Once I was witnessing to Don (not his real name) a friend of my sister-in-law. We were having an engaging dialogue about spiritual things. After I asked Don about his spiritual orientation, he said he leaned toward Hinduism, which was his parents orientation.
I asked Don if he wanted to experience nirvana, and he responded in the affirmative. In Hinduism and Buddhism, nirvana is the highest state that someone can attain, a state of enlightenment, devoid of suffering. Nirvana is a place of perfect peace and happiness, like heaven. And the way you attain nirvana is through reincarnation.
I explained to Don that it seemed to me that adherents to most religions desire to experience heaven, paradise, or nirvana. I asked him if he agreed with that statement, and he did. Then I quoted Jesus’ words from John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
Then I said to Don, “One difference between your belief and my belief is simply the vehicle by which we get there (nirvana or heaven). You believe it’s through reincarnation. I believe it’s through faith in Jesus [the Incarnation]. Would you agree with that statement?” Don agreed.
In simple terms, I was attempting to connect with Don without compromising the gospel.
As we continue learning lessons from the Apostle Paul, he taught from 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 about this concept of connecting with people for the gospel’s sake:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ, that I might win those who are without law; 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.
Corinth was a cosmopolitan, sin-filled city in the first century. The church Paul had founded there during his second missionary journey was made of Jews and Gentiles. In this section he focused on reaching people with a servant’s heart, with the goal of bringing them to the Lord.
Verses 19-20 read: For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law;
How did Paul, a Jew, become “as a Jew” that he might win them to Christ? Well, in Acts 16:1-4, Paul actually circumcised Timothy (who had a Jewish mother and Greek father), so Timothy would have greater cache among the Jewish people, while also supporting Paul’s witness to them. For if he wasn’t circumcised, some may have assumed Timothy had renounced his Jewish heritage and had chosen to live now as a Gentile.
Even though Paul was no longer living under the law of Moses, you can be sure he kept kosher when in their presence so as not to make his Jewish brethren stumble. As a missionary to my Jewish people in New York City for years, I never ate traif (unkosher food) in public, so as not to offend those I desired to reach.
Verses 21-22 continue: to those who are without law, as without law not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ, that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak.
Those “without the law” referred to the Gentiles who didn’t have the law of Moses. Paul, a Roman citizen and God’s chosen vessel to bring the gospel to the Gentile world, understood how to connect to this audience without compromising the gospel.
For example, in Acts 17 on Mars Hill, Paul addressed pagans and philosophers by speaking their language—finding points of connection before communicating gospel distinctives:
“Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:
TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.
Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you.” – Acts 17:22-23
Here, Paul didn’t tell them he worships the same pagan idols they do, but rather he connected with them by telling them he is a fellow worshipper—for all men are created to worship. The Apostle then proceeded to distinguish the object of His worship as opposed to theirs as he elaborated in Acts 17:24-28.
Verse 24 provides the culmination of this section:
“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”
Paul’s attempt to connect with people where they are for the gospel’s sake without compromising the truth is a noble example. How this applies to our lives today will be different for each of us in our unique situations. Yet, in short, Paul is what I might coin ‘leveling the playing field’ in becoming all things to all men for the gospel’s sake.
Once a young homosexual man I was friends with, knowing I was a Christian minister, asked me if I thought homosexuality was wrong. I responded by saying the Bible has more verses about heterosexual sin than homosexual sin. He was shocked. I added that God clearly stated in the Bible that any sexual activity outside marriage between a man and a woman is sinful. I closed with the reality that all of us are sinners in need of a Savior—that’s why Jesus came. Then I proceeded to share the gospel.
This young man was not offended by what I said. He actually listened and found my explanation compelling. I had responded to his original inquiry so as not to condemn him, but rather to connect with him.
As we seek to reach people for the gospel’s sake, may the Lord help each of us in every situation to connect with people without compromising the truth!