Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

All Things To All People

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Teaching t05406

Introduction: Christian Ethics Summary

In the Bible we, are given the FORM of moral absolutes (CIRCLE & EXAMPLE: sex ethics). This FORM defines how we were designed to live. These are absolute in the sense that they are objectively true for everyone regardless of what one believes.

We are also given FREEDOM within the FORM (AREA WITHIN THE CIRCLE & EXAMPLES: drinking alcohol; eating meat sacrificed to idols). God does not lay down absolutes concerning these matters, so we have the right to decide how we will handle these areas of life. We should know the difference between FORM and FREEDOM. We should also be prepared to defend the FREEDOM, because it is a serious thing to declare absolutes which God does not declare (Jesus with the Pharisees).

We are also given guiding principles for how to handle this freedom. One of the most important of these principles is serving, sacrificial love. It is not enough to merely stay within the FORM and enjoy our FREEDOM. This is better than rank selfishness, but it still falls short of God's way for us. Following Christ's example, we should be prepared to sacrifice even our legitimate freedoms if this will advance other people's good (as God defines it). It is this prioritization of love that makes Christian ethics unique.

In chapter 8, Paul applied this principle to the Corinthian Christians' dealings with other "weak" Christians. Concerning meat sacrificed to idols, that their attitude was "We demand our freedom to eat!" But Paul's attitude was "I am willing to give up my freedom to eat if it will hurt another Christian's walk with Christ" (8:8,9).

In chapter 9, Paul applies it with our dealings with non-Christians. Using himself as an example, he argues that he has the biblical right/freedom (8 arguments) to collect money from the Corinthian Christians. But he has chosen to waive this right (read vs 12). Why? Because doing this would hinder people from coming to Christ (EXPLAIN). Now, in vs 19-22, he recommends another way to live this out (read) >> "be all things to all people."

What does it mean?

Paul is clearly advocating accommodation of some sort. It is crucial that we understand what kind of accommodation he is and is not advocating.

He is not advocating doctrinal or moral accommodation. This is the reason for the "though not" clauses.

Paul is not "under law" (Old Testament dietary restrictions as obligation for God's acceptance) and he is not "without law" (moral absolutes) >> remind of CIRCLE. Paul was no moral chameleon. He was very tough on key biblical doctrines (1 Cor. 15) and moral absolutes (1 Cor 6), precisely because he knew that compromise here was not only unfaithfulness to God, but also unloving to people.

If we accommodate here, we lose the ability to help non-Christians (DOCTOR THROWING AWAY MEDICINE & ACCOMMODATING WRONG MEDICINES OF TRIBAL CULTURE). It is our differentness in the area of truth that enables us to help (SALT & LIGHT).

Rather, Paul is referring to cultural accommodation. By culture, I mean matters like language, dress, diet, social customs, entertainment, etc. The principle is: Practice cultural accommodation as much as possible, without compromising biblical absolutes. For example, when he was with Jews or "God-fearing" Gentiles, he wouldn't order bacon with his eggs. When he was with Gentiles who had no dietary restrictions and ate pork, however, he would eat bacon with them. While those who observed only superficially called him inconsistent, he was being very consistent—with this principle.

Why is it important?

Why is this so important? If cultural issues are morally neutral, what difference does it make what I do? Why not just do what feels comfortable to me?

According to Paul, it can make the difference between someone coming to Christ and remaining alienated from God (repeated "that I might win . . . "). He is literally saying that the difference is many more rather than many fewer who will come to Christ!!

Why? Because cultural issues are an important part of communication. People can "hear" the message of Christ better when it comes from someone who accommodates the hearer culturally. Cultural dissonance is "noise" which makes it more difficult to hear the message.

For most of us who did not grow up in Christian homes, this is self-evident (SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHERS [eternal life/hair; gift of HS/horned rim glasses; role in God's plan/white socks] vs. DENNIS). How many of you had a similar experience? How important would you say it was?

God doesn't require that people give up their cultures to come to him. God requires that we humble ourselves before him, admit our sinfulness, and receive Christ. But he doesn't regard cultural issues as a factor, so we shouldn't imply that he does.

The validity and importance of this principle has been demonstrated over and over again in church history. When Christians disregard it, Christianity becomes culturally contained and irrelevant to those outside that culture. But when Christians consciously and sacrificially follow it, many people see Christianity as universally relevant and respond to it.

