“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 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. 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. 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. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
I read these words this morning, and I just kept circling around them. What do they really mean? What do they NOT mean?
- First, I have to work somewhat backwards, with what does this passage of scripture not mean?
This is not a passage of permissiveness. It’s not Paul giving us license to sin. Having said that, it’s also not a license to legalism. We are not under the Jewish law. We are under the law of Christ. And Christ, His person and His very being, is the word of God, the bible in its entirety. He both is and was God and is and was with God.
People often say things like, “I follow the teachings of Jesus . . . ” referring exclusively to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Or just as often, “Jesus never directly addressed ___________.” John 1:1-2 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” One of the hardest truths, facts, for our finite minds to grasp is the fact that The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit are one in the same, all God, and yet, three distinct persons of The Trinity, all present from the very beginning. The Bible was divinely inspired not by some “big guy” in the sky, but by God himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And so, if you follow the teachings of Jesus, then you follow the entirety of His word.
The word of God is very clear on what is and is not sin, and we are never given a license to commit or excuse sin. Having said that, so often we pass judgment on people not for actual sins, but for things that would fall under the category of “our own personal convictions”. Neither compelling people to follow our personal convictions nor excusing sin are acceptable under the law of Christ.
- So if it isn’t a license to sin then what does this passage mean?
In this day and age of, “I don’t care if you’re offended”, and “I’m not everyone’s cup of tea” (which, is sadly true . . . none of us are going to be liked by everyone all the time . . . and that’s okay), we have to be careful that we’re not intentionally trying to bring offense . . . that our goal is not to be offensive but to share the gospel of Christ. The word of God is offensive to sin. It’s offensive to Satan. The world sees God’s word as backward thinking. There’s no denying or getting around that.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness (absurdity, folly) to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18
Having said that, there are times and situations, where I make decisions on how to proceed or not proceed based on the environment and the beliefs of those around me. I’m not talking about sin here (as addressed above). I’m talking about respecting the personal convictions of others, if and when I am able and it’s appropriate and safe. This isn’t the only place Paul addresses this (read, Romans 14). I often tell my kids, “you don’t have to agree with all the rules to follow them and be respectful”, and while we are, by virtue of what we believe and stand for, going to offend others at times, our end goal should never be offense, but to share the gospel, to build others up in Christ, and to make a difference for the Kingdom of God.
Three questions I feel like God brought to mind as I was meditating on this passage of scripture: (1) Am I trying to be a witness for Christ or am I just trying to make someone mad? (2) Do I get more pleasure out of getting a rise out of someone than seeing their life changed or affected by Christ? (3) What is my motive and is it pure?
Because y’all, sometimes, I just want to rock the boat for the sake of rocking the boat. And Jesus wasn’t flipping tables just for the fun of it. He always had a purpose and a pure motive. Always.
“Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” Romans 2:4
We serve a very kind and patient God. If you read through the Old Testament, you see, not an angry God as some would have you believe (yes, God was angry at times, but anger has never been God’s defining attribute), but a God who chose time and again not to abandon His children even though they were outright rebellious and sinful, even though they repeatedly turned against Him and worshipped other Gods. We see a God who warned His children repeatedly to repent and turn back to Him, and we see a God who rescued and redeemed and loved His children in spite of the absolute sin they chose to chase after. Ultimately, we see a God, who knew we could never get it right so rather than wash His hands of us, He chose to come to earth as a babe and die sacrificially as a man so we could be forever free in Him.
I think being able to walk out 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 is a mark of maturity as a Christian, and being total transparent, it’s a part of the Christian walk that I haven’t fully matured into yet. It’s an area where I still need a tremendous amount of work because I’m just ornery enough to like to put up a fight from time to time. But it’s also an area where I want the Holy Spirit to mold me, to reign me in, to teach me so that maybe one day, like Paul I can say, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”