CTT | Become all things to all people?

CTTIt has been a while since our last Completing the Thought (CTT) post so I thought we might do one this week. Normally, I try to post these on Mondays, but this past Monday was a Holiday so I thought we’d knock this out today. I Recently received an email from a reader via the Contact Us regarding a song we Disapproved in our DiM series. While the complaint is one that is commonly shared, I truly appreciated the reader’s attempt to make a Biblical argument. Let’s take a look at the referenced text and examine it in context to see what the Apostle Paul was writing.

To Jorge,
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” I think you are reading too much into this song and video. If this song catches the interest of a young person and it leads them to the Lord they can be instructed in the faith after salvation. Like Paul she is reaching out to all…

The portion of scripture being referenced is 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. In this first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul is writing to a church that is suffering from divisions of men by ethnic differences, social status differences, financial difference, and various examples of fleshly indulgences (abusing the spiritual gifts, sexual immorality, drunkenness at the Lord’s Supper). It’s all one letter and Paul is dealing with a lot of things at once, but Paul isn’t writing to unbelievers, he’s writing to the Church in Corinth. I’m going to be quoting portions of the text, but if you feel I’ve taken anything out of context, by all means call me on it.

1 Corinthians 1:1-3 (ESV)

Greeting
Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

After a bit of greeting, Paul makes clear the purpose of this letter.

1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (ESV) | Divisions in the Church

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

I highlighted what Paul is saying is his primary calling, to preach the gospel of Christ. He isn’t saying he wasn’t supposed to be baptizing (because he did baptize and baptism is an integral part of the Great Commission); rather, he is clearly stating that he was sent to preach the gospel. He also points out that he does so without words of eloquent wisdom so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power, that by distracting folks into admiring his eloquent speech rather than the Gospel of Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (ESV) | Christ the Wisdom and Power of God

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

This is an important point here that I believe the Apostle Paul will be reflecting back to in chapters 8 and 9. Paul preaches the Gospel plainly. The Word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but for the Church (us who are being saved) it is the power of God. So, throughout the letter, Paul is going to be addressing various divisions and distractions from the Gospel, from the Word of the cross, that are taking root within the Church. Now, with this introduction to the letter fresh in our minds, let us jump ahead to Chapter 8.

1 Corinthians 8 (ESV) | Food Offered to Idols

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

Why are we talking about food offered to Idols? Because this is one of the key factor in one of the major divisions within the early church, the division between Jew and Gentile believers. Paul’s letter to the Galatians addresses the Judaizing heresy, and the first Apostolic Council was regarding Gentile believers and which rules they should follow. Notice Paul’s focus throughout this discussion of food. Again, he’s talking about fellow believers, brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, and his concern is the Gospel. We know that since idols are false the foods offered to them have no real significance, for we know who God is. However, not everyone has this clear understanding, so to one whose conscience is bound to avoiding foods offered to false gods, it would be a sin to burden his conscience by consuming such food. Paul goes on to say that even though he is free to eat of any food, for food does not commend us to God, for the sake of his brother he’d commit to never eating meat. Paul isn’t just addressing the Gentiles here, he’s making the argument wide enough for the believing Jews who also cannot yet see their freedom from the strict dietary laws of the Mosaic covenant. Paul is teaching them they are free in Christ to eat whatever they like, but they are also told not to abuse their freedoms and sin against their brothers. Now, let’s get to the next chapter.

1 Corinthians 9:1-12 (ESV) | Paul Surrenders His Rights

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?

Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.

Now Paul is really driving home his point here. This is definitely a one-up on the matter of food and drink, and it goes to his vocation as Apostle of Jesus Christ and his right to drawing his living (food, drink, shelter) from preaching the Gospel. Paul has the right to ask for provisions from the church to whom he is an Apostle of Jesus Christ, yet he has declined these rights in their case and worked on the side to pay for his provisions so as to not put an obstacle in the way of the Gospel of Christ. Let’s continue reading through the rest of the chapter. I’ll continue highlighting the mention of the Gospel.

1 Corinthians 9:13-27 (ESV)

Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 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.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Wow, such an awesome passage. Now, the underlined portion is the part that was quoted to me in the email. Here, we do see Paul addressing the preaching of the Gospel to Jews and Gentiles who are not yet believers “so that i might win more of them”. Indeed, to the Jew Paul became as a Jew. What does this mean? Well, in the context of all that he’s been writing, Paul would go to the synagogues and follow the Mosaic Laws (and even submit to the Traditions of the Elders like ceremonial washings and the like) so as not to become a hindrance to the preaching of the Gospel of Christ in their synagogues. Though he is free from the Mosaic Law and under the Law of Christ, these Traditions of the Elders are of no real value, Paul would observe the temple traditions so that they might listen to the Gospel he preached concerning Christ, so that by all means he might save some. Similarly, Paul would drop the Traditions of the Elders, and the strict dietary laws of the Mosaic covenant when he went into the Gentile market places to preach the Gospel of Christ, so that the Gentiles might be willing to listen to him. The unbelieving Gentiles knew full well who the Jews were, and that they were considered lesser beings because they were Gentiles. What remains constant in all of this, however, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul preached the Gospel. He was sent to preach the Gospel of Christ, and in that he was a servant to all, regardless of their status.

Conclusion

Indeed, we should become all things to all people so that we may not become a hindrance to the preaching of the Gospel. But we cannot use this logic to somehow rationalize the masking of the Gospel. Whenever a preacher claims to give a sermon and fails to preach both Law and Gospel, he is failing his duty. There is no validity in trying to say “I become all things to all people so that I might save some” as justification for failing to preach Law and Gospel.

In the DiM post that was being referenced, we disapproved the song due to a failure to present the Gospel. That is what we are looking for primarily in these DiM posts to grant a song an Approved rating. The song had other problems with it, which made gave it a Disapproved rating. The artist doing that song was not being like the Apostle Paul. It was just an 80s-inspired pop song with unclear theology.

If you’d like to contact us regarding this or any other post, please feel free to visit our Contact Us page and share your thoughts. I’ll try to respond in a timely fashion, not always in the form of a blog post.

Jude 24-25 (ESV)

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

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