What does it mean to “become all things to all people” (1 Cor 9:22)? Why would becoming all things to all people make our witness more effective?
Even though Paul was “free from all,” he chose to “become as one” with them (1 Cor 9:19-22). Becoming as one with someone does not require compromise—but only to see things from their perspective. By listening to people’s stories, you can enter their world to understand why they believe what they believe and do what they do. The goal is to “win” them (not the argument)—that is, to win their trust and invite them to enter your story of redemption.
It’s easier to just talk about the weather and sports. I mean, who cares about all their stories? Isn’t that why we have pastors and bartenders? On a scale of 1 to 10, how much agility do you have to enter other people’s world of stories? Who needs you to become as one with them?
It takes a lot of work to enter someone’s hopes and disappointments and invite them into yours. Perhaps that is why Paul compares becoming all things to all people (entering their stories) to rigorous athletic training (1 Cor 9:24-25). He is not talking about the discipline of running the race of the Christian life; he’s talking about witnessing—about having the tenacity and discipline to stay with people. It takes a tremendous amount of work to understand someone’s politics and passions and quirky obsessions. It’s so easy to quit—especially when someone is a bit high maintenance!
Becoming all things to all people requires some heavy lifting. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much self-discipline do you have to actually stay with people? Who needs some patient “heavy lifting” from you?
You don’t have to be a becoming-all-things-to-all-people kind of witness. Athletes can sleep in and eat ice cream. But “after preaching to others,” you might find yourself “disqualified” (literally, “shown a counterfeit,” 1 Cor 9:27). Paul is NOT talking about losing your salvation; he’s talking about what will become of your witness if you’re not willing to do the hard stuff, the hard work of thinking deeply and entering someone’s world. You’d just be “running aimlessly” and “beating the air” no matter how earnest your intentions might be (1 Cor 9:26).
PRAY: Lord, I want to learn how to “become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” Give me the agility and tenacity to “do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” For Jesus sake, Amen. (1 Cor 9:22-23)