November 26, 2023 | Duane Roberts
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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)
Imagine you’re talking to a child. You don’t usually talk to them in the same manner you talk to your friend or to another adult, right? We usually change our voice and vocabulary when talking to a child, but why? Well, this stems from the understanding that they’ll receive a message better in terms they’re 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 communication, this is known as the Communication Accommodation Theory, or in more simple terms, code-switching.
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 of 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 that 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 with them, and intentionally show them Christ as a result.
Like I mentioned earlier, changing the language or tone of your voice when talking to different people doesn’t always implicate a different message. Sometimes, you must use analogies or language that someone understands in order to clearly communicate to them. As long as we remain faithful to the truth of our message, loving to our audience and neighbor, and obedient to God, then this is not hypocritical or wrong because God 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, relate to his audience, and then connect it back to the gospel and truth of who Jesus is!
This is the mission Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 9—to preach the true gospel unashamedly by intentionally engaging with and loving those we share the gospel with. Let’s make this our goal today!
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 didn’t 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 based on that knowledge and relationship. 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.