by Wye Huxford
Perhaps there was a time when the non-church-going culture and the church-going culture were similar enough in outlook and basic values that it was easier for a believer to address the inevitable tension between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. I know the tension has always been there, but it seems as though there are periods where the tension is more intense.
I once heard William Willimon suggest that the bridge over the gap that exists between the gospel and our culture needs to be a one-way bridge. That is, we must carefully bring the gospel to our culture, while carefully avoiding the temptation to allow our culture to alter our gospel. That's quite an assignment!
When I read 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, I wonder if that isn't the struggle Paul is addressing at Corinth. It is one of those texts from Paul that cracks open the door to his heart and passion for the gospel in ways that can be helpful to us as we seek to live our lives for the sake of the gospel.
I am instantly drawn to the idea that Paul adamantly declares himself to be in a "state of being free" in reference to "all things." Yet in the spirit of being Jesus to the world around him, he makes the volitional choice "to become a slave" to all. With a fair measure of emphasis he says, "I have made myself a slave to all." But this isn't just for the sake of being a slave - he desires "to win more of them."
The structure of this paragraph is interesting. Six times Paul uses a Greek conjunction that often denotes purpose - frequently translated "in order that." The first five of those six phrases are followed by the verb "to win." He desires to win Jews, people under the law, people not under the law, those who are weak, and in the final all-inclusive way, he becomes all things to all people. But the final "in order that" gives depth and understanding to his idea of "to win" when it is followed by "to save."
Near the end of the paragraph Paul reminds himself and his readers of what would motivate him to become so many other things. "For the sake of the gospel" is how he describes motivation. Ultimately he connects his sense of blessing and joy ("he uses the same conjunction "in order that") with the potential of winning others to Christ.
If we look at this paragraph as a whole, at the beginning Paul is willing to give up "being free" and that "makes himself a slave." If you look at the end, it is the very willingness to become a slave for the sake of the gospel that gives him joy in life. It isn't very often in our culture that we think about giving up freedom in order to experience joy!
Between "the beginning" and "the end" of the paragraph - there is this litany of "I became" statements that speak to the nature of what it means to "become a slave" and to the purpose of that slavery, which is "to win some."
At some point, a part of growing in Christ requires that we ask and answer the same question that Paul asked. "What am I willing to become this week in my daily life to influence others for Christ?"
We know from reading Paul's story in Acts and paying attention to the hints he gives in his epistles, that answering that question for him often created tension. It will, no doubt, do the same for us. In fact we live in such a divisive culture, it may create tension that we are not prepared to handle.
But the question can't be dismissed. With the sole motivation of bringing lost people to Christ, where am I willing to be seen? What am I willing to become? How far out of my normal comfort zone will I step?