Finding Common Ground- I Corinthians 9:19-23
We all struggle with the issue Jesus laid out when he said we are to be in the world and not of the world. We are to go into the world and influence it into the likeness of Christ. The danger is that once we penetrate into the culture of the world around us, there is a risk that we will be the one influenced.
Paul is being accused of just that failing. He has made up his mind to focus his efforts on the core issue of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and at the same time to not get caught up in the minor issues of cultural differences between different groups of people. Those who are complaining about Paul’s method are saying that he is two-faced- he pretends to be Jewish while with Jews (he follows there customs), and pretends to be non-Jewish when he is with gentiles (he walks away from the Jewish customs and follows the customs of the gentiles). Their main accusation is that he has been contaminated by the cultures around him.
Paul fights back with an explanation of his evangelistic methods. He isn’t being contaminated by the world. He is simply recognizing the difference between cultural differences and the core spiritual truths. Paul refuses to make an issue of the cultural differences and chooses to walk life along side the various groups. He does this so that they don’t have to read through his cultural differences to hear about the salvation Christ offers. He is choosing to focus on the majors and ignore the differences that are minor.
Many of us equate our cultural way of doing things with our spiritual lives. The way we worship, the songs we sing, the words we use to describe faith, how we marry, how we do communion, …. all these things and more take on a certain look- our culture. Paul recognized the difference between the way we do life, and the faith behind the way we do life.
Those who were angry with Paul thought all needed to be Jewish in culture. Others thought being Jewish was an affront to true freedom in Christ. Paul disagreed. He was willing to follow Jewish customs while with the Jews so that he could easily help the Jews see who Christ really was. He was willing to follow gentile customs while with the gentiles so that he could easily communicate the truth of Christ to them. His driving heart was to communicate the gospel in the language of those who were listening. This is what we need to do in our world today. Whether on a biker blessing day, or over coffee with a young adult…whether singing hymns with one group, or playing rock music with another….whether wearing blue jeans with one group, and a suit with another group…. we choose our methods based on those we are trying to reach, while protecting our position as the one who is influencing rather than being influenced.