We live in a world where it is easy for us to fall under the sway of the seemingly all-demanding “I”. It’s been like that ever since Genesis 3 where Satan lured Eve into eating from the forbidden tree by speaking words exalting personal autonomy: You will be like God (Genesis 3:5). When we come to Jesus we realize that this self-worship gets us nowhere good and that true happiness and true life comes from the One who told us to deny self daily (Luke 9:23).
As we read in 1 Corinthians 8&9, Paul learned that life in Jesus means great freedom. There are still things that are right and wrong, things to do and avoid, but in letting go of self and following the great Savior-King we possess many great freedoms a life of self-worship and sin did not afford us.
Yet, for the sake of the gospel—in people coming to Jesus and in people growing in Jesus, Paul was willing to lay aside certain rights. We read:
But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block for the weak. … Therefore, if food makes my brother or sister stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother or sister stumble. ~1 Corinthians 8:9, 13
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. … I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. ~1 Corinthians 9:19, 22
Paul wasn’t advocating a compromise of faith. He did not start worshiping Greek and Roman gods and goddesses in order to connect with people in his culture. Nor did he ever give a hint that they might be true gods or goddesses. Paul never took his eyes off Jesus crucified, resurrected, and ascended, the only solution to sin and the only way to salvation.
Instead, Paul advocated a willingness to set aside personal freedoms in order to see as many people as possible come to know Jesus and grow in Jesus.
He wasn’t afraid to offend with the gospel, as the story and person of Jesus is offensive to certain people (1:23). But beyond that he would do all that he could to avoid offending another. So if a fellow Christian, young in their faith, struggled with the appropriateness of eating meat sacrificed to idols, then Paul said, “I will avoid it.” If he was sharing Jesus with one of his fellow Jews and they ate fish and lamb but not pork, then he would eat only fish and lamb.
This is what Paul meant by all things to all people. Except for the gospel and Jesus himself, if something Paul did or felt he was free to do would hinder his witness to another, then he would set aside his freedom for the sake of the other. This is the reversal of Genesis 3 and the propensity to exalt self, instead choosing to walk in the same humility and other-concern that Jesus showed by going to the cross in the first place. This is the same attitude we should have as well.
This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.