That ‘I’ Might Save Some…

feet-sandalsPaul the Apostle, in talking to the people of in the city of Corinth said this:
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.”
and
 “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?” 

0 thoughts on “That ‘I’ Might Save Some…

  1. Rob Kampen says:

    Having some thoughts on discipleship fresh in my mind see http://walkinginthespirit.nz/index.php?page=disciple – Paul’s use of “I” is entirely appropriate. There is a necessary partnership of our wills that only “I” can activate and choose to align with God’s call on my life. Yes I do understand Holy Spirit’s work in this and the grace so liberally supplied. The free will He gave us is ours to engage (or not) in Kingdom purposes – certainly what we’re called to do as disciples. Not arrogant, because Paul was very aware of and reliant upon the all sufficiency of Christ, and thus was able to declare the determination he had made in how to do life as a disciple.

  2. David Woods says:

    I see it more as humility. Instead of saying “you need to do this” and “you need to do that”, he’s telling what Christ has done in him so that his readers could:

    1. See him as leading by example. Telling your own story is far more compelling than telling a Bible story of someone else.

    2. Compare who he is now to who he used to be. Those who knew his past knew he used to do the exact opposite of “being all things to all people”. In fact, he used to try to make all people be who he wanted them to be.

    I have used the phraseology “I have become” before when telling people about what Christ has done in me. When giving a testimony, it’s the most honest way of giving it. The “becoming all things to all people” part was Paul’s testimony. It was the huge change he went through. It was how HE changed. It won’t be everybody’s testimony I don’t think. It was the part that was personal to him, and that’s what made it genuine.

  3. Tim Aagard says:

    I don’t see the I as arrogant. Paul was laying a foundation for the future of the gospel. He was at the bottom. If there were others with this framework he would have said “we”. He usually did with many fellow workers who worked like him. This is all in the over arching context of giving the reasons for ministry “free of charge” in direct trumping of all the reasons for getting paid, even quotes from Jesus that were going to be “used” to avoid markeplace work which Jesus would not have meant. Even ministry free of charge is under the context of not using authority or positional elevating routines (exousia) even though you could claim to have them. This is in Jesus instructions “exercising authority…not so among you” Matt 20.

    Anyone who is willing to grow up to the full stature of Christ can grow to be “all things to all people”. God can make it happen. In the majority system of American church, it won’t happen very often because the leaders all reject Paul’s instruction for ministry “free of charge”.

    I cannot say this for myself yet, but I am on a journey that direction and desire to help others exit the standardized habits of leadership.

  4. Maybe Paul is speaking more metaphorically when he says that he becomes “all things to all people.”

    When Paul said he become “as” a Jew and “as” weak he did not qualify those statements; simply because he was a Jew and because he knew he was weak.

    But when Paul said he became “as” those “under the law” and “without law” he was careful to qualify those statements to let the readers know that he was not “living” in either circumstance – but living under the salvation of Christ.

    Clearly Paul is not talking about “assimilating” into whatever culture the Spirit led him, but gaining an understanding of cultures and mindsets in order to better explain the gospel in the context of other cultures/condition/beliefs; and to have a better understanding of what “all people” might have to deal with within their culture if they accept the gospel of Christ and become Christians.

    In becoming all things to all people we gain the capacity to both empathize and sympathize with them in their specific culture/condition/beliefs. And this is what lays the foundation to create a more receptive, and hopefully successful, dialog to lead people to the salvation of the gospel of Christ.

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