1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Even though I tell the story of Jesus, I don’t get kickbacks. For me, telling the story is an obligation. I’m totally screwed if I don’t tell it. If doing this were my own idea, I might give myself a prize for it – but it’s not my idea. It’s my commission. If there’s any reward in it being a commission, it’s that I can pass it along for free without having to claim that I have rights that impose on anyone else.
Even though I’m free from anybody’s say-so, I make myself a slave to everyone to get more people to join up. To Jewish folk, I act like a Jew so I can get Jews to join up. I act as if I were required to follow the law so people who follow the law will join up. I act like I’m out of bounds so wild people will join up. (I’m not really out of bounds. I’m still within what’s acceptable to Jesus.) I act weak so weak people will join up. I have become everything anybody wants me to be in order to rescue, by any means possible, anyone within reach. Everything I do is to get the story of Jesus out and to be part of that story myself.
All things to all people may seem like a great way to win people over. But even Paul implies that there is only so far he’s willing to go. He’s not going to go “beyond what’s acceptable to Jesus.”
Putting the best slant on this, being open to others, being willing to engage with them, understand them on their own terms is a laudable thing. Willingness to engage in genuine interaction, showing respect for who someone is, even when you disagree, is a powerful thing for anyone to aspire to.
To engage in genuine interaction, though, requires being genuine about who you really are yourself. Becoming a chameleon, a doppelganger, in order to get in with someone only leads to eventual discovery of the fraud and loss of relationship. Think of how many marriages end because, “I thought I could change him/her, but it just didn’t work out.” Think about the last time you bought something because the ads said it was one thing, and it turned out to be “not quite what I’d hoped for.” Think about the church that paints a warm reception for first-time visitors at the front door, but nobody seems to care after the service is over, or after you’ve joined up.
To “be all things to all people” in the best sense means taking down the masks and showing the world who you really are, not saying whatever you think people want to hear. Face it, there are some people who don’t want to be around you. In truth, not everybody loved Raymond, either. Paul had good intentions with his “be like whoever’s in the room” evangelism, but his churches, and especially Corinth, were a mess with people who thought they were signing up for one thing and wound up a part of something else.
Be open to all people. But be who you are.