“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. I have become all things to all people, that by all means, I might save some.” – 1 Corinthians 9:19, 22b
Think about the following scenario and be honest with your initial reaction. Have you been in a similar position? Do you think the scene plays out according to the biblical principle we see in today’s Bible quote?
Stewart is a Christian man that absolutely loves watching football. Every week he carves out time to get together with his buddies to watch the biggest games. They usually watch the game at their favorite bar as they enjoy some cold beers and pretzels.
The problem is they often get carried away, including Stewart. One day he was confronted by a Christian friend who saw that he had overindulged in alcohol. His friend pointed out the fact that Stewart was not representing Christ as he should. What was Stewart’s response?
“Hey, just as Paul said, I have become ‘all things to all people, so that I may win some for Christ.'”
Stewart was implying that he had to become like those he was trying to share Christ with. In reality, he was using Scripture as an excuse to do what he wanted to do. He actually did the complete opposite of what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians.
The context of the above scenario is not an assessment of a Christian’s use of alcohol. The Scripture clearly teaches that the abuse of alcohol is a sin. However, our little story does portray the incorrect way we interpret Paul’s instructions as it relates to sharing the gospel.
You cannot take verse 22 and separate it from the rest of the passage, especially 1 Corinthians 9:19. Verse 19 sets the tone for how we can understand Paul’s message. The avenue in which we become “all things to all people” is through making ourselves “a servant to all.”
Sandwiched between the two verses mentioned above are three examples that portray Paul’s intentions. “To the Jews, I became a Jew [those under the law]… To those outside the law, I became as one outside the law… To the weak, I became weak.”
He is referencing the willingness to identify with others, rather than participate in their sin. Paul’s purpose is to “win more of them” and “save some.” A Christian cannot do this properly by behaving like those who don’t know Christ. There is no appeal in that.
Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 is that Christians ought to be willing to sacrifice some of their freedoms in Christ for the sake of leading others to the cross. Well-known author John McArthur said that Paul “never set aside the truth of the gospel, but he would gladly restrict his liberty in the gospel.”
So what does this mean for the Christian? How can we become “all things to all people”? Sacrifice rather than exploit the freedom we have in Christ. We should never participate in sin in order to “win others for Christ.” That’s not a tactic that Paul or anyone else in Scripture would suggest.
The above scenario presented the incorrect interpretation and application of Paul’s teaching. In fact, Paul’s immediate context was culture and how we should interact with those who are different from us.
If you wanted to spend time with someone but their culture dictated when and where you met, you abide by their standards out of love to make them feel comfortable. If you visit another country to share the gospel, you live by their “rules” so that you don’t become a stumbling block to the gospel.
Bottom line: Compromise your approach to sharing Christ without compromising the message of Christ.