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Becoming All Things To All Men (1 Cor 9)

In my experience urban Teens have usually appealed to 1 Corinthians 9 for supporting the way they dress, act and use modern vernacular: Apparently adults are thinking the same thing about how to approach society in general. “To preach the gospel to those bar hoppers—I have to go to the bar and have a drink with them!” Centurion’s post on TeamPyro that circumstantially deals with Driscoll but really is concerned with the vehicle for the Gospel sparked this post so I wanted to look at this: Does Paul’s statement of becoming all things to all people mean becoming just like them so that we can preach to them?

The Gospel Unhindered
Paul, when defending his liberty, starts off with some common examples. If anyone would have freedom it would be an apostle who has seen the Lord and who has worked before people and they have prospered from it. Paul lists his right to eat, drink, get married (like other apostles), quit working, enjoy the fruit from their labor—and yet he put aside the right to do any of those things so that he wouldn’t hinder the gospel of Christ (1 Cor 9:12). His reasoning is that he would rather die than to make his claim empty—that he is compelled to preach the Gospel, free of charge so as to win even more to the Lord.

In other words, Paul is limiting his freedom so that the Gospel is preached without hindrance. He supports this by saying that he makes himself a slave to all so that he may win more.

Interestingly enough, this is exactly what Christ did. He had every right to continue on existing in heaven with the Father, but he set it all aside, became a man, became obedient unto death on the cross. And every single day of his life, he would limit his omnipotent ability—even at the point where he tells Peter that He could summon angels; but He wouldn’t so that God’s word is accomplished and bears even greater fruit.

Limited Liberty
Paul sees himself as free from all men so that he actually has the option to become a slave to all. This is where young believers may start saying that Paul could become a rock musician for the rock musicans and a rapper for the rappers and a skateboarder for the skateboarders—but Paul isn’t saying that. He’s not enlisting himself in any one cultural context (postmodernist context or otherwise) but putting himself as a servant to the whole cultural quagmire without relativistic waffling. As a side note, Jesus did the same thing: he would eat with “the sick” (sinners) because they needed “a healer” (Himself) and these ranged from Jews, tax collectors, Samaritans (whose lineage was debatable) and even talk to Roman citizens with that equal candor while never becoming one with any of them.

In 1 Cor 9:20 Paul says he became a Jew to the Jews but we know he was a Jew (Acts 22:3). To those under the Law he became as under the Law—and what could that possibly mean especially when he would stand to Peter’s face (Galatians 2) and accuse the man for turning his back on the gospel by his actions of keeping only with the Jews and not with the Gentiles. And then Paul talks about being with those not under the law as having no law even though in Romans 2 he points out that the Gentiles have a law in themselves, albeit on their conscience. This might sound like relativistic games if you ignored the ramifications of becoming weak for the weak. (Here, I have to disagree with Turk who seems to says that weak is in regards to believers.)

Paul is talking about the weakness found in all People in respect to the Gospel reiterated throughout the book of Romans. Paul, just as the Jews, was condemned by the Law (Romans 2, 3 and 7). Paul, just as the Gentiles, was condemned by his own conscience (Romans 1, 2, 3, 7). Paul as a man was condemned by his sinful desires (Romans 5, 6, 7) and Paul as a human had to rely on the wisdom and love of God for salvation (Romans 5, 9, 10). Paul as a Jew couldn’t boast in his righteousness (Romans 10) nor as a Gentile in his salvation (Romans 11) but had to live under that measure of the Gospel found in the Lord (Romans 14, 15). Paul embraces the weakness in each system of men and thus shows how dire a man’s condition is and how that same man can be saved. After all, if a man like Paul can be saved—so can anybody else.

Therefore, Paul disciplines his body to makes it his slave so as to be a living a breathing advertisement of God’s gospel (1 Cor 9:25-27; Gal 5, 6:17)—a difficult thing for a body that constantly wants to go the opposite direction. Circumcision didn’t matter and not-circumcision didn’t matter—it was all a matter of God’s grace. Getting circumcised then would simply be a matter of getting into doors that were normally closed (Acts 16:3 following Apostolic authority not to in Acts 15)—still not embracing relativism but bearing on the body the marks of a person who is found blameless (1 Tim 1, 2, 3; Titus 2).

What About Today?
Do we become strip club-hoppers for the strippers or drug buyers for the drug dealers so that the gospel may abound? Paul would rephrase it as “so then may we sin so that grace may abound: God forbid!” Obviously anything that is sinful is not of the Lord (1 John 2). But should we dress like drug dealers so that we can talk to drug dealers? Paul would say “I bear the marks of Christ on my body”; we’re to be living advertisements of Christ—not living advertisements of the climate.

So when we want to preach a stripper we don’t have to go to the clubs, we can talk to the woman and tell her that we are paupers just as she is—but if God can save a sinner like me, he can surely save her. And to the drug dealer we can say that I have a constant struggle with coveting and wanting more for myself—but all the wanting does nothing for me but the Lord provides something that a person like me truly needs and the drug dealer needs it as well. We aren’t to fear proclaiming the gospel to any of these people—indeed, we’re to submit to their persecution if they decide “enough” and turn around to shoot. Our Lord Jesus Christ was treated this way—should we expect any less? Paul and Peter didn’t.

We are to be in the world, guys, but shining beacons—not Christian chameleons taking on the world’s color then springing on a person when they least expect. The Eternal Life is to be manifested in our lives, in our work—and in our reflecting our weaknesses and the need for God’s gloriously unhindered Gospel. Wearing Jeans and Not-Wearing Jeans does nothing for you—it’s in respect of what the Gospel has done and how you hang by it. So becoming all things to all people is embracing that fact of you that needed the Gospel and shining it back to people for they need it as well.

Thinking like this might make us truly missional in our every action: be it taking the bus, sitting at work, talking to friends or writing on blogs.

So What Do I Wear?

That is a whole other subject as is how to speak. I was just addressing 1 cor 9 and what it means to the preaching of the gospel.

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One reply on “Becoming All Things To All Men (1 Cor 9)”

About a year ago I was talking to one of my great nieces about the woman’s role in the Church, She said that a little known Greek word in 1 Corinthians allowed women to speak and teach in the Assembly, not knowing Greek, I said even if the the answer was disputed it would be better to take a lesser role in case she was actually commanded to be “silent” and give glory to the Lord and the Angels who observed the LORD’S SUPPER and the worship service. Every day we Believers are faced with the same choices, in fact it may be ok for us to do certain things but we refrain lest we turn some seeker from the truth. There are good things and there are better things. Thank you for your observation and keep on serving him until He comes for us. Keith

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