All things to all men?

Posted by in christian life, theology | 3 comments

What does that statement really mean? I hear it used a lot. Maybe you don’t. But I sure do. I don’t know if I will post this in two parts or just one post, depending on if I can be concise enough or if it merits exploring further in a few days.

Have you ever noticed the glaring difference between Paul who said this in the New Testament, compared to those of us who say this about ourselves today?

I’ll give you a hint right away as to where I’m going with this: We misquote Paul all the time to justify our carnal lifestyles, whereas Paul said he becomes all things to all men, through self-DENIAL of things, as a means to not be a stumbling block to others.

I’m all about being relevant (another overused Christian catchphrase losing its relevance the more it’s used), but I think the manner in which many ministries and individuals are doing it is nothing short of glorifying carnality in order to not come across as out of touch and too traditional to the culture around us. But in the process of achieving our society’s acceptance of us as a movement or force, have we in fact lost our relevance? I think so, but only in many cases.

I hear people tell me things, in justification of places they go, activities they participate in, things they watch, stuff they listen to, and things they drink–and they often quote this passage (maybe not even knowing the book or the author who said it). And for some reason, I couldn’t really figure out why it hardly ever jives with me.

Let’s take a look at a chapter of Scripture and I can tell why (I hear some of you moaning that I’d post that much, but hey, if you’re a Christian, you should LOVE the Word of God). First Corinthians 9:

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?
If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
This is my defense to those who would examine me.
Do we not have the right to eat and drink?
Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?
Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?
Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?
Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same?
For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned?
Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.
If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?
If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.
Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings?
In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.
For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship.
What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
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.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.
But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

OK, I won’t make this exhausting, but notice some things (such as CONTEXT).

  • Paul talks of freedoms he has because of freedom in Christ and from being an apostle, but he doesn’t use these freedoms. (v. 1, 4-6,11-12, 15)
  • Paul doesn’t want to be an obstacle for anyone else’s salvation or faith in Christ (v.12)
  • Paul has made himself a servant (certain translations say slave) in order to be relevant to others. (v.19)
  • The context of this passage, especially as detailed toward the end of chapter 9, is one of self-discipline and refrain, not one of indulging and engaging [in freedoms]

    There are places where Paul talks of things like how there’s nothing wrong with doing certain things, but if they would offend others who knew of him partaking in such, he would never do it again if it caused someone to stumble (eating meat for example, Romans 14:20-22). A modern example we could use is alcohol–a gray area where some abstain, and others find nothing wrong. I will not reveal my side of the issue here, but I will say I usually am disappointed with the arguments those in favor use, and the defense people use when confronted or someone indicates they’re uncomfortable with the idea Christians drink. In fact, I hear the “it’s my freedom” card all the time, but can you imagine Paul–who talked of his freedoms–arguing with a weak believer why he won’t give something up even though there’s “nothing Scripturally wrong with it?”

    When Paul writes he’d rather die than cause another to stumble, I think it leaves little argument as to what he thinks of that attitude. Yet many Christians would label you legalistic or judgmental if you even suggest some “gray area” offends them. In fact, the “all things to all men” stuff, Paul is usually giving up and abstaining from things, not indulging in them, in order to be relevant and not a stumbling block to others. We’ve got it backwards?

    I hear people say to me all the time (just so you know, I hardly ever ask or suggest not going, but other people bring it up more than I do)–that going clubbing with unsaved co-workers or school-mates is “the only way to reach them or share something in common with them and that’s how you’ll share the Gospel”. Too funny, and too lame. For one thing, if you want to go clubbing, do so, but don’t pretend it’s for spiritual reasons. When I hear this, I always ask the person if they can introduce to me someone they’ve led to Jesus from going and getting hammered with them. I’m not bluffing either–nor do I ask it to be difficult or holier than though, but I’ve never been introduced to any “bar hopping ministry” converts.

    In a tragic example of how come this doesn’t work, and that it’s always easier to get sucked into sin than it is to rescue people out of it, I remember before going to FIRE years ago, a deeply passionate and intense brother in the Lord started going to parties and bars as a witness to a sport team he was on–which going to a bar in and of itself I’m not against–like setting foot in a pub is not a sin, and I don’t crap my pants when I hear of men of God going out for a drink with their friend or shooting pool, but I hardly believe social dancing really ever benefits many with the Gospel. Just my humble opinion after a few years of observing–for the simple reason that believers need the same dope from the world in order to unwind, then we show we really aren’t satisfied with what we’ve got, so why should they want our Gospel?

    Anyway, there’s this particular night club in Peterborough, known for having a booth on stage where a random guy and girl enter it together, and are given something like 30 seconds to disrobe on the inside of it, and trade as much clothing as possible, and whatever stage of dress or undress they are in, they come out of the booth before the audience. This bar’s trademark contest was common knowledge to me since I worked across the street at a Subway franchise for almost a year, but what was not common knowledge–or expected was when someone sent me a web link showing me that the particular brother I mentioned a moment was one of the people who participated in that the week earlier and won the contest they have! Yikes.

    For some reason seeing him in his boxer shorts with a girl topless with blurry lines covering her upper body doesn’t strike me as what the apostle Paul had in mind when “becoming all things to all men”.

    Friends, let’s get real and not twist Scripture to fulfill the lusts of our flesh, but give them up and live above board on every matter, even grey areas. I don’t mind tattoos and piercings on believers, or styles of MODEST clothing that resemble current trends and styles, but I think I’d rather wear a suit and tie to reach the lost more than pierce myself in eighteen different places to become “relevant” to a certain peer group. Much of the reasons we come up with for doing certain things is usually to defend the fact we WANT to do certain things, and hardly ever to reach anyone or anything.

    Isn’t that the truth? Be honest now.

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    Steve Bremner is a Canadian missionary to Peru, who is called to raise up disciples who flow in the power of the Holy Spirit within a missional community named Oikos. He is passionate about blogging and podcasting, and is general editor of Fire Press, and also produces & co-hosts its podcast called Fire On Your Head. If you like Steve's blog, you'll also like his Kindle books.
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