September 24, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“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 (NIV)
When reading today’s passage, one may feel confused about what Paul is saying. Some have even taken it out of context over the years to justify their perversion of the gospel and compromise other foundational truths. This is where we must stop and really think about what Paul is saying here.
In the verses right before these, Paul explains how he must preach the gospel at all times because he’s been called by God to do so. In verse 23, he explains the idea of becoming all things to all people is “for the sake of the gospel.” With this in mind, we can know that Paul is not talking about changing the gospel for the sake of the audience; rather, he’s talking about the sacrificial practice of taking time to truly understand others, find ways to relate to them, and intentionally show them Christ as a result.
Think about how you talk differently to a young child than how you talk to an adult. You may use more simplified language, stoop to be eye level with them, or even change your tone of voice. Not only do the words you say change, but the way you say those words change as well. Nonetheless, we still don’t necessarily view this as wrong or hypocritical, right? That’s because the Lord has created us to be adaptive and flexible creatures. We can adjust our language and behavior based on the situation and the people around us without being inauthentic or “fake.”
Paul’s life grants us many examples of this, one of them being in Acts 17. While in Athens, Paul noted all the idols and philosophers in the area. He then referenced those various “gods” and also quoted one of the Romans’ own stoic poets. He uses these things to appeal to their culture and then connect it back to the gospel!
When you think about the reason why many change their voice and vocabulary when talking to a child, it stems from the understanding that they will receive a message better in terms they are familiar with. This is the same when it comes to interacting with and loving people of other backgrounds and experiences than ours. We can ask questions, look for similarities, seek to understand their culture, appeal to their interests, and learn their style of communication. In this way, we can better present the gospel to people around the world. This is the mission Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 9—to preach the true gospel unashamedly and intentionally engage and love those we share the gospel with.
Pause: Do you try to understand someone’s background before judging them or sharing the gospel with them? How have you done this or not in the past?
Practice: Take time today to have a conversation with someone where you intentionally appeal to something that characterizes them or that interests them. Pray about how that knowledge and your growing relationship can then lead to more gospel conversations.
Pray: Dear Jesus, thank You so much for coming to Earth and taking on our human form when You did not have to. You are the perfect example of what it looks like to step into someone else’s shoes for the sake of relating to them and loving them regardless of the difficulty and the sacrifice. I ask that You grant me patience, kindness, wisdom, and joy in every opportunity I get to build relationships with different people, learn from them, and share the gospel with them. Amen.
Samy Rodriguez has been serving with the Calvary writing team since 2020 as a senior at Calvary Christian Academy. Before going to study communications, biblical studies, and intercultural studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University, she interned with the Calvary Communications Team and was a student leader in HSM (High School Ministry). She is passionate about communicating God’s Word and looks forward to continuing to serve in ministry after college.