Paul continues his exhortation on cultural relevance. He uses his own actions to exemplify what he is talking about when he explains how important it is to not portray ourselves as “better than” those who don’t believe or even those who do not exhibit the same amount of faith as we have.
1 Corinthians 9:19-22
19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.
Some folks might read this passage to mean that we must conform to the world. Let us not skip over verse 21, which clearly outlines that while Paul may be conforming some parts of his life in order to better relate to others, he is still not compromising his morality. We aren’t to conform to sinfulness just to show others we are “cool” like they are, rather we are still different. Jesus hung out with the worst of the worst, and they all loved and respected Him, yet He never sinned. As Paul explained earlier that while we are not of this world, we are certainly in it and there are ways we can better relate to anyone without compromising the life God has called us to live. We must also recognize the importance of knowing what God has called us to do. A recovering alcoholic should probably avoid going to bars to evangelize. Paul says this to the Ephesians in chapter 6, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” We all have our areas of temptation and we all have our areas of ministry.
Some might think this passage is a good explanation of why or how we should be deceptive in sharing the gospel. However, this cannot be the case because 1) it isn’t about having “convincing speech” and 2) belief comes from God anyway, so how can we trick them? Rather, this flows with what Paul previously explained is that we aren’t to think ourselves higher than others because of our faith as he mentioned in chapter 8, 7 However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. After all, aren’t we more prone to listen to someone if we feel like they don’t look down upon us? So too we should remember that others don’t like feeling that way either.
Despite Jesus’ deity, He became a slave to humanness to show us that He loves us. God sacrificed His freedom as an omniscient God in order to relate to us. Until then, God was just some angry dude in the sky who could smite us in an instant but we didn’t truly appreciate and understand His love for us until He came down and met us where we are at: faithful or faithless. So too we are called to meet people where they are instead of trying to loom over them like spiritual superheroes (like the Pharisees did).
Are you puffing yourself up like a spiritual superhero or are you humbling yourself to serve others with the love of God?