When Paul spoke about “…being all things to all men…, 1” he was not saying to use the world’s contrivances or trappings, or any of the things that are popular in the world to attract people. Paul was not endorsing marketing techniques which rely upon emotional manipulation and attempt to utilize the frailties of humanity to bring about change.
What Paul Was Not Saying
Paul was not speaking about drawing people with gimmicks that would accomplish desired goals, even good ones such as witnessing to the un-saved, nor was he saying we should use complementary images to get them to listen our message. He was not talking about getting down and dirty with the masses or of learning what makes the world tick. He was not even talking about using rock-n-roll music to get kids to listen to the Gospel or giving away a meal or a bed for a night in exchange (a hook) for listing to a hell and damnation message.
What he was talking about was speaking to people in languages and terminologies that they understood. When speaking to fishermen about Jesus, using terms that fisherman related too and that they easily comprehended. When Paul addressed Sheppard’s, he used terms and analogies that aided them in understanding Spiritual truth. When talking to children, he used words that they would be familiar with.
The point being that the Gospel was to be taken to all people, in all places with all types of different backgrounds and cultures. It was to be made plain when necessary, deep when appropriate, and always clear as possible to the hearer. Rather than using big sounding, religious terms just to impress people, the message was what was important, not the verbiage used. This is not to say that big sounding words don’t have a purpose, they do.
By teaching the meaning of these religious words the teacher could spend less time repeatedly explaining more complicated subjects, and more time teaching a wider array of subject manner in greater detail. If the meaning of redemption, or salvation had to be habitually explained, much time is wasted. And even worst is when the teacher assumes that the hearer understands words that they don’t, or there is an assumption that the hearer has that they understand a word which is limited or incorrect. Teachers are to lift the student, to explain meanings, they are to make sure they comprehend the Gospel in all its glory.
Teachers are not to dumb down the Gospel. Most, if not every time Jesus taught, a majority of the hearers did not (fully) understand His message. According to Him, this was to fulfill the prophecy concerning Himself and His relationship with the Jews of His day, “that hearing, they would not hear; and seeing they would not see.”2
Jesus taught, knowing that it was the Holy Spirit that would give understanding to the hearer many of the enigmas Jesus presented. Yet, at the same time, much of what He had to say in essence was so simple and common that anyone could understand, yet the presupposition of the people, that they could fully comprehend without effort what Jesus taught was wrong. Many times what will we see is that due to the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit people at a later point understood Jesus prior messages. And sometimes, He explained to His followers the meaning of a teaching.
What we really need to understand about Jesus and His teaching was that He in His role as the Messiah was His primary function was Him dying on the cross for the sin of mankind, and His teachings being the foundation of the church that would follow. This is why after the situation between him and the Pharisees in Matthew chapter 13, Jesus states that He will only utilize parables in communicating to the masses. He goes on to define that parables were meant to create enigmas; not clarity. How common it is to hear preachers misrepresent what New Testament parables were meant for (in the Old Testament the purpose of parables was purely to openly teach, yet in the New Testament, after Matthew 13; Jesus changed the purpose of parables to fulfill Scriptures), they were mysterious sayings that the Holy Spirit would unravel to the hearer, they were not teaching tools to bring clarity to every one that heard them.
Jesus tells us this purpose in fulfillment of Isaiah 6:9,10; with the specific purpose of those which heard them would not understand their meaning. This is not to be confused with the stories that Jesus spoke about, which were meant to aid in teaching by being easier to remember. You can make a statement about something which can be easily forgotten, if you wrap the statement within a story, it is much easier to remember the story and therefore the purpose that it contains. Yet, we must always remember that Jesus’ mission was specific concerning what God had called Him to do, to die as the Lamb of God for the sins of the world (John 3:16). Many times we forget this to our own demise.
Many people talk about Jesus being passive and loving and caring, and act like He is defined by these qualities; yet Jesus said that He came to bring a sword – a division even within families (Matt. 10:34), and that on two occasions (John 2:15 records the first time in the beginning of His ministry, and Matt. 21:12 records the second time at the end of His ministry – see Warren Wiersbe Commentary) , Jesus overturned the money changers tables at the Temple and used a whip on the people.
The point is that we must use discernment in understanding the Bible, and misusing something that Jesus says in cross-reference to Paul when the subjects are not related is un-Biblical. Paul’s mission was to make clear the mysteries that Jesus had presented, and that the Holy Spirit had revealed to him, wherein sometimes Jesus said something to the masses which they would understand, but He would explain to the disciples later.
Paul’s Specific Meaning
In reading the following passage we must realize what it does not say, and what it does not mean, and therefore, realize that the subject matter does not relate that Paul ever compromised the Gospel, but that he compromised his own pride in presenting the Gospel. I Corinthians 9:18-23, states:
“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;. To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.” (KJV)
What Paul says, is: “unto the Jews, I became ‘as’ a Jew,” and “to them under the law, ‘as’ under the law,” and “to the weak became I “as” weak.”
