Perhaps no passage in Holy Scripture has been explained away like I Corinthians 9:19-23 (NIV), particularly part of verse 22: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” Doesn’t that make Christianity random or haphazard–not methodical or sure? Isn’t Paul saying, “Whatever?” There’s no way he could have meant that–not like it sounds.
It’s a bit risky to isolate one thing that Paul wrote. After all, he wrote a lot–to different people for different reasons. But what Paul wrote in I Corinthians 9 was solidly Paul. It went to the heart of his ministry.
Paul wasn’t saying, of course, that anything goes. In almost every letter he wrote, he didn’t hesitate to condemn sin. He was also a chief apologist for the teachings of Jesus. Paul was the person in the early church largely responsible for spreading the good news, winning new converts, and establishing churches. Though we usually associate Paul’s ministry with the Gentiles, he also preached to the Jews.
How was he so successful in converting to Christ people coming from such different extremes? The text in I Corinthians 9:19-23 answers the question: “I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews…To those not having the law I became like one not having the law…so as to win those not having the law.” So, he had become all things to all people–to bring them Christ’s salvation. He added an exclamation point in verse 23: “I do all this for the sake of the gospel…”
And what Paul wrote in I Corinthians 9:19-23 wasn’t some one-off statement unrelated to his other teachings. It fit squarely within his overall message.
There’s more to come.