“I am free and own no master; but I have made myself everyone’s servant, to win over as many as possible. To Jews I behaved like a Jew, to win Jews; that is, to win those under the law I behaved as if under the law, though not myself subject to the law. To win those outside that law, I behaved as if outside the law, though not myself outside God’s law, but subject to the law of Christ. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. To them all I have become everything in turn, so that in one way or another I may save some.” —1Corinthians 9:19-22This is quite a difficult verse for many to swallow. It sounds too much like Paul is being a politician. “Shaking babies and kissin’ hands,” so to speak. Is this really what Paul is saying? It sure sounds like it at first.
To the Jews I behaved like a Jew . . .
To win those under the law, I behaved as if under the law . . .
To win those outside the law, I behaved as if outside the law . . .
To the weak . . . weak . . .
Paul became, “All things to all people, so that by all means, he might save some.”
At first glance, this flies in the face of all the pulpit discourses throughout the centuries that have admonished the church to not be “like the world.” That’s exactly what Paul was doing, being like the world, in hopes that they might listen to what he has to say. But this sounds so scary. Well, it does take spiritual insight and maturity to know in which ways we are to be like those we are trying to reach, yet remain true to what or whom we are trying to lead them. First, you must decide what you are really about. What are you not willing to change? How are you going to be different? How much will you remain the same?
There are quite a few areas in which we must remain unique. We have a core message to give to the world, but there are a lot of peripheral, cultural, and traditional things that could stand a little adjustment. Knowing which things are which is where the rub lies. I’m going to focus on the one thing we are to be truly unique in.
“I give you a new commandment: love one another; as I have loved you, so you are to love one another.” —John 13:34
Disinterested benevolence. Other-centeredness. Concern for the welfare of others with no thought of what we might get in return. A no-strings-attached kind of giving. This is where we are to be unique. And we will be. Everyone in this world is looking out for number 1. “I’m ok, you’re ok . . . well, it doesn’t really matter if you’re ok, just as long as I am.” When others see you caring, giving, and doing things for them without wanting anything in return, they will take note! They will want to know why. This, alone, will separate you enough without adding anything else. Whomever you are trying to reach will want to listen, when they know you genuinely love them.
Consider what this means. There are some Christians who believe that the way we are to be different is in our externals. Many believe that we are to look different from the world. No! We are to be different from the world. Act differently. But in which way? Specifically, in how we relate to others. This will be our mark of distinction and it will not go unnoticed.
Pay close attention to the difference. What does it mean to look like the world, but live in accordance with the benevolence of heaven? The best example is Jesus. Jesus was accused of being a wine-bibber and a glutton. Not because he acted that way, but because he appeared that way. He looked like He was because He was socializing with prostitutes and the IRS, not to mention a few crooked lawyers. Consider John the Baptist. They would have never accused John of being a wine-bibber and a glutton. John was known for what he ate and what he wore. The externals. But notice the approach that Jesus took. Get as close as you can, even if those looking on lose sight of the difference between you and them. Those whom you’re trying to reach will see the difference. They see how you treat them in contrast to how others do and they will gravitate toward you and the love of our great God who is so passionately fond of them too.
The disciples were instructed in it:
“These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘ . . . And as you go proclaim the message: ‘The kingdom of Heaven is upon you.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. You received without cost; give without charge.’” —Matthew 10:5-8 (emphasis added)
Paul also applied it:
“Then what is my pay? It is the satisfaction of preaching the gospel without expense to anyone; in other words, of waiving the rights my preaching gives me.” —1Corinthians 9:18 (emphasis added)
This may very well be the reason why North American, post-modern, secular, materialistic capitalists are unknowingly not listening. What our culture today needs is a church that looks like them, but treats them as God does.
Something to consider.
I wish you God’s best this week.