Summary: St Paul speaks about being ’All things to All men’, and at first glance it might just appear that he was undergoing an identity crisis ...
"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."
I’ve never spoken on this passage before, as it always used to irk me:
‘To the Jews I became a Jew, to the Greeks I became a Greek, to the weak I am weak …’ How spineless! Good Heavens man, don’t you know who you are?
At first glance, St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians here sounds like he used to work for a commercial radio station - ‘we’ll be whatever you want us to be’.
* Do you like rock music? We’ll play rock music.
* Do you prefer Country and Western? We’ve got both kinds!
* Do you prefer something more esoteric from the mid-19th Century European Baroque era? Give us a few minutes and we’ll find something!
Whatever it is you want us to be, that’s who we’ll be! We’re here to please. We’re doing our best to be all things to all men (and women) (and children) (and … pets, if they‘ll help bring in the bucks).
Welcome to modern marketing, where who your identity is determined by what people want you to be!
It’s much the same in politics, isn’t it?
This is why I swear I will never become a politician, not in a democracy at any rate.
I’m serious. If you’re truly a democratic political leader, then your job is to represent your people, which means that your agenda is defined by whatever your constituents think is important!
Do you people feel that criminals are getting off too lightly? No problem. I’ll just put a few more of them in gaol! Do you people want to cut taxes and get rid of foreigners? I am your representative!
Democracy has its limitation (even the USA has realised that with Palestine lately).
Of course, the trick to being a good politician is to influence your people in such a way that they come to want what you want. If you’re clever enough to manipulate people that way then you might make a good politician. But it’s not for me.
No. In the church surely we are who we are. Our identity is not determined by the whims and desires of those around us. We have confidence in our own identity. We know who we are, and God knows that we are not going to compromise ourselves for the sake of popularity.
The first church I worked for, when it came to my end-of-year report, the guys in charge only had one criticism to level at me - my leather jacket.
‘We feel that it could alienate some people unnecessarily. Perhaps some Sundays you could turn up without your leather jacket on (like in the middle of Summer).’
So what did I say? I said ‘Hey! Me and the leather jacket come as a single package. I’ve had this leather jacket since I was 16 and I’ll have it until I’m 116. If you want me, you get the jacket. If you don’t like the jacket … well, you’d better find yourself another Sunday School teacher!’ (and they did!) (well, no … they didn’t really, but I think that they were probably a bit low on choices).
Well … that was me 20 years ago, but ... well, times have changed, and I haven’t actually got that leather jacket on today (partly because I lost it shortly after that tirade).
That’s not the only reason. It also reflects the fact that I’ve come around in my thinking from those days, when I was a ‘rebel without a jacket’ to today, when I’ve actually come to see the wisdom of what St Paul was saying about being ’all things to all men’.
To the Greeks I become a Greek. To the working class I become working class. To the academics I become an academic. To the boxing community I become a boxer. Why? Not in order to please them. Not in order to feel accepted by them. Not in order to make them like me. But we become all things to all men so that we might be able to effectively communicate with them our message of love and reconciliation.