Can We Really Be All​ Things to All People?


The Times-Reporter of New Philadelphia, Ohio, reported in September 1985 a celebration of a New Orleans municipal pool. The party around the pool was held to celebrate the first summer in memory without a drowning at the New Orleans city pool. In honor of the occasion, 200 people gathered, including 100 certified lifeguards. As the party was breaking up and the four lifeguards on duty began to clear the pool, they found a fully dressed body in the deep end. They tried to revive Jerome Moody, 31, but it was too late. He had drowned surrounded by lifeguards celebrating their successful season. -Times-Reporter, September 1985.

From a very early age, God put on my heart a passion for connecting wayward souls to the life-saving gospel of Jesus Christ.  It comes from a sincere place.  My father lived his life on the edge of uncomfortable for me.  He wasn’t a churchgoer.  I believe he had faith, but his life called that into question.  When he died on Christmas day nearly 11 years ago, I was called upon to do the funeral.  That was the toughest funeral of my ministry.  I had done funerals for young victims who had their futures snatch away by a stray bullet.  I have done funerals for the very young and the very old who left behind a wife who was not prepared to spend her waning years alone.  But no burial was as personal, it felt like I had personally failed my calling as my dad’s son (pastor?).  I keep hearing Paul’s words in my head, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews, I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law, I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak, I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means, I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel that I may share with them in its blessings. [1]” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Why do these words haunt me? Because I have heard sermons on this text preached so condemningly, with the message that if you are not sold out for the gospel like Paul, somehow you are a failure as a Christian that I have tremendous guilt.   Dear readers, dear saints, if you have ever felt that way I pray this post gives you a sense of comfort.

What does Paul by “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them?” Is Paul permitting us to put our Christianity and our witnessing on the shelf for the sake of reaching the lost? And if Paul were saying that how does that look?  I got the privilege to serve in Milwaukee for nearly ten years, and the is Harley Motorbike country.  I have always wanted to bike, is Paul permitting me to buy one and put on my leather jacket and hang out with unchurched bikers?  I am all over that.  Not exactly.  What Paul is saying is that his goal as a follower of Jesus Christ is to put himself in the place of the person far from God.  He sought to get into their souls, to cloth himself with their feelings and argue life from their perspective.  Imagine taking that posture in our sharing of the gospel with people.  What approach does the gospel need to take to be most effective for the hearer?   For example, for the Jews who were under the burden of the law, Paul preached freedom from the law.  “Sin will have no power over you because you aren’t under Law, but under grace.” Romans 6:14

For the weak Paul pointed those to the strength and sufficiency of God.  So, for the Jew, he made himself a Jew in feeling, with the Greek a Greek in feeling, with a slave a slave in feeling.  Paul connected and tailored the gospel in such a way that the person heard God’s grace applied to their situation.  I realized that I did do that to the best of my ability with my father and only prayed that he heard God’s message of forgiveness for a prodigal son.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 9:19–23). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.


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