There was a story circulated a few years ago of a man who had superficially converted to Judaism to try to convert Jews to Christianity. The community of Jewish people were outraged at the deception and insincerity of such an action. The man based his actions on a passage from 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, specifically verse 20 which says: "to the Jews i became as a Jew, in order to win the Jews.".
The man may have been sincere, but it was very bad interpretation and it was also lying about his motives and intentions.
What does it mean to become all things to all people? What is it that Paul was talking about to the Corinthians? Was he speaking of deceptive tactics to "win" people to Christ? Probably not. So what is the point of this passage and how are we in the 21st century to apply such a grand idea?
Here's the text that we read from:"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( being outside the law of G-d, 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."
This just might be one of the most profound ideas in Pauls theological thinking and understanding. I believe Paul truly understood the incarnation of his Messiah. Paul I think, has an incarnational understanding of Jesus that bursts through so much of his writings and also in his life. He believed Jesus came in the form of a man, servant, under the Torah of G-d, lived and died with and among his creation.
Although Jesus was without sin, he identified with his people, and in his baptism there was an identification with sinners and a validation of his son ship.
I think it is important to understand that Paul did not pretend to be someone else by putting different hats and masks to try and become like someone to win someone by deceit. Paul did not go to parties and get drunk just win someone in an inebriated state. He did not join himself to a prostitute just to convert her to Jesus. That would be ludicrous!
Paul did however, enter into relationships with all peoples despite backgrounds, cultural differences and religious differences. We find Paul throughout the book of Acts meeting every kind of person and people group. He dialoged and reasoned with his own people, and spoke with the intellectual elite at Mars Hill in Athens. He sat and wept with the Phillipian Jailer who was suicidal and then rejoiced at his conversion and new birth.
Pauls life was about living out the gospel of Christ Jesus, not about putting on masks and phony deceptions. He never sought to win a convert by pretentious ways, but rather he wept with those who wept, rejoiced with those who rejoiced and praised G-d with those who praised G-d.
This is what I want my life to be, a life of coming into peoples lives, waking with them, listening, learning and loving them. And the best way I see in loving them, is by embodying this incarnational idea of "becoming like" my brothers and sisters. I am no different from the rest of humanity, but I have been given a new spirit by virtue of Jesus' power and resurrection. The power and testimony of this kind of love is the most caring truth when speaking the gospel.
May the Gospel of belief and repentance through Jesus come only by way of truth and love and the power of the Spirit of G-d.