All Things to All People

Scripture: 1st Corinthians 9:16-23

Key Verse(s): To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (v. 22-23)

Observation: An initial reading of this passage could leave the reader feeling that Paul is a little full of himself. His proclamation that he has become all things to all people can be taken as arrogant at best and putting himself equal with Christ at worst. However, if we read this passage in context of an apparent controversy among the community of believers in Corinth concerning whether it is permissible to eat meat sacrificed to idols, we come away with a much different understanding of Paul’s proclamation. Those who were “strong” in their faith recognized that the gods to whom the meat had been sacrificed were not of any consequence and thus they were free to eat it. In truth, they were correct in their assertion as Paul admits. However, Paul invites these “strong” believers to consider those he calls “weak” believers. How does eating this meat affect them? Paul believes the “weak” will misunderstand the practice of eating meat sacrificed to idols and will undermine the ability of the “strong” to share the gospel. His logic to the “strong” is expressed in his personal example of giving up specific rights due to him as an apostle of Jesus Christ (v. 3-12). Paul encourages the “strong” to follow his example of giving up their right to eat meat sacrificed to idols in order to save the “weak.”

Analysis: Paul is advising the Corinthians to “not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4b) and to remember how Jesus laid aside his divine rights so that we might be saved (Philippians 2:5-11). Paul provides the key for solving the dispute over meat sacrificed to idols and indeed all disputes that arise among believers. He says that he has become “as like” the Jews, those under the law, and those not under the law. However, he says that he has become the weak (can also be translated as “sick”). For all people Paul seeks to find common ground to win them over. However, for those who are “weak” or “sick” he becomes them; putting himself in their position so that they might be saved or made whole. At a time when Christians are at each others throats over a variety of issues, we need to hear Paul’s admonition to put aside our rights and our feelings of being right. We need to hear Paul saying to us who believe that we are “strong” to look at those we consider “weak” and become them. We need to hear that Jesus came for all people and if we are to be his followers we are charged with becoming all things to all people.

Prayer: God of all creation. God of all people. God of love and inclusion, forgive us of our need to be right and to wallow in our enjoyment of our rights. Free us from need to prove ourselves so that we might share your gospel without strings or conditions. In Jesus name. Amen.

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