1ST CENTURY CHURCH (CHRISTIANITY AS JEWISH); HUDSON TAYLOR (CHRISTIANITY AS WESTERN); JESUS MOVEMENT (CHRISTIANITY AS MIDDLE-CLASS); SE ASIAN' "HALLELUJAH" ("TURKEY HEAD") vs. NAVIGATORS.

But Christians tend to disregard this principle by confusing cultural preferences with biblical absolutes, which in turn creates a Christian sub-culture that alienates non-Christians. When this is the case, Christians mistake non-Christians' distaste for their cultural tastes as "hardness to the gospel" and become more "ghetto"/"fortress" in their thinking. When this happens, the message of the gospel becomes effectively sealed off from all but those who happen to identify w/ the "Christian" culture. Then, tragically, Christianity is not seen as the culturally relevant world-view that it is, but instead as a quaint, irrelevant anachronism.

This happens for a variety of reasons: IGNORANCE (confusion about importance of culture); IDEOLOGY (confusion of culture with doctrinal/moral) —but the most common cause is SELFISHNESS. This is Paul's point. He is willing to sacrifice his own cultural "comfort zone" in order to make it easier for these people to come to Christ. Regardless of the reason, it is very easy to begin to rationalize violating this principle:

"I don't want to fall into sin." (BRAZILIAN CHURCHES' TABOO AGAINST BARS, DANCING & SOCCER)

"Christians should be different than the world." (YES, BUT IN DOCTRINE & MORALITY—NOT IN CULTURE. IRONY: CHRISTIANS ARE USUALLY DIFFERENT WHERE THEY SHOULD BE THE SAME, & THE SAME WHERE THEY SHOULD BE DIFFERENT!)

"I don't want to stumble other Christians." (GOING TO A BAR: what Christians are there? what Christians are tempted to get drunk because you went?)

"I want to protect my children." (THIS IS VALID—BUT DO YOU HAVE AN EQUAL EMPHASIS ON INSTILLING BURDEN FOR THE LOST & EQUIPPING THEM TO WIN THEM?)

"Those who really want to know God will come to us." (SOME WILL, BUT MORE WILL COME TO CHRIST IF WE MEET THEM)

How can we apply it?

CULTURAL ACCOMMODATION & CHURCH STRUCTURES: We must consciously look at the structures we provide for non-Christians from this perspective.

Take this meeting for example:

TIME: should not a religious issue for us

DRESS: how do people dress when they relax?

MUSIC: why not 16th/18th century European (IRONY)? why not "contemporary Christian" style?

BIBLE TRANSLATION: why not KJV?

MESSAGE: why modern analogies & applications? why theological terms defined?

But other meetings for this purpose are different from this meeting. Why? Because they are reaching out to people from different cultural orientations (JR. HIGH STUDENTS; PRISON; WINDSOR TERRACE). What should be similar is the theology and ethics; the cultural stuff should be different because they are reaching out to people with different cultural orientations.

This has been a strength in Xenos, and it is one of the things that accounts for our success in evangelism. But beware of creeping traditionalism in this area!! Because culture changes, we must be willing to change also. This is difficult, but Paul says it should be us who are willing to endure this discomfort rather than those who don't know the Lord.

CULTURAL ACCOMMODATION & PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS:

Form friendships with non-Christians (vs. GHETTO mentality; tendency to isolate in comfortable Christian fellowship)

Be a student of the culture (not only to critique it, but also to understand and appreciate legitimate areas) >> ME WITH ALTERNATIVE MUSIC

Join people in their social activities (JESUS WITH "SINNERS" >> BARS, PARTIES, etc.).

Discuss common cultural interests (BEER WITH NEIGHBORS; SPORTS; MUSIC; THINKERS; PROBLEMS?; SINFUL PAST?).

Explain Christianity in culturally relevant terms. Avoid "Christianese" (IRONY of using New Testament expressions: "washed in the blood;" "redemption")

The point here is not to sell a product! It is to show love to another person who is loved by God, so that they can "hear" God's invitation to receive Christ.

What is its reward? (vs 23)

There is the present joy & excitement of seeing people come to Christ. "The only way you can keep it is by giving it away." While our salvation is secure, there is a sense in which our ability to continue to enjoy the blessings of the gospel is connected to our willingness to share it with others.

There is also the future prospect of reward (NEXT) . . .