The Apostle Paul was rather infamous for opening up a can o’ worms. You can hardly fault him. I mean, what would you do if you were chained to an odiferous Roman guard 24/7? Talk about the weather?
Paul: So how’s the weather?
Guard: Sunny. 81 degrees. Prettiest day ever.
Paul: (sigh) I’ll take your word for it.
So Paul wrote about things that were somewhat controversial: church discipline. Women in ministry. Speaking in tongues. Grace vs. law. And we debate about tons of those things even today, whether we need to or not.
But I think one of the most overlooked opportunities for controversy lies with Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”
I believe we’ve changed that verse over the years to fit our harried 21st century American lifestyle. Rather than being “all things to all people,” we’ve convinced ourselves that what the gospel calls us to is to become “everything to everybody.” A quick glance around today’s church will show you plenty of people who are trying to respond to the supposed “everything to everybody” calling…
I see it when a volunteer is serving in an area where they’re not especially gifted, but there’s a need. So they fill it.
I see it when a young mom stretches herself thin to accommodate her husband, her kids, her friends, and her hobbies. There’s a passion, so she pursues it.
I see it when an employee tries to build strengths that are not naturally his, rather than focusing on building up the areas of real gifting and skill sets. There’s a deficit, so he seeks to overcome it.
I see it when a husband tries to be there for his co-workers, his golfing buddies, and his “me-time” pursuits, but fails to cultivate the heart of his wife. There’s time to kill, so he kills it.
I see it when I am so busy saying “yes” that I forget it’s okay to say “no” occasionally. I don’t have to attend that function or speak at that event or visit that person’s third cousin in the hospital when they’re having their stitches removed. There’s a fear of man, and I cower to it.
Paul’s prescription in 1 Corinthians 9 isn’t a prescription to do everything for everybody every time they call. It’s not a mandate to submit your schedule to every person who crosses your path and forget that you must first submit yourself to the cross of Christ. It’s not an order to attend to the demands of the many and ignore the needs of your personal calling.
No, 1 Corinthians 9 was written by a man who understood his humanity. He understood his boundaries. He understood that his weakness was what best displayed Christ’s power. I fear that in our effort to make Jesus presentable to all, we fail to actually give people Jesus. We give them our stress. We give them our harried schedule. We give them our best-effort leftovers. But we don’t give them Jesus.
This doesn’t mean that Jesus doesn’t drop divine opportunities in our lives. It doesn’t mean that we ignore the ministry of interruption that he’ll occasionally give us. There will be times when what looks like an overwhelming burden added to our schedule is actually the grace of Christ transforming us into who he wants us to be.
Be all things to all people, so that by all means Jesus might save some. But remember…it’s Jesus’ power, not your own, that you are presenting. We were never called to be everything to everybody.