22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (1 Cor. 9:22)
Through the Bible: 1 Corinthians 9-11
What does it take to build a bridge? It’s all about finding the safest, most effective way to span the gap separating two points. This well known verse in 1 Corinthians is all about how to build a bridge to help people get to Jesus.
Unfortunately, this verse about becoming all things to all people in order to save some has been used to justify all sorts of sketchy behavior. College kids have used it to justify rushing a fraternity. Teetotalers have quoted it to explain why they were seen at a local bar with a beer in their hand. I even considered using it when I tried to talk my parents into letting me get a tattoo when I was younger.
1 Corinthians 9:22 has been used to justify cursing, dancing, skipping church to go fishing on Sundays, and going to the casino (although, in my part of the world, the excuse I hear more often for going to the casino is, “But the buffet is REALLY good”).
A closer look at the context of 1 Corinthians 9 shows that Paul was explaining why he limited his freedom, not indulged it. In the ESV, you need only look at the chapter heading for 1 Corinthians 9: “Paul surrenders his rights.” Though he is free in Christ to eat and drink whatever he wishes, he has limited that freedom in order to win those whose consciences would be seared if he ate meat that was sacrificed to idols (see 1 Cor. 8). He is free to marry or to have a wife travel with him, but he doesn’t want to hinder the gospel (see 1 Cor. 7). He is free to earn a living from preaching, but he doesn’t want anyone to accuse him of profiteering from the gospel (see 1 Cor. 9:12-15).
In every case, for Paul, “all things to all people” meant limiting the freedom he had in Christ. More important than standing up for what he was entitled to, Paul sought to lift up the gospel, even if it meant giving up his rights.
At the height of the Covid pandemic, the debate over whether to observe a mask mandate or be vaccinated reached a fever pitch (no pun intended). Many people saw a mandate as a threat to their freedom or liberty. And they had a point. No matter how you spun it, putting a mask on limited lots of things, including breathing and getting through the day without lint on your tongue. And for many people, it came down to whether one was willing to limit his or her freedom or endure a certain level of discomfort for the sake of the people around them. Godly Christians, whom I respect and love, made different decisions on these issues. Many saw it as acting out of fear, not faith.
I know it was a very personal issue. It may still be for some who are reading this. But what I learn from the context of 1 Corinthians 9:22 is that freedom in Christ often means that we are free to restrict that freedom for the sake of others.
How about you? Do you see becoming “all things to all people” as an opportunity to push the boundaries of what is morally acceptable? If so, you are reading it wrong. For Paul, it was about saying no, not about going wild.