For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so 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 I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
“I have become all things to all people” could be the slogan of certain spin doctors and politicians, prepared to turn their arguments on a sixpence in order to win support.
Paul, however, makes it clear that his sole aim was to fulfil his calling to bring Jesus to people whose customs and religions were far from those of his own homeland, To even enter into discussion, it was necessary to find common ground through flexibility on things that did not matter while adhering to those that did.
The Pharisee Saul would have balked at a warm relationship with an uncircumcised man or eating non-kosher food with a couple who cooked a meal on the Sabbath. But now Paul was a missionary for Jesus who ate with tax collectors, protected a woman caught in adultery from the obligatory stoning and joined his disciples picking corn for a snack on the Sabbath.
Paul had come to realise that it was necessary to forego strict and unforgiving tradition. He could behave “properly” in a Jewish gathering while talking about Jesus who had been crucified and eat meals he would never have imagined in a gentile household. He reached out to everyone while retaining the integrity of his Christian message.
We Christians now live where a host of faiths abide side by side. We share our daily lives with many who have no faith at all, and may treat with us with scorn and even abuse. Yet we too have a calling to share the message of love with our neighbours.
In doing so, we need to seek the common ground, listen respectfully before speaking, be kind to everyone we encounter, and avoid prejudice and judgement which can form a barrier to fruitful conversation – in other words “become all things to all people”.
Lord of all, Help us to reach out to everyone we encounter day by day. Teach us the value of friendly humility. Enable us to share our faith in ways we have never considered before. Amen
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