1 Corinthians 9:19-23 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make 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 men 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.
Let’s face it, Christianity is not for everyone.
If you are a religious person who looks down on those who are not as faithful in worship as you are, who doesn’t understand why other Christians struggle with sin so much, who can detect the angels’ clapping their wings at your record of obedience, and who has led such an exemplary life that you’re sure you’ve landed a spot on heaven’s honor roll, then you’ll feel like you are slumming in Christianity, for Jesus calls, poor, miserable sinners, not those who sport homemade halos.
If you are disgusted by your brother who says he’s gay, or shun your sister who has three children by three different guys, or disdain those who are of a different political persuasion than you are, or you look down your nose upon the masses of good-for-nothings, then you’ll have no use for the God of failures who dined with sinners, who bled for lawbreakers, traded places with murderers, and offered paradise to thieves.
If you’ve cocooned yourself and your family from the immorality of the world so that you don’t have to rub shoulders with people who could use a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, a whispered prayer, a word of encouragement, then the God who calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves will seem hopelessly out of touch with your insulated life of self-sufficiency.
If you have received persecution for your faith and then feel vindicated when something happens to your persecutor; if you have warned an unrepentant sibling and then feel justified when their sins come back to haunt them; if you have been rejected with your morality and then feel vindicated when someone else’s immorality ruins their life, then you will be scandalized at the Father who sprints like a madman to throw His arms around the neck of the returning prodigal.
Yes, Christianity is not for everyone.
Christianity certainly wasn’t for Saul. He despised Jesus. He hated His followers. He travelled on business trips to put Christians in prison. He gained extra Pharisee points when he executed Christians who would not deny their Savior.
While on a mission trip to Damascus to arrest and imprison more faithful followers of Jesus, Saul had a personal encounter with the crucified and risen Christ. That visit changed Saul permanently. It changed his name. It changed his perspective. It changed his work. It changed his witness. It changed his eternity.
Jesus had forgiven him for his past, so Saul – now called Paul – gave up his role as persecutor and became a public proclaimer of the wonderful glory and grace which comes from believing in the Savior’s story of salvation. From that moment on, Paul told anyone, everyone, of how their lives could be changed through faith in the Redeemer.
In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul shared how strongly he felt about sharing the Savior’s story. He wrote: “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” It was a constant source of sorrow to Paul that most of his fellow Jews had rejected Christ’s Gospel. That they might find salvation was the constant burden of his prayers (Romans 10:1) and a high priority in his ministry.
Thus, it was his policy in each town to begin his ministry in the synagogue, appealing to the Jews first. To win the Jews, Paul became like a Jew. He was careful never to cause them unnecessary offense. He had Timothy circumcised “because of the Jews in those areas” (Acts 16:3).
Paul was free from the Old Testament laws because of what Jesus accomplished with His perfect life and atoning sacrifice. However, Paul did not make an arrogant display of his new freedom, but reached out to his Jewish brothers and sisters to win them for the Gospel. To those who still struggled to give up these Old Testament laws that they had celebrated their entire lives, Paul kept the Sabbath and festival days; he did not eat pork or shellfish; and he observed the rite of circumcision. In all this, however, he did not compromise his faith in Christ.
Likewise, Paul had become to those without the law like someone without the law. Paul acted like a Gentile convert. He insisted that the Gentiles had no need to practice circumcision and observe the Jewish food laws, festivals, and regulations (Colossians 2:16). The apostle was adamant that Titus, whose parents were both Gentile, must not be circumcised (Galatians 2:3). As long as Gentiles believed the Gospel and were baptized, Paul was satisfied. Salvation in Jesus was the goal, not the rules and regulations that had pointed the way to the Savior.
Paul also identified with the weak and avoided anything that would give them unnecessary offense like eating food sacrificed to idols. Thus, Paul exemplified his own motto: “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but be willing to associate with the lowly” (Romans 12:16).
Paul’s flexibility in accommodating himself to all people was governed by one overriding purpose: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”
In this, Paul was modeling himself after his Master. Jesus ate and drank with sinners. He was not ashamed to eat with them. But He did not let them remain in their sin, either. He told the woman caught in adultery, “Go and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11). After Zacchaeus ate dinner with Jesus, He was converted and then sanctified to pay back four times any amount he had cheated from anyone in their taxes (John 19:8).
Jesus accepted water from a Samaritan woman and engaged in a conversation of living water with her (John 4). He healed the daughter of a Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30). He allowed an unclean woman with a bleeding issue to touch the clean Son of God and healed her of her debilitating disease (Mark 5:34).
Jesus reached out to Judas before he betrayed Him. Jesus warned Peter before he denied Him. Jesus traded places with Barabbas. Jesus forgave the Roman soldiers and Jewish religious leaders who were murdering Him. Jesus gave eternal paradise to the repentant thief. Jesus converted the Roman centurion at the moment of His death.
Jesus accommodated Himself to those around Him, without compromising His saving message. Paul showed himself a model of missionary adaptability while sharing Christ’s saving message with both Jews and Gentiles. In the face of enormous pressure to conform our message to the world’s ways, we are determined to reach out to all while at the same time only preaching Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). We do this for the sake of the Gospel, that we may share its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:23).
We become all things to all people so that we might save some.
Yes, Christianity is not for everyone. That’s sadly because many don’t want what Christianity has to offer.
But if, like the Jews who were converted to Christianity, you realize that your rules and morality and nice clothing and better manners are fine, but Jesus as your Savior is finer.
If, like the Gentiles who were converted to Christianity, you realize that your life is one screw-up after another, your closets are packed with skeletons, and your heathen gods you created for yourself are worthless, then let me tell you about a Savior who went out of His way to hang out with society’s pariahs and was glad to earn the nickname “friend of sinners.”
If, like the weak in the Corinthians congregation, you realize that you are losing your battle with depression, your cancer is kicking your butt, your Alzheimer’s is stripping you of your memory, your dialysis or chemotherapy or myriad of pills are not going to keep you alive much longer – if you have lost hope for this life – then let me tell you about the God who laid down His life for you so that He might take you in His arms, make you alive, and grant you hope for the life to come.
If, rich or poor, you realize that your moral bank account is penniless, that you have no righteous riches to fill the wallets of others, much less God, then let me tell you about the God who, though He was rich, for your sake became poor, that He might enrich you with golden blood minted in divinity’s veins.
If you are lost and hurt and guilty and trapped and can’t seem to do a thing about it; if you’re are trying to fill a hunger with earthly delights; if you’re bored with existence and keep thinking that there must be something else to life; then let me tell you about a Good Shepherd to left everyone else to find you; let me tell you about a Divine Physician who binds up your wounds with the salve of His Gospel; let me tell you about an Advocate who replaces your guilt with His forgiveness; let me tell you about a Conqueror who has released you from Satan’s trap and opened wide the gates of heaven for you.
If you are straight or gay, divorced or married; single or living in sin; addicted or clean; young or old; a covert or a life-long Lutheran … then Christianity is for you.
And Christianity is not a religion; it’s a person. It’s Jesus, the God of flesh and blood, who is looking at you even as you listen to these words, saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. I forgave you before you even knew you needed forgiveness; died for you even before you were born; rose for you even before you knew you were dead and needed my life. I am your God — all yours — and you are my child — all mine.
That’s Christianity; it’s all a gift, and that gift is Christ for you.
And when you realize that Christianity is for you … then you realize that Christianity is also for everyone else. Amen.