If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel. For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so 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 I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
- 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Paul is writing a letter to the early Christian church in the city of Corinth. Corinth was a large, cosmopolitan seaport. Because of its location, goods and people from around the world flowed in and out of its ports. It was a cultural center for art, philosophy and religion. It contained a number of pagan temples to the Roman Gods and other religions. The city had a reputation for crime, vice and immorality. Paul spent 18 months establishing a Christian church there according to Acts 18:1-18. He wrote this letter around 54 A.D. It is written in response to questions and struggles that faced this early Christian community.
It is obvious from the letter that Paul is passionate about reaching people who do not know God. He believes that he has been commissioned to share God’s good news with the world and he takes his assignment with the utmost seriousness. Even though his relationship with God has set him free in every way, he freely chooses to become a servant of others. He makes a point to “become all things to all people” acting and speaking the language of both the Jews and Gentiles to win them over to God.
In this election year, we will hear a lot of talk from candidates trying to “win” us over. A lot of the talk is also derogatory toward the other candidates. In the primaries, the candidates from the same party attack each other to gain the upper hand. Then in the main election, the candidates from opposite parties attack each other. It is more and more difficult to imagine our political leaders looking for common ground for the good of all. I would love to reinterpret Paul’s words to say that when democrats and republicans interact, they would try to become more like the other one, to think seriously about each other’s value system and ideas so that they might win each other over for the betterment of the world.
If we wish this from our politicians perhaps the best place to start is with ourselves. Can we be open and gracious with each other, listening to each other’s views, looking for the very best ideas for the good of all? Can we make every effort to learn each other’s values, speak each other’s language and hear each other’s hopes and dreams? Jesus Christ came into this world to break through dividing walls of hostility (Ephesians 2:14) and make connections with people that had never existed before. Let us join together with Christ and the Apostle Paul to do this most important work, for the sake of the Gospel, so that all may share in its life renewing blessings.