Summary: Paul gives us three guidelines for effective evangelism.
Jim had a passion for God, a love for people, and a burden to communicate the gospel. But he wrestled with the question of how to bring the message of Christ into a setting that seemed so far from him. How could he help people see and embrace the truth when they had so little biblical understanding? The barriers seemed insurmountable. The task appeared virtually impossible.
Even with all the obstacles in front of him, Jim knew he had to try. God had given him a vision to make a difference in the lives of these men and women. So try he did! In fact, he went to great lengths to relate to their culture—lengths that would probably make you or me feel very uncomfortable. Following the example of the apostle Paul, he took bold risks to “become all things to all men….for the sake of the gospel.”
What kind of risks? For starters, he shaved his head right down to the skin—that is, except for the patch of hair he grew long. Not only that, he began wearing it in a pigtail and even dyed it a different color, all in an effort to fit in with the fashions of the people he wanted to reach! He also gave up his familiar business attire and began to dress like them. He even changed his eating patterns and started to dine in the style of the ones he cared so much about. Further, he worked hard to learn their vocabulary, in the hopes that he would be able to effectively convey biblical teachings in their everyday street language. He read their papers, studied their ideas, and went out of his way to discover and build on whatever areas of common ground he had with them.
Jim didn’t do this all from a distance. No, he actually moved into the neighborhood with these people. He lived close to them, became their friend, and spent extended periods of time talking with them, getting to know them, playing with their children—all of this in spite of their non-Christian lifestyles and, in almost every case, their outright rejection of his message.
What did other church leaders think of all of this? Did they celebrate Jim’s tenacious commitment to reaching these unsaved people? Did they rally around him and support his courageous efforts? Did they uphold him in prayer and find ways to encourage him and spur him on in his bold evangelistic pursuits?
Not even close!
On the contrary, they mostly misunderstood, misrepresented, and even openly maligned him. The very people who should have supported and helped him turned their backs on him and his ministry. In many ways he had to continue his efforts by himself, with the backing of just a few close friends who shared his vision.
Jim—or as he’s more widely known, James Hudson Taylor—is the man who more than a century ago gave up everything to build a ministry called China Inland Mission. More than anyone else, he is credited with turning so many in that nation to faith in Christ. And today he is regarded widely as one of the greatest pioneers of the modern missions movement (adapted from (Mark Mittelberg, Building a Contagious Church, pp. 32-33)
Today’s message is about evangelism and how we need to be flexible when we evangelize, like the apostle Paul and J. Hudson Taylor. First, let’s take a closer look at the word “evangelism.” The prefix “ev” means “good,” and the word “angel” means “messenger.” So the word literally means “good-message-izing.” In other words, “evangelism” is sharing good news. What is the good news (or the “gospel,” as we often call it) we have to share? In this passage Paul says that the message he wants people to hear is that they can be saved. He states, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (v. 22b). We often talk about “being saved” and wanting others to “be saved.” But what does salvation mean? Biblical salvation involves being saved from something and being saved for something.
First, what does God save us from? First Thessalonians 1:10 says that Jesus “rescues (or “saves”) us from the coming wrath.”
Second, what does God save us for? John 3:36 states, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
Like Paul, our goal should be to save as many people as possible from the wrath of God and win them for eternal life.
In this passage Paul shares his method of evangelism. He example gives us THREE GUIDELINES FOR EFFECTIVE EVANGELISM.
I. WE MUST VALUE WINNING OTHERS FOR CHRIST MORE THAN PLEASING OURSELVES (v. 19).
Paul writes in verse 19, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” Here Paul gets back to the question he raised in verse 1: “Am I not free?” In the previous verse (8:13) Paul said, “If what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.” The issue in chapter 8 was whether or not the Corinthians should eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols. In chapter 10 Paul will say that they should not eat in the temples, but they are free to eat this meat in their homes. However, as Paul makes clear throughout chapters 8-10, the most important thing is not our freedom or rights, but the wellbeing of our fellow believers. Paul knew he was free to eat meat, but he would refrain if it might cause another Christian to stumble. Though Paul was “free,” he chose to make himself a “slave to everyone.” Why? Paul’s life’s goal is not to be free (not to insist on his rights; not to do what pleases him), but “to win as many as possible.” What is your life’s goal?