord, and Savior. He never wanted anything unnecessarily to get in the way of the most important message they will ever hear.
Paul’s approach often brings about questions… Are we at risk for compromising ourselves or the message in our attempt to join people where they are? To what extent do we take it? Where is the line not to be crossed?
Steven Cole says, “Paul shows us three things about how he preached the gospel boldly and yet avoided needless personal offense: There is an attitude to adopt; a perception to gain; and, a balance to maintain.”
What is our heart attitude and motive? Paul’s posture is that of a servant whose main goal is to win others to Christ; to save souls. It isn’t to fit in, blend in, and be accepted for personal gain. His motive is love and leading people to Christ. Period.
What is our message? Paul’s message never changed. It was the Gospel. The truth that we are sinners in need of a Savior. That Jesus came and paid the price for our sin in full. And not only that, He gave us His righteousness. Paul’s doctrine and message never wavered. But what did change was his approach and behavior at times. He took into account where those he was trying to reach were…spiritually, culturally, behaviorally, attitudinally. Cole summarizes, “Paul’s overall point is that we need to understand where a person is at and not to do things in our behavior or manners that needlessly offend them. The message of the cross may well offend them, but we should not be personally offensive to them. Don’t make non-gospel issues the issue. Make the gospel the issue.”
As we are in the world, who is being influenced? We never compromise on our obedience. We never sin to reach people where they are. This is never where God will call us. As we meet people where they are, who is being influenced?
John Piper offers two checks for us to consider: 1. Are you becoming more worldly-minded than they are becoming spiritually-minded? If so, you have probably crossed the line of the law of Christ. Christ does not call you to lose your holiness, but to gain theirs. 2. Is your passion for winning your friends and family growing, or is it shrinking as you become all things to them? If it is shrinking, then you are not in the law of Christ at that point.
God, give us wisdom, courage, and discernment to meet people where they are. To go after the lost, even if it means sacrificing some of our liberties, comforts, and rights. And may we always have the goal of winning them to You above all else.
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