By Rev. Mike Oldham
I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:22, 23
Most of us have encountered people who “become all things to all people.” In high school, they were with the church friends, they could talk about the latest Christian music or would talk about their blessing. When around another group, they would take on the language and persona of that group. As adults, they try to please their boss. They worry about what others are saying about them. They want to look and act like the crowd. (Just look back on some of the fashion trends of the past twenty or thirty years.)
This is not what Paul is talking about when he wrote to describe his ministry in 1 Corinthians.
These are people who are struggling to find themselves by imitating others. Most of us go through a phase like this. (I joined Future Farmers of American and raised hogs my freshman year in high school to try to fit into the farming culture of that small town.) What is your “fitting in story?” Chris and I have high school and middle school granddaughters. I often wonder internally, “Do you really want to do that or are you trying to fit in?” I certainly don’t ask this question out loud.
Paul begins in a very different place. Paul begins with “I know who and whose I am in Christ.” Secondly, Paul understands his mission. He was called and sent by God to spread the gospel. In the language of Family Systems, this is known as differentiation, but I digress.
Sometimes, he would live as a Jew. Sometimes, he would live as a gentile. Sometimes he would speak boldly. And sometimes (rarely perhaps) he would speak humbly. Paul understood that the gospel was both eternal and contextual. The truth of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection was for all times and all places. But the way that story is told changed depending on whether he was speaking in a synagogue or the Temple, or if he was speaking to gentile slaves, or to a fellow prisoner.
He described himself as a “slave to all” (1 Cor. 9:19). He was not a slave to pleasing others like many of us are. He was a slave that he might fulfill his mission. He also wrote, “woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16)
What about us?
Am I so clear about who I am in Jesus that I don’t worry about others and their opinions of me? Do I understand that in Christ, I can associate with the 21st century version of both Jews and Gentiles? Am I clear about the purpose of my calling?
My fear is that too often we are swayed not by loyalty to Jesus, but to the powers and principalities of this world. Our churches are committed not to spreading the gospel but to simple survival. We live too often by fear of rejection, not faith in the resurrection of Jesus.
Prayer: Lord, give us the clarity to know our status in your grace and the purpose of our calling. Let us live as slaves to all, not out of fear, but in obedience to you.
Ministry and Mission Coach