Magnificent Obsession

“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.” (1 Corinthians 9:19)

In his letter to the Ephesians (4:11-16), Paul noted that Christ had given specific gifts to the church—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Paul himself was all of these, however, and he wanted to win as many people as he could from all walks of life. He therefore sought to be “made all things to all men, that [he] might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

This, indeed, was a magnificent obsession, and every Christian should seek to emulate it as the Lord enables. Paul was not saying, however, that a man should become as a woman to win women to the Lord, or that a woman should become as a man to win men; neither should he become a humanist to win humanists. One should never dilute the doctrines of the faith or Christian standards of conduct in order to win commitments to the church.

Paul was not laying down guidelines for witnessing, either for the church or for individual Christians; he was giving his own personal testimony. Nevertheless, we should seek to be understanding and sympathetic to people of every background. “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God” (1 Corinthians 10:32). We should try to “be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25). Remembering it is “God that giveth the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7), we should never compromise truth in order to gain converts, but “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) beseech others to “be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). HMM

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