The word “as” is used to indicate his form of communication to them, how he talked to them in the vernacular that they understood, both in terminology and examples. In our vernacular, we would say he spoke about the fish to fishermen, and used fishing words and analogies to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The word “as” indicates a figurative usage.
Paul did not become legalistic to those under the law, if he did, this would violate the grace of Jesus Christ.
He did not become weak and violate his own conscience to preach to those that were weak, this would have violated the Gospel concerning Christ’s statement that those that would love Him would keep his Commandments.
This Scripture in no way states that we are to approach the world utilizing worldly techniques or behaviors. We are in the world, but not of the world.
A simple Greek literal reading of the text, which is quite straightforward, would say:
“What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel. For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became [related] as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, [I related] as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, [I related] as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became [related] as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.” (I Corinthians 9:18-23)
Misusing this Concept
The problem of many current churches is that they misuse Paul’s teaching and indulge in employing the trappings of the world to attract the masses. They become user-friendly in their messages, seeker friendly in their outreach, and non-offensive altogether. They are salt without savor, candles without light, and are driven by the newest trend of the day. They are compromised and impotent. They do not realize that they have stopped increasing Christ’s Church, and have started growing their own congregations. They have become lukewarm, thinking they are hot. Naked, not seeing their nakedness. Poor, not perceiving that the massive structures, ministries, books, are reflections of their own egos and presuppositions concerning what success is; as opposed to dying to self by daily picking up their own cross and following Christ (Luke 9:23), doing His Will rather than their own.
They’ve replaced quality with quantity. And unfortunately the compromise of the church has been the indulgence of self-centeredness. As the seeker friendly focus of many large churches, utilizes such tools as: “Being Purpose Driven” (which focuses on the believer rather than Christ, even if for a supposed good cause) rather than being Christ driven. Mistaking excellence for “what ever you do, do with all your heart,”3 making winning the goal rather than dying.
Never coming to understand or address the fact that, God may want us to lose in certain arenas, wherein humility, and seeking God becomes the center of attention rather than the self-centeredness of “ME.” We forget one of the major examples of Jesus was that of dying to self, not serving self.
Besides the narcissism and materialism that are inherent to many of these presuppositions, one of the inherent problems is that of addressing issues in a pragmatic nature, which elevates success rather than accomplishing the goals that God had set out for His church.
We now have modern dance in our churches. The rationality is that individuals can communicate their worship to God by using their bodies, yet wearing non-modest attire, and displaying a lack of respect in a calm demeanor were displaying our own worship is not something to be watched, but something to be done in private as Jesus spoke about in Matthew 6.
The rationality that has been used for this type of behavior, has been that it gets young girls involved in the church, and in studying scriptures that they will act out. The problem becomes the self-centeredness that it exploits. Teaching young girls to draw attention to themselves, making worship into a form of entertainment rather than self-expression (Matt. 6:1-8). The church, in following the culture has become a place of entertainment, and where the activity of being a spectator has been legitimized.
The point is pragmatism; that of having a logical way of approaching things to achieve a logical successful / goal (which is completely goal oriented), doesn’t always work in Christianity. The reason why is human presuppositions are not Biblical, and humans can never separate themselves of their presuppositions. This is why many of the egregious atrocities of man have been done using the Scripture as justification, and yes, the Scripture was taken out of context either in the immediate passage, or concerning the whole of a biblical principles, and was twisted out of shape from what it was intended; however, when we do this for a supposed small thing in the church we open the door for the same to be done on a grander scale.
But the point is humans can mess up anything and everything; especially inside of the church of Jesus Christ. The Jews refused to acknowledge this (ability to warp things) and therefore became victims to it. The law that was meant to be a schoolteacher, they transformed into an accomplishment that merited salvation. This is why the Hebrews took the brazen snake on a staff, and started to worship it, rather than realizing it was a typological instrument that symbolized something that God wanted to communicate to them (according to Jesus in chapter 3:14), they utilized it pragmatically speaking, and centered their worship towards it. It was to be a reflection to be understood, not an object to be worshiped.
There are some things that cannot be combined with the Gospel without violating the integrity of the Gospel. You can’t witness by being a whore, no there’s no such thing as alcoholic ministry, that of being drunk and witnessing to drunks. You can’t be a criminal, violate the laws, as well as God’s Word, and then attempt to witness to criminals.
More and more churches are propagating the same message. Just look at the Seeker Friendly Churches, Rick Warren, the Emergent church, and the Name It and Claim It heresy, and you will see that the Pragmatic – success oriented – American culture is climbing into the church more each day.
It is knowing when to apply certain biblical principles in certain situations that the Holy Spirit living inside of us gives directions; but always according to God’s Word. Being all things to all men is not meant that you turn the Gospel into something that the world is comfortable with. It is communicating the Gospel to a lost and dying world that by its very nature is opposed to that message, but that people need to relate too and understand in their own vernacular; especially considering how offense that it’s message is to our proud human self-centered nature.
1. I Corinthians 9:22 ~ “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”
2. Isaiah 6:9,10 ~ ”And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.”
3. Colossians 3:22-25 ~ “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.”