Summary: This message looks at how Paul was able to reach others by becoming all things to all people "without compromising his faith." Written in 2020, it is applied to showing compassion about differing views of the Corona Virus.
In our message this week, we’re going to encounter something the apostle Paul said – something very interesting – that becomes the philosophy for his ministry, and that forms the basis for a number of chapters in the book of 1 Corinthians, including the chapters that we’re going to view today; and here’s what he said: “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
This morning, in looking at some selected verses from 1 Corinthians chapters 9 and 10, we’re going to see how Paul was able to reach others by becoming all things to all people, and how he did so without compromising his faith. We’re also going to lean some valuable lessons on how to be more accepting of others who do not share our own personal convictions, which are lessons that are really important right now with what we’re still facing in our country with the Corona Virus.
Before we get started, I want to let you know that chapter 9 will be a quick overview of how Paul became all things to all men; and chapter 10 will take us into greater detail of this concept, providing some practical application. This message is one that will hopefully lead each of us to having more compassion and understanding for what others are feeling, so that we can better minister to them.
I Have Become All Things to All Men (9:19-22)
19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
In verse 19, Paul realized, through his faith in Jesus Christ, that he was free from the chains of religious ritualism that bound others, and that he was no longer subject to sin or legalism anymore; but, Paul remembered that even though he was free, others were not, and many were still held in spiritual bondage. Paul “did not parade his liberty before the Jews, nor did he impose the Law on the Gentiles.”(1) Instead, he humbled himself to become a servant to all – both Jew and Gentile – and that word “servant” (douloo, doulos) in Greek, means slave or bondservant. So, Paul placed himself lower than others; or rather, he put others before himself.
In verse 20, Paul said that he became as a Jew to those who were practicing Judaism. Now, becoming as a Jew was no huge task for Paul, since he was born and raised Jewish; but after being called by Christ to preach, he didn’t always adhere to the laws of Judaism, for he was often found trying to reach the Gentiles with the gospel. But, in order to not lose his witness to the Jews, he would sometimes have to go along with their customs, just as he tried to practice some of the Gentile customs.
In Acts 21:20-26, we find an account of Paul becoming as a Jew in order to keep his relations with them and maintain his witness. I would encourage you to write these verses down for future reference, as we don’t have time to go through them today. But in Acts 21:20-26, Paul was informed of how it had been reported of him that he was teaching the Gentiles to forsake Moses and circumcision. Of course, it was not true about him teaching the Gentiles to forsake the Old Testament Law; however, he did preach against circumcision, for he felt it was not necessary for salvation.
The elders of the Christian church in Jerusalem realized that Paul would have to do something to maintain the trust of the Jewish believers there, so they told him that he would have to undergo a Jewish purification ceremony, with four other men who had taken a vow, in order to show the Jews that he too obeyed the Law just as they did. Commentator F. F. Bruce says that to Paul “such a temple ceremony was [as meaningless] as circumcision: no saving [power] was attached to it, and it in no way compromised the gospel.”(2)
In verse 21 of our passage, Paul said that he became as one without the Law, or as a Gentile. In Acts 17:24-29, we see Paul’s speech to the people of Athens on a hill called the Aeropagus; and in this passage we learn how Paul tried to reach the Greeks through what was relative to them. He spoke of the existence of God in nature, and God’s self-sufficiency, which, according to commentator John Polhill was “commonplace of Greek philosophy to view divinity as complete within itself, and totally self-sufficient.”(3) Paul was using concepts that the Athenians were familiar with in order to reach them.