1 Corinthians 9:19-23
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Love makes you do some undesirable things. I thought of an example that fits for parents: change diapers. You love your baby. You know they need to be clean. And even though it’s stinky and sometimes you get hit by some not-so-friendly fire, you do it. But every parent will admit that it gets old. Sometimes you and your spouse do a rock-paper-scissors best of three to see who has to do the change. Sometimes you wish the oldest was old enough to do it. The great thing about changing diapers is that eventually you don’t have to do it anymore; the baby grows up. Love makes you do some undesirable or uncomfortable things for a while.
But all things, does love make you do all things? Is that really possible? I mean, last week we began this evangelism training series by taking a good look at the story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan. Remember that when the love of Christ is in your heart you are built to show love to people just as Christ has shown love to you. You will help someone when they are in need. You will give money to those who have been affected by a disaster of some kind. You will put yourself in a position where you have to sacrifice something for someone else’s benefit. You will change diapers. You will. There’s no question about that.
When the topic is evangelism there is a similar attitude. Christ has given you his good news. It’s not just a little piece of your life along with all these other details and descriptions that are more important. The gospel is the number one biggest and best thing that you have, because in the gospel you have the good news that you are saved by Jesus free and full. God loves you so much that he decided to make heaven your eternal home because of what Jesus has done for you. God has made this your good news.
But he has also made this universally good for everyone and God wants all people to be saved, so God wants your good news to be their good news. You do have people in your family, your group of friends, your neighborhood, your work – there are people who you know who don’t have or don’t care much about this good news. You can talk about Jesus, religion, faith, church with them. You can work up the courage to bring it up with a spouse, relative, friend or neighbor. You can invite them to worship, to take a Bible Basics course together, to meet up with me for a chat sometime. You can. And since this good news of the gospel is so good, you have probably tried doing this before.
But the Good Samaritan story is one that Jesus makes up to teach us who we should love and what love does. From that story we learn that every single person who is not me is my neighbor. With Christ’s love in my heart, I will be willing to help them. And with Christ’s love in my heart I will be willing to help them quite a bit. But the story is only about one specific occasion. You and I could probably do that kind of Good Samaritan thing one time. You and I can go out of our way to help someone who needs it once. We could pay for someone’s meal or groceries once. We could spring into action if a neighbor kid gets hurt and no one else is around. We could do a fundraiser for someone in need. We could give some confused person directions. We could put some gas in someone’s car. All sorts of stuff that we could do because we are loved by Jesus and his love is now present in our hearts.
But what if it’s more than once? What if it becomes a pattern? When it comes to loving others, what if we have to do it a lot? When it comes to evangelism, speaking the good news of Jesus, what if we have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable? This section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians helps us with that.
The Apostle Paul had worked hard among the people of Corinth. He wanted them to have what he had. So much, in fact, that he did not even take any kind of payment from them when he first stopped in Corinth on his second missionary trip. He put himself in that position because serving people was his main goal. He was also willing to mingle with both Jews and Gentiles because the gospel is for all every single person was worth it. That wasn’t the normal way to do things back then.
Now, we might look at that and think Paul’s nuts. Actually, there were plenty of people in Corinth who were trying to convince the members of the congregation that Paul was not only nuts for doing that but also not a true apostle. They were saying something like this: “Paul must not be a real preacher called by God because every preacher should get some kind of payment for his work. And a real preacher would certainly not be seen with the kind of people we saw Paul with when he was here the last time.”
But Paul answers that by saying, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone…” Paul says it doesn’t matter who it is, if there are people who could be served in his ministry, then he would do it. He willingly put himself on the line for their sake. Paul wanted, in so many various ways, to find common ground with everyone so that he could serve them with what was most important .
It’s not just a one-time thing like the story of the Good Samaritan. Paul made it his practice to be in situations that other people might not be comfortable in. “To the Jews I became like a Jew… to those under the law I became like one under the law…to those not having the law I became like one not having the law…to the weak I became weak…” Paul was willing to make real changes in how he approached different people, but he never changed who he was. Paul was a Christian. That was first and foremost no matter who he met or who he was serving. He was bought with the blood of Christ and had this same gospel message for others.
