Being All Things to All People

1 Corinthians 9:22 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. 

The Decathlon is a grueling two-day test of all-round athletic ability consisting of throwing, jumping, and running events totalling ten in all.  If you were to take specialists in any of the ten events and line them up together, you would see very different athletes, often with completely different body types and also, often with very different demeanors.  For example, when in competition mode, a 100m sprinter almost always walks around with a certain swagger, a certain confidence, or dare I even say cockiness.  A shot putter appears to be the angriest person in the stadium prior to, and while putting the shot.  In contrast a successful pole vaulter or a discus thrower must be calm as sheer force and effort will only prove counterproductive.

USA’s Dan O’Brien was a Decathlon Olympic Gold Medallist at the Atlanta Games in 1996.  He believed that every great decathlete must be an actor, playing ten different roles for each of the ten events of the decathlon.  Since a decathlete must complete ten, often very different events, O’Brien’s philosophy makes perfect sense in the context of what I wrote above about the differences in an athlete’s demeanor.

O’Brien’s philosophy reminded me immediately of 1 Corinthians 9 where Paul says: “I become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some”.  O’Brian’s decathlon philosophy is brilliant and excellent advice for any burgeoning decathlete, but it pales in comparison to Paul’s philosophy, because Paul’s strategy affects the eternal destiny of countless souls.

This scripture has created much controversy.  Some would take this scripture as a license to sin.  “Yup my language might be rather foul but I’m just trying to be all things to all people”, or “I guess many in the church would not approve of my revealing sexy dress, but hey that’s what people wear now, and I want to be ‘all things to all people’”.  As usual if you isolate this passage from the rest of scripture you can make that argument, but you certainly cannot if you read all of Paul’s writings.  Paul addresses those false conclusions in many of his letters including Romans 6: 1-2“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”

Studying Paul’s life, you see that he adapted his life, his teachings to other’s cultures, to their way of thinking to try to reach them.  In Acts 17 he went to the Jewish synagogue and reasoned with them for three days from their holy scriptures.  He reasoned as a Jew and while many got angry it says, “some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas”.  In contrast we read of his approach to the Gentiles in Acts 17:22b-23. “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”  Paul met these people where they were at, and he did so for one very simple reason: “so that by all possible means [he] might save some”.  This often meant that Paul had to live outside of his comfort zone, outside his natural self.  How about you?  Are you willing to live beyond your natural self, make yourself uncomfortable, associate with people you might not naturally associate with, so that you “might save some”?

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