As we were challenged at the end of chapter 8, let me challenge you again with this question: What are you willing to give up in order for a weaker believer not to stumble? Well, what follows in this chapter is Paul’s defense of his apostleship and ability to choose: what, when, where, and how much he could, if we wanted, to give up for a weaker believer.
Although most writings on Chapter 9 immediately gravitate to the end of the chapter (Running to Win), I was more challenged by Paul’s incarnational approach to ministry in verses 19-23. What’s really impressive about Paul’s writing in Chapter 9 is his ability to teach some fundamental practices of believers when reaching out to non-believers.
Starting in verse 19 we see how Paul adapted to the culture around him; but what’s most important, and the intention of this reflection, is that although Paul became, “all things to all people that he might win some,” he never compromised his integrity or the doctrine of scripture.
Even when Paul…
- Was free: He became a slave
- Wasn’t under the law (Jewish), he lived as one under the law
- Lived with the Gentiles, he didn’t follow the Jewish law. (He didn’t ignore the law of God, but obeyed the law of Christ)
- Was with “weak” people, he shared in their weakness
At the heart of missiology is the understanding that in order to effectively communicate cross-culturally, you need to understand and “exegete” your culture. Paul was willing to accommodate and adjust to different settings. As mentioned in detail above, Paul was a cultural chameleon even down to his diet. When he was with Jews, he ate kosher food; with Gentiles, he ate regular food (even to the point that he asked God to protect his conscience). In some places, like Philippi, Paul accepted support from the church, but as we’ve already read, Paul didn’t accept any support from the church in Corinth. The greater question isn’t “how” Paul did this, but “why” Paul did this. Paul wanted all people from every culture and background to experience the power of the gospel.
At first glance we may be compelled to consider a “weaker believer” to be a person of less strength or even poverty, but as Paul points out, “weaker” doesn’t have anything to do with stature, but instead points to persons conscience. As Paul already discussed in Chapter 8, even though a person is “free in Christ,” we should still consider giving up certain freedoms for another believer. Here we see Paul not just saying in Chapter 8, but backing it up in Chapter 9. As it reads in verse 22 (NLT) 22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.
This is the verse that really struck me. I love the language in the NLT that Paul “shared their weakness.” His intention was always to bring anyone and everyone to Christ. Remember as you read here, the “weak” were already believers. He wasn’t trying to convert them, but instead was coming along side these new believers to nurture their relationship with the Risen Lord. He wanted them to to have a deeper knowledge and understanding of their freedom in Christ. So in order to do this well, Paul entered into their weakness. This truly is shades of Jesus’ incarnational relationship with humanity!
Questions To Consider Today?
The question not only for Paul, but for you and me, is this: What liberties are you willing to give up in order for people to grow in their relationship to Christ? How incarnational are you willing to get so people will draw closer to God?