By All Means Save Some
David Dunlap, Tampa, Florida, USA [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
I am made all things to all men that I might by all means save some', Cow 1. 9. 22.
Paul's heart desire was to win the lost for Christ. The lost, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, were all to be reached. Eternal punishment and the Lake of Fire were living realities. By means of horseback journey, sea-going vessel, or sandalled foot, they all must have the good news preached unto them. Previously, he writes concerning this driving passion for the unsaved, 'Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel', 1 Cor. 9. 16. Yet, the message must not be compromised. Paul had renounced the hidden things of dishonesty and the handling of the Scriptures in a corrupt manner. The message must be declared with integrity. Truth was not a commodity to be negotiated. Bible truth must be proclaimed! He set forth his position clearly in saying, 'Am I seeking the favour of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If 1 were still trying to please me, I would' not be a bond-servant of Christ', Gal. 1. 10. In another place he speaks of the persecution he bore for the 'offence of the cross', Gal. 5. 11.
Yet, today, some in the evangelical church are calling for a shaping of the gospel message to make it more palatable to the unsaved. They chide church leaders asserting that the unsaved will remain unsaved unless we reshape the gospel to meet their personal needs. This method is called contextualization. This technique for reaching the lost was rejected by Bible-based Christians seventy years ago, when the modernist preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick urged its use in Christian churches. Writing in 1928, he scolded godly men of the book, 'Preachers who pick out texts from the Bible and then proceed to give their historic settings, their logical meaning in the context, their place in the theology of the writer, are grossly misusing the Bible. Let them not end but start with thinking of the audience's vital needs, and then let the whole sermon be organized around their endeavor to meet those needs. This is all good sense and good psychology'1. Today, a growing number of evangelical leaders are urging the use of this same technique, albeit redressed in evangelical terminology. George Barna, an evangelical marketing professional, who is representative of this position, writes concerning the preaching and ministry of Paul, 'Paul provided what I feel is perhaps the single most insightful perspective on marketing communications, the principle we call 'contextualization'. Paul ... was willing to shape his communication according to their needs in order to receive the response he sought'2. After all, Barna explains using the Corinthian letter, did not the apostle Paul write, 'I am made all things to all men that I might by all means save some', Cor. 1. 9. 22? Barna, sates further that this is the biblical mandate for remarketing the message to meet the needs of the 1990s. Yet the question must be asked: Was that the thrust Paul's message? Is he suggesting that we should accommodate the gospel to the personal needs of the unsaved? Most serious Bible students would not entertain such a specious interpretation for even a moment. What then was Paul's aim? Succinctly stated, Paul's desire was to become a slave of all to win some for Christ. There was never the thought of refraining the gospel for the sake of making it more appealing. He was not advocating a better marketing plan. Not for a moment. He was setting forth the principle of self-denial and sacrifice befitting all the servants, the 'doulos', of Christ. Paul was willing rather to give up everything he owned and sacrifice the rights and status he possessed, if that would further the matchless and saving gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in a lost world. The eminent Bible expositor William Kelly clarifies the text further, writing. 'The apostle was ready to yield at every side where Christ was not concerned. He was free, but free to be a bondman of any and everyone, in order that he might gain, not ends of his own, but the most possible for Christ'3. In examining more closely 1 Corinthians 9. 19-22 we notice how this truth is carefully unfolded.
Paul begins by touching on the truth of Christian liberty. He has been expounding this theme since chapter 8 and will continue until chapter 10. But now, in chapter 9 he states, 'For though I am free from all men', v. 19. We are not under law but grace. We are not bound to Jewish religious ritual nor Gentile pagan tradition. Grace liberates us from all this and empowers us to live godly lives. Yet, Paul points out to us a paradox - although we are free from all men yet we are slaves to all. 'Yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more', v. 19. Grace empowers us in Christ to sacrifice all, to endure all, to set ourselves in subjection to all, to become bond-slaves to win the unsaved to Christ. Was Paul setting forth a marketing plan for the gospel? In no way! He was calling for self-denial and sacrifice for the sake of proclaiming the unsullied truth to those who do not know Christ.
This principle is developed further in the ensuing verses. He says, 'unto the Jews I became as a Jew', v. 20. Paul describes the denial of his personal liberty in seeking to win those of the nation of Israel. Though he was not under the law, yet he adopted their customs, ceremonial law and traditions so as not to give offence to the gospel, in order to win some from the commonwealth of Israel to Christ. Yet, he would never stoop to compromising the truth of the gospel. Concerning the Gentiles he writes, 'to them that are without law, as without law', v. 21. Paul is not saying that he in any way engaged in an immoral lifestyle to win the godless Gentiles; by no means. Rather, he set aside all his Jewish traditions, ceremonies, and culture in order to avoid producing a distraction and thereby a hindrance to the message of the gospel. To the weak brother, Paul says, 'I became as weak', v. 22. Regarding the weaker Christians, Paul adjusted his behaviour so as not to offend. He chose rather to yield in love, than to distract and stumble those weak in the faith. Why all the protracted effort in self-denial and sacrifice? Why, imprisonment, hunger, sleepless nights, fastings often, scourging, and stonings. So that through Christ-centred sacrificial devotion to be 'all things to all men' he might win some! Compromise the truth? Market the gospel? Accommodate the word of God? Never! John Heading warns, 'Verses 20-22 have often been interpreted in the sense of allowing evangelists to do almost anything they please in their zeal to reach souls. A careful reading of the Revised Version would, however, dispel such a notion. What Paul means is that he became a servant in every legitimate way to many folds, thereby by all means to save some'4.
How are the lost to be reached with the powerful gospel of salvation? The message of the apostle is this: to present ourselves unto God as servants, willing to sacrifice all and to humbly serve all, going forth armed with the all-sufficiency of Christ and His word. However, those who seek to reach the unsaved through the use of amusements and gimmicks will find that they have no effective means of reaching the lost with the truth of Christ. It must be emphasized yet again that the primary means of reaching the lost in our day, as in every day, is the unashamed faithful setting forth of the truth of the gospel to the perishing world.
AUTHOR PROFILE: David Dunlap has served the Lord for over twenty years first as a missionary, and now is engaged in a writing and Bible teaching ministry in North America. He and his wife Faith live in Tampa, Florida and have three children.