For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
As a missionary who has been called to serve in one of the most culturally diverse regions on the planet, these verses speak to me deeply. Becoming all things to all people can be a daunting task. It comes at a price. That price is ‘self.’ I like to think of what I do as ‘becoming indigenous’ in whatever sub-culture I find myself in. I don’t necessarily like the phrase “I’m like a chameleon,” because at best a chameleon can only mimic color.
Becoming all things to all people is not about blending in with your environment for safety, it’s more like putting yourself at risk to become a part of, and a participator in it.
That participation is enfleshed in its joys, nuances, struggles, and sufferings. Paul says 3 times that his end goal, or trajectory was to ‘win people.’
I know that can cause some to recoil because of oppressive evangelism and shallow discipleship ‘techniques,’ but Paul’s path was not only in the identification of the people group that he may have been with in the moment, but also to walk through and rediscover the gospel and its ramifications for them over and over again in it. He wanted to ‘win’ the Jews to Christ. he wanted to ‘win’ those who were under the law (part of existing religious systems). He also wanted to ‘win’ those who were ‘not under the law’ (those not under religious systems).
Through covenants of religious systems and vacancy of the same, through philosophies directly opposed, through threat of physical harm, and through necessitated dependence on God for provision and protection, Pail persisted.
His terminus? Two things:
“So that I may by all means save some.”
“So that I may become a fellow partaker of it.”
Yes, ‘salvation’ of others was of primary importance to him. But, I suspect, for Paul, bringing one to salvation looked a lot different than it does for most today.
One thing that bugs me in this passage is the use of Paul’s word “I.” “I” have made myself a slave to all. So that “I” might win more. “So that “I” might win Jews. So that “I” might win those without the law. “I’ became weak. “I” have become all things to all to all people that “I” might save some.
I am sure Paul’s intention was not to be arrogant. But, it sure sounds that way. The question, I suppose, is whether it was received that way by his audience, or whether his life was so given over to God that it was obvious that when he said “I” it was because of a result fashioned in Him by someone outside of himself.
I do very much appreciate the wording in the last sentence though. “I do all things for the sake of the gospel that “I” might become a fellow partaker of it.” It shows humility if not a certain lack of assuredness. This is real, this is human. This is the sort of transparency and vulnerability that genuinely enables one to become all things to all people so that some might be saved.
What about you? Does Paul’s use of the word “I” bother you?
Are there certain people who ‘just don’t have what it takes’ to be all things to all people?
Would you feel comfortable, or confident in saying “I have become all things to all people that I might save some?”