In a world that is increasingly detached from religious belief, it is not easy to be a Christian that inspires faith. The rise of secularism has placed believers in an increasingly minority position, and sometimes, the pressures of the world can threaten our Christian identity and purpose.
After 2,000 years of church history, it is easy to forget that our faith community was birth in the Roman world of political suspicion and religious persecution. It was in this context that Paul’s testimony in 1 Cor 9:19-23 gives us some knowledge and useful insights to be a Christian in a secular society.
Paul became “all things to all people” so that by all possible means they may be saved (v22). How can we, too, intentionally seek to win others for Christ in our everyday interactions with the people we meet?
But first, what does it mean to be all things to all men?
It is important not to mistake this as conforming to the world. Christ has sent us to be in the world, but not of it (John 17:16). Paul says in Romans 12:1-3 that Christians should not conform to the patterns of the world, but to be transformed. Hence, Christians are called to create a new culture.
Paul’s strategy was to use his Christian freedom to become the slave of all (v19). It meant to become a servant, to have an attitude of servanthood. It meant putting the needs of others before himself to serve in love, in kindness, for the purpose of the Gospel.
Serve in love and humility
Colossians 3:23 is a good reminder that whatever we do, we do for the Lord and not for man. In the same way, when we serve others, we do it in love, as Christ did on earth. Jesus took the very nature of a servant when He was made into human likeness and came down to earth, ministering the good news to all.
Jesus did not discriminate against those who came to him. He did not judge. In fact, He welcomed the sinners and tax collectors—lowest members of Jewish society—to eat at his table. He healed the sick and the poor, including a leper, who in that time, was stigmatised as unclean. It was clear from Jesus’ attitude and actions that He had a heart for the poor.
Jesus saw individuals, not just their labels. Jesus didn’t let social status or cultural norms dictate His relationships with people. He brought the truth and good news to those who most needed it and were willing to listen. They recognised Jesus as a righteous man, a man of God—the miracles He performed bore witness to that—and they saw His compassion and sincerity.
Philippians 2:5 tells us to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus in our relationships with one another.
To be imitators of Christ – the command is simple but not an easy one to follow. But we can start first in our homes, workplaces and then communities. We can do this through meaningful acts of kindness to those around us.
Serve in kindness
Another aspect of “being all things to all men” is to engage others with kindness. Kindness is not simply being “tender-hearted” (Eph 4:32), but it involves having the confidence in our faith to interact with others of a different faith respectfully—as Paul related to the Jews and Greeks—without being threatening or imposing, yet at the same time, without compromising our own faith. It is speaking with empathy so that our words and deeds may reflect the loving-kindness of Christ. Kindness is other-centredness, putting the needs of others before our own.
In the Singapore Kindness Movement’s latest “Be Greater” campaign, we encourage the community to go beyond random acts of kindness, and think of individual and collective characters and values.
We need to acknowledge that every one of us has a responsibility towards building a community, a nation, a world of kindness – a world where people of different faith and beliefs can come together in peace and understanding.
In addition, it aims to act as a call for everyone to be better and greater versions of themselves, no matter which age and social group they belong to. For Christians, this is the transformed life we are called to live, a life greater than ourselves, a life dedicated to Christ.
Serve with purpose
In reading Paul’s testimony, we might ask why has he made himself a slave to all? Why is he becoming “as a Jew” to the Jews? Why did he make himself as a “lawless one” to the lawless, and weak to the weak?
It is important to understand that Paul did not become “all things to all men” to please people or to gain favour with anyone. He did it “to win as many as possible… for the sake of the gospel” (v23). He says this five times. Paul’s purpose was clear.
His ultimate goal was to witness to others the transformed life in Christ—saved by grace through faith—so that God may be glorified in him.
How then, in your sphere of life, can you use your spiritual freedom to serve in love and kindness the way Paul and Jesus did, if by any means you might save some? Unless we are willing to be “all things to all people” and be out in the public sphere engaging all people, we are in danger of losing our preservative and savouring function of salt that remain in the salt shaker.
Dr. William Wan is the General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement. He is also a winner of the Active Ager Award (Council of the Third Age) 2011. Prior to taking on this role as General Secretary, he was practising law and managing a psychometric company. Dr Wan also sits on the advisory panel of The Bible Society of Singapore.