To the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.(1 Corinthians 9:22-23)
In the big picture, Paul was helping the Corinthian Christians how to deal with the controversy regarding believers eating meat that had been offered to a pagan idol. For background on that controversy, look at last week’s devotional.
In helping the Corinthian Christians think through the issue, Paul stressed an important principle in chapter 9: that Christians should often lay down their rights for the benefit of either believers or the lost.
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul used his own life as an example of this. Paul had rights as an apostle (9:1), rights as a Christian minister (9:1), and the right to be supported in ministry (9:3-14). Yet he often set these rights aside. Paul didn’t always give up these rights, but when he knew it would be for God’s glory and the benefit of others, he denied himself what he deserved, what was his “right.”
All this came back to the issue of Corinthian believers eating meat that was sacrificed to pagan idols. A believer in Corinth might say, “I have the right to eat that meat!” Paul would answer, “Yes, you do have that right. But in this situation Christian love compels you to set that right aside. I have done this kind of thing many times. In this situation, eat a salad instead.”
Paul lived and taught this because he wanted to win the world for Jesus Christ. He even said, I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. We should not think Paul changed his doctrine or message to appeal to different groups. In fact, he specifically denied this in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23. However, Paul would change his behavior and manner of approach. To those under the law, he would come as under the law. To the weak, he would sympathize with their weakness. He would make themselves a servant to all, that he might win more to Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:19).
I don’t know if Paul, as a Christian believer, ate pork, shellfish, or other non-kosher foods. I do think Paul understood he had the “right” to eat those things, as he wrote in Colossians 2:20-23. Yet Paul would never eat shrimp while trying to talk to Jewish people about faith in Jesus!
Paul would set aside such things and do it for the gospel’s sake. Paul was willing to offend people over the gospel, but he wanted to offend them only over the gospel.
Finally, notice Paul did this for the gospel’s sake. Not for the sake of pleasing the world, not for the sake of denying God’s truth. Paul knew where he could bend, and when to stand firm. May God give us the same wisdom!