High Praise

I learned recently that someone I know assumed that I had been in prison. In fact, they were very surprised to learn that I had not. Most people would be deeply offended to learn someone thought such a thing of them. I was not. You see, the person who said this is currently incarcerated. Being able to relate to them and not judge them, caused them to assume incarceration was a shared experience. I consider it high praise, praise that should be directed squarely at God, not me.

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 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. 1 Cor. 9:19-22 (NIV)

This passage is often misread (perhaps intentionally at times) to mean that Paul is giving us permission to compromise who we are in Christ to win over converts. Paul isn’t saying that. He is saying that he learned to meet people where they are, so God can use us to bring them where He wants them to be. Jesus said of Paul in Acts 9:15: “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles (non-Jews) and their kings and to the people of Israel.”

Paul knew he had to engage Gentiles far differently than he did Jews. He had a high level of relatability with his Jewish audience. “To the Jews, I became like a Jew…to the weak I became like the weak.”  When with Jews he conformed to Jewish law, even though as a believer in Christ he was no longer under it. He likewise modified his behavior and message when with the Gentiles and “the weak.” An often-cited example of this technique is Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill to the Athenians:

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 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. Acts 17:22-23 (NIV)

Paul respects the Athenian belief system without adopting it. So, how can we do that? Gotquestions.org suggests four ways:

  1. Listen. We are often too eager to share our own thoughts.
  2. Be kind. This should go without saying for Christians, but, unfortunately, we can forget kindness in the passion of the moment.
  3. Be sensitive to culture. Trained missionaries know that, before they can reach a cultural group, they must understand the particulars of that culture. The same is true for every believer, even if we never leave our own city.
  4. Deal with prejudice (our own).

Love them where they are as they are, so God can use you to bring them where He wants them to be, all while never forgetting who we are in Christ. Sound difficult? No, it’s impossible except for God’s grace. Don’t leave home without it!

— Pastor Jerry Bader

1 Comment
  • Lee olson
    Posted at 06:59h, 22 November Reply

    Wow, what a wise post!

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