When I was younger, I joined a group of guys as a song writer and performer. We were a band – but not a typical MTV band. We had some ulterior motives. We did not seek the money or the fame. We were seeking to carry the gospel to people who otherwise would not give it the chance. We went out for those city youth who were the odd apples in the schools like the Punks, Goths, gangs, poor, lonely, and of course those into Hip Hop. These were the people who would refuse the gospel from a typical church member. They simply would not listen. Thus, we were not the typical gospel band either. We utilized rap music. It was a fast growing genre in the city where we lived and these cultures were underground.
We quickly booked shows with the intent of speaking during and after the performance. Many outreaches and positive organizations hired us for entertainment, but we were always allowed to speak. These events were in high places like concert halls and rich houses as well as the low places like the ghettos and downtown streets. So in order to relate, we would adjust our clothing and style of performance. It was not a big change because our crowds were usually urban or at least the underground type. But instead of wearing gold watches, designer t-shirts and shoes, we chose to wear what our audience was wearing. We wanted them to know that we were not above their level. More than often, we would arrive early in order to join the audience members for basketball and conversations. We became like them in order to serve them.
This approach to evangelism had a wonderful impact. Our listeners were no longer setting us up on pillars of fame, but they were seeing us as one of them. So when we spoke our message, they respected us enough to listen as they would their friends. Some of them even carried on as our long-term friends. We loved it. We saw the success in the ministry’s fruit. Not in numbers, but in sincere changed lives. We knew it was because to God’s Spirit that they received the gospel message. But every time they mentioned their reason for conversion, they echoed the same thing. It was because of our relation.
First Corinthians 9:19, reads “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more.” In this passage, Paul elevates his desire to win others to the Lord. He points out that his motivation is so great, that he restricts his liberty in order to relate. He says, “To the Jews I became as a Jew… under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law… that I might win those who are without law.” Paul is referring to the Jews and Gentiles; the law and the lawless. Within the limits of God’s Word and his Christian conscience, he would be as culturally and socially Jewish as necessary when witnessing to the Jews. He was not bound by ceremonies and traditions of Judaism, but there was a constraint of love.
In Acts we are given some examples Paul being a Jew to the Jewish. In chapter 16 verses 13-15, he sat down to join Jews for prayer on the Sabbath (a Jewish day of worship). This resulted in him baptizing Lydia and her household. A couple of chapters later (v18:18), Paul shaved his head in order to be obedient to a Nazarite vow. And again in verses 21:20-26, speaks about his purification. It was a Jewish custom to be purified after being among Gentiles because you were then considered unclean. After he was purified he went through another ceremony marking the end of four men’s vows (the Nazirite vow). This was to prove to other Jews that Paul had not forsaken his Jewish heritage.
Paul continues in 1 Corinthians also saying that he will be “the weak, that [he] might win the weak.” Not just the Jews and Gentiles, but “all things to all men, that [he] might by all means save some.” His devotion to evangelism was great. But it did not push him to disobedience. Rather he does only what God and his conscience permit (v21). His passion was the lost. So by laying aside all liberties that he is entitled to, he evangelizes the lost.
Paul knew that the gospel was not for just one kind of people. It was not for the Jews only. Today, we might say that the gospel is not just for the church members or the high and lofty, but it is also for those weak and poor. I recall a time in high school that I would noticed a certain kid who would eat alone in the cafeteria. He was a small kid and was bullied a lot from the bigger guys. He was not considered a cool kid by any means. In fact, he was the rejected kind. So during lunch, he would sit alone and eat his food never acknowledging others.
I’m embarassed to say this, but I never did walk over and sit with him to talk. I was too prideful and would give into the pressure to be like the “end crowd.” I failed miserably and likely passed up a good set of opportunities to share the love of Christ. This is exactly what Paul is exposing. The gospel is for all people. And Christians should be humble enough to build relationships with those that are not one of the popular persons.
Paul says that he is “free from all men” but that he “made myself a servant to all.” Simply put, he states that he owes no man anything, but due to the love of Christ, he makes himself a servant to all people. That is to say that he humbles himself to serve and meet the needs of all kinds of people – regardless of the set backs.
In addition to that, Paul is good to cover his tracks. He also inserts a parenthetical disclosure to ensure that the gospel does not get abused. He says that he tries to be all things to all people. He means that to the broken hearted, he will be patient and comforting. To the poor, he will be like the poor not living lavishy. To the weak, he will reach down help with judgmental thoughts. But he discloses a good principle to remember. He says that to those who are without law, he will be without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ).” Plainly said, he refuses to sin against Christ in his efforts to win the lost.One of the problems today is that people will try so hard to win the lost that they too become lost by having the sin overcome them.
This bring us to our next point. We find later in Paul’s letter some additional safeguards:
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
Paul concludes this topic. He uses the illustration of a race that all believers run. It is the race of faith. This is the same illustration we found in Part 4: Principle of Excess.
The Greeks enjoyed two great athletic events, the Olympic games and the Isthmian games, and because the Isthmian events were held in Corinth, believers there were quite familiar with this analogy of running to win. Paul states that although all may run a race, only one receives the prize. But unlike the Isthmian races, where competitors strive for material crowns, we believers strive for an immaterial crown; an imperishable crown.
In the race of faith, we run for eternal reward that is far better than anything this world can offer. We run for God’s pleasure and glory. So it is important that we not only lay aside the excess, but we make our run count. We make every step worth it. Paul says that he does not run with uncertainty like a boxer who waves his arms without effect, but with careful discipline in order to be approved. He ends this statement by saying that he brings his liberties under subjection in order that he is not disqualified when he preaches to others. When Paul makes effort he wants it to count.
Jesus gave us a great commission to make disciples of men. He commanded us to go into the world and proclaim His truth to the people. But a message not accompanied in loving service, is no message at all. If God’s truth has not transformed our lives, why should we expect others to be when we teach them? The race of faith not only calls for a sound knowledge of God, but also a paralleled walk. And if our true passion is to win others, then our love will conquer our freedom. We live by example to our brethren, and we live to evangelize the lost.