Paul writes in his 1st letter to the Corinthian church that he has become all things to all people so that by all possible means, he might save some. OK, can I just go on record as saying that that practice is both impossible and exhausting! Here's his full statement:
21To 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. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:21-23
Who can be all things to all people? I think it's safe to say I neither want nor am able to be all things to one person, let alone all people. Who can pull that off?
I know Paul is not talking about being anyone's emotional, spiritual and physical support system. He's talking about sharing his faith in a deeply personal way. But even that sounds exhausting. Obviously, we can't present a generic version of faith to anyone and everyone and expect them to automatically embrace or accept it. There is no such thing as cookie cutter Christianity. It has to hit them where they're living. But that requires investing ourselves in the lives of others -- usually a little more than we are willing, huh?
More and more, I am seeing the importance of helping people to understand that they are imprisoned by their own human frailty and guilt. Likewise, I am convinced that God does NOT want us to live in a 8x10 prison cell in our minds, surrounded by every bad thing we've ever done. In fact, Jesus Christ is absolute proof that spiritual prison is the last place God desires for us to be. So what are we going to do to help others break free from the chains?
In my personal Bible study, we continue to make our way through the book of Acts. Now, we see Paul settling in to different cities instead of jumping from place to place. First, 18 months in Corinth. Then, 3 years in Ephesus. Just reading a few excerpts from Acts 20, you get a good idea of Paul's relentless life of service to the kingdom:
"You know how I lived the whole time I was with you," he said. "From the first day I came into Asia Minor, 19 I was free of pride. I served the Lord with tears. I served him even though I was greatly tested by the evil plans of the Jews. 20 You know I haven't let anyone keep me from preaching anything that would be helpful to you. I have taught you in public and from house to house. 21 I have told both Jews and Greeks that they must turn away from their sins to God. They must have faith in our Lord Jesus." -- Acts 20: 17b-21
"But my life means nothing to me. I only want to finish the race. I want to complete the work the Lord Jesus has given me. He wants me to give witness to others about the good news of God's grace." -- Acts 20:24
"Remember that for three years I never stopped warning you. Night and day I warned each of you with tears." -- Acts 20:31
Paul never cut himself any slack. What does that imply for the rest of us? On the one hand, I hear people say that the work of God is serious and eternal (so stay on it). On the other hand, I hear people say, "My family has to come first." What is this balancing act we are called to perform all the time? Jesus said, "Who are my mothers and my brothers? Anyone who does the will of my Father is my mother and my sister and my brother." To what extent are we called to apply this statement to our own service for the kingdom of God?
Among us are people whom we might term as over-achievers or Super Christians. That being the case, is everyone else off the hook? "Oh, I could never be like Jim (Tom, Carl, Judy, Lisa -- pick a saint you know)." So because we can't be like him/her, we convince ourselves we don't have to be anything at all, right?
I'm thinking of a song lyric I quote a lot that says, "God wants our best, not our better than."
I confess that I struggle with people who won't take things as seriously as I do. What does God think about that? Do I need to just get over myself? Do I need to stop looking around and saying, "Well if ... if ... if ..." and just focus on what God is able to accomplish through me? I think I know that the answer is yes, but I sure want to retreat into my hole at times and defend myself with, "Well, I could never do what so and so does, so I'll just do nothing." Of course, a very reliable source assures me that whether I am focusing on the actions (or lack thereof) of others or using them to justify my own "inaction", I am looking in the wrong direction.
Becoming all things to all people in order to save some people. It's an effective strategy, that's for sure. I just don't know how well it is executed by 21st century Christians. (Present company included.)
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