So that meant he could be like a Jew for those who were from the Jewish heritage. Paul was also from that heritage, from the tribe of Benjamin. He could be like those who still followed all the Old Testament ceremonial laws about eating only kosher food, wearing certain kinds of clothes, observing special festivals. Even though Christ set us free from all those ceremonials laws by fulfilling them for us perfectly, Paul could set aside that kind of freedom for the Jews and for those who like following those ceremonials laws. He didn’t do it one time, but he was willing to get comfortable, doing it a lot.
He could also be like Gentiles who didn’t know or care about any of those Old Testament ceremonial laws that were meant for the Jews. Christ sets us free from those laws that God commanded for Israel in the Old Testament. Paul knew that he could serve those Gentiles just as well as long as it did not violate God’s moral law, the Ten Commandments. Paul does make that concession, that we are in the law of Chris to love God with every fiber of our being and love our neighbor as ourselves. But if there was no sin involved in reaching out to Gentiles Paul was willing to do anything for them.
He could even be seen serving those who were “weak,” They had a weak conscience. They were easily offended by anyone who would dare do something they would not do. Paul was willing to give up so much of what was perfectly fine for him to do, so that he could find common ground with those who are touchy about everything.
Now, what would make Paul willing to be so uncomfortable, like he always had to change his outlook and his preferences for others, like he was every person’s slave, even though Christ had set him free? Maybe before we answer that I should ask you the same question.
What would make you willing to get uncomfortable not just once, but to get comfortable with being uncomfortable? Maybe if someone paid you enough? Like an actor, they have to play some parts that are undesirable, but the payoff makes it all worth it. Is that what it would be for you? Or maybe someone really close and special to you? You could perhaps change some of your preferences and then flip-flop back whenever it was for their benefit, as long as it was not sin, of course.
But Paul says he didn’t accept payment in Corinth. And when he arrived there he didn’t know any of the people. So what made him “become all thing to all people”? That answer is simple for him and just as simple for us. “so that by all possible means I might save some.”
Paul’s not interested in his own comfort level. Paul’s not interested in the finances. Paul’s not interested in his own popularity. Paul’s not interested in any of that. What he is interested in is saving people from hell. But Paul isn’t the one who could do that. So Paul had to talk about the one who did. That’s giving the good news of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
Think about what Jesus did. He was not a Jew or Gentile. Jesus is the eternal God; there is no nationality for God. He was not someone under the law or someone not having the law. Jesus is the one who invented the law. He was not weak or strong. Jesus is omnipotent, that means all-powerful. And yet Jesus decided to get comfortable in what many would say is uncomfortable. He came down from heaven to do it all. He became the servant of all. He was humble and selfless. And then he was beaten and killed. He came to be the good news that sinners don’t have to die and go to hell. Jesus came to wash sins away and give a new life, free from law, free from guilt, free from the traps of the devil. He came to be the good news that heaven awaits all who believe in Jesus.
That’s why Paul did what he did. He was willing to get uncomfortable because the gospel is just that good of news. Don’t you think that it might happen that there are people who need this good news and they don’t have your lifestyle? Don’t you think there might happen to be some who have a different nationality than you? Don’t you think it might happen that some look at Jesus in a different way than you? Don’t you think there might be some who are under the load of the law and some who aren’t? Don’t you think there might be some who are weak? Of course! Do you know what they need? The Gospel of Jesus.
It just so happens that Jesus has made this good news your very own. And so he makes it easy for you to see the situation how it really is. It’s not about how desirable or comfortable a situation is. It’s not about your feelings or thoughts. It’s not about you at all. It’s about him. Jesus has made you to be the kind of person that wants to serve him by serving others. Jesus has given you his gospel. You have a God who forgives you, saves you, gives you a new life, holds you in the palm of his hand, protects you, guides you. There is nothing better, more comfortable than that.
When it comes to evangelism, we don’t have to be nervous, uneasy, or uncomfortable. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus. We can be all things to all people because the gospel is just that good. Amen.