Meeting People Where they Are

Untitled 2.001

1 Corinthians 9:20–23

20To 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 not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.

21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.

22To 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.

23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

What are you willing to do for the sake of the Gospel? Paul was willing to do almost anything. He never compromised God’s law in order to reach people. But if it wasn’t written in stone, (literally) it was on the table. Rick Warren says “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” If the church is going to be relevant, attractive, and incarnational (the Word in the flesh) it has to be willing to meet people where they are. We meet people where they are when we show respect, have regard, and rearrange our lives for them.

First, respect. Everyone deserves respect. It doesn’t mean we respect everything everyone does. But we should respect them as children of God, made in his image. Paul respected people and their beliefs, even if he did not agree with them. We have a hard time respecting anyone that is different than us. How do you view people with a different political affiliation than you? How do you treat people who come from a significantly different background/belief? Are they “stupid?” “idiots?” “ignorant?” Based on many of the social media posts out there we do not respect anyone unless they look like us, think like us, vote like us, dress like us, or worship like us. Maybe, just maybe, this is why Christianity is having such a difficult, if not impossible, time connecting with people. “Paul grew up in a cheerfully strict observant Jewish home, on the one hand and in a polyglot, multicultural, multiethnic working environment on the other. Strict adherence to ancestral tradition did not mean living a sheltered life unaware of how the rest of the world worked, spoke, behaves, and reason. Reasoning, in fact, is one of the things the mature Paul was particularly good at,” [1] Paul ministered to highly diverse culture, in a highly secular world, (much more secular than ours). And yet he was able to witness effectively because of his general respect he showed toward people of different beliefs.

Not only did Paul show respect. He showed regard. One of the definitions of regard is “attention to, or concern for something.” Paul said “to the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.” That’s an interesting statement as Paul was already Jewish. So what does he mean? “He undoubtedly means that he not only lived with them and dealt with them socially, but deliberately followed Jewish practices dictated by the Mosaic law.” We have a hard time singing music we didn’t grow up with, let alone participating in practices and customs we do not believe are necessary anymore. And yet Paul did this with Jew and Gentile alike. What if the next time you sought to reach a people, or plant a church, you did what Paul did? Ask “how can we become apart of the culture we want to reach? What customs of theirs can we adopt and make our own?” We show regard for someone when we seek to understand where he, or she, is coming from. Recognizing the customs they grew up with are just as valid and important to them as ours are to us. We should not get defensive when people think, or do things, differently than we do. Rather we should seek to understand others. And if it does not cause us to compromise God’s Law we can participate in, even celebrate, the culture. “When the practices of the people do not come in conflict with the law of God, you may conform to them. If the workers fail to do this, they will not only hinder their own work, but they will place stumbling blocks in the way of those for whom they labor, and hinder them from accepting the truth.” 3

Last point, Christians must learn how to rearrange their life in order to reach others. 1 Corinthians 9:22 “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” Paul was not always so flexible. Early on Saul attacked the early Christians with zeal. But then he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul encountered the Gospel. The Gospel is the story of how God rearranged himself for us. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Jesus, the King and Creator of the universe was born in a barn, into controversy, and on the wrong side of the tracks, in order to save us for eternity. Jesus made all the cultural moves in order to get to us. How unfortunate the church is so unwilling to change anything for others. Alan Hirsch made this powerful statement “If we fail to ‘go’ to the people, then to encounter the gospel meaningfully they must ‘come.’ This is the inbuilt assumption of the attractional church; it requires that the nonbeliever do all the cross-cultural work to find Jesus—not us! Make no mistake: For many people, coming to church involves some serious cross-cultural work for them. They have to be the missionaries!” The church needs to become the missionaries again! If Jesus was willing to rearrange His life for us, we (Christians) must be willing to rearrange our lives for others. Remove the stumbling blocks. Break down the barriers. “Do it all for the sake of the gospel, that you may share with others in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:23)

 

1 Wright, NT (2018). Paul: A Biography (p. 15). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

2 Fitzmyer, J. A. (2008). First Corinthians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 32, p. 369). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

3 Ellen White, Review and Herald, April 6, 1911

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s