1 Corinthians 9
Paul’s Use of His Freedom
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made 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 people 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.
In chapter 9, Paul discusses many topics regarding a Christian's freedom, and how to use it. First, he points out that he should have the rights of an apostle. An apostle was someone who was an eyewitness to Jesus, and was sent by Jesus into the world to preach the Gospel. Though Paul was not part of the original group of apostles, he became one later when Jesus appeared to him on the Road to Damascus. Some doubted his apostleship, but Paul dismissed their claims and said he could have the same righta as an apostle such as: food, drink, a believing spouse and material support.
In terms of being paid, though Paul advocates paying the leaders who lead the church, he himself does not want to be paid. He denies that right so he can preach the gospel free of charge. He goes on to say that he is compelled to preach the gospel, whether he is paid or not. Paul is a great example of someone who is so passionate about the gospel, that he doesn't want anything to hinder his message by the way he lives his life. Then, Paul shares a very important principle in how we reach out to those outside of the faith.
Paul uses a strategy that goes contrary to our human nature. Paul says instead of reaching out to people who are like us, we should reach out to those who aren't like us. Paul gives examples of those he is called to relate to: Jews, those under the law, and those not under the law. Paul is not disregarding the law, which he calls Christ's law, but he realizes to start with the law for those who aren't raised with it is not a good starting point for the relationship. Meaning, if he preached to those who didn't know the Law that they should get their act together and start keeping the law, they wouldn't stay around for very long.
It would be a like us going to an atheist and saying unless they believe in this bible we can't have a relationship. Atheists don't even believe in God, let alone the bible. We would start our conversation because of our interest in them. It may not even leads to a conversation about God, or life in general. The key thing is our agenda doesn't drive the relationship but we allow God to mold and shape it in his time and in his way!
Paul meets people where they are at not where he expets them to be. He remembers what it was like when he did not believe, and even persecuted Christians. Many Christian forget what it was like for them to realize what sinners and experience God's grace. In time we can lose a desire to reach people like we were before someone took a risk and shared the gospel with us. We can slowly move more and more into a life not engaged with the culture. We prefer "holy huddles" with people "like us".
There is only one problem with this. It is not the movement Jesus started and sent Paul and the other apostles to fulfill. It is not the Great Commission which is the only mission Jesus gave the church. Paul likens the Christian life to a race that he goes into strict training for to win it. But the prize for which he is so tirelessly and selflessly running for will result in a crown that will never fade away.
Are you too comfortable in your Christian life? Do you take risks to get to know others who are not like you? I know I can all too easily slip into that camp, especially as a pastor. I like the saying, "You may be the only Jesus that someone will ever meet." Not that we are Jesus, but Jesus works through us to reach people who don't know him yet. I am extremely challenged by our brother Paul, who ran as great a race as anyone ever has. May we train with the same passion that he did to reach those who like us were once lost!