All Things To All Men
1 Corinthians 8:1-9:27
Key Verse 9:22
“To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”
It’s important that we learn how to use our Christian freedom with the pure motive and for the right purposes. We discussed last week that the freedom that the Lord gives us Christians is a precious gift. But when we do not use it properly, we will stumble, and we cause others to stumble as well. And we also talked extensively about two things, first, “knowledge” which Paul warns that it “puff up” the Christian, and second “love” which builds up other Christians. Paul deals wit the idea of Christian freedom, however, in a much boarder sense. Let us look at these two chapters and see the broader picture of the freedom Paul addresses to the Corinthian Christians.
As we said before, the Corinthian Christians had raised a question of conscience: Was it right for Christians to eat meat that had been sacrificed to an idol? Paul not only answered their question, he laid down a principle for them on how to solve many similar issues. And as we already said before, the principle he laid down is this: “Freedom must be guided and often limited by something far more valuable to the Christian than his or her freedom— and that is love” As in all things, love must be the guiding force in every Christian’s motive, and ultimately his or her behavior. No one disputes how the importance of Knowledge in our Christian lives. Often knowledge gives us the foundation we need to remain standing on the Gospel of life. But without love the danger is that knowledge makes Christians proud and harmful to others who are growing the faith.
Paul speaks of knowledge and love clearly to emphasize the supremacy of love. One who has Christian knowledge without love is like a professional lawyer; powerful in some respects, but missing the most essential aspect to his life— which is his humanity. The world, whether the Christian world or others, is filled with such men and women. On the other hand Paul mentions in verse 3 that the one who loves God is known by God. Paul is talking about that most important aspect of Christian life, that wondrous personal relationship with God that a Christian cannot function as a Christian without it. Those who love God and are loved and known by God in return have the love of God circulating in their veins, their hearts and minds are guided by that most awesome force that the whole of Christiandom stands on— which is love. These in turn love God in a special way. They also love others without reserve. So in other words, that Christian who claims to love God, and exercises his freedom and knowledge in a reckless way, giving no thought to how his freedom is affecting others cannot in truth be a man of love. He or she seem to be nothing but a man or woman of knowledge. The freedom and knowledge God imparts to Christians, must— according to Paul’s wisdom— build up others.
After talking about the importance of knowledge being limited by love, Paul set out to deal with the practical problem occurring in the Corinthian church because not everyone there was using their knowledge and freedom properly, in a godly way, in a way that can bless others. Rather some where using their knowledge to exercise freedoms they should not exercise since they are proving to be harmful to other Christians. Look at verse 4. Paul says, “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world….” Idols are created from ignorant men’s imagination. The Greeks and Romans had 200,000 fictitious idols they made up and used to fit every occasion of life. They even had “Nike” the god of victory, who evolved in our time to become the god of prestigious shoes. They were false gods, nonetheless but useful o businesses, whether economic business or religious business. Icons were a huge and lucrative market in those days filling up temples where ignorant men and women frequently bowed and paid some fee for small blessings. Serving these gods was a part of Corinthian life. But they had heard the Gospel; they had met the one true God; they had found true life and true joy not in the “Nike God” but in the God who had raised above the popularity and status of designer shoes.
Read verse 6. “…yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” What a glorious statement and truth! This is an eternal lesson to all of us. There is one God who created heaven and earth and all things. He is our Father who protects and provides for his children and loves us with an unconditional love. All things came from God. In Paul’s perspective and meaning, he simply is teaching the Corinthians that there there is One and only One to glorify and serve as the meaning and purpose of our lives. And he continues to teach us that there is only One Lord, Jesus Christ through whom salvation has come to all of us— including the Corinthians. The Corinthians should know then that food was also made by God for their enjoyment and nourishment. They had the freedom to receive any kind of food with thanksgiving (1 Ti 4:4-5). All they had to do is say “thank you God for this food we are about to receive”!
The problem is that not everyone had this knowledge. Some in Corinth believed in Jesus, but it seems— and I would add ‘strangely’— that some did not know that idols are nothing. They were probably struggling to come out of their idol worshiping background and habits. Paul referred to them as the “weak brothers” (7,11; Ro 14:2). It was hard to live in Corinth, knowing that their family members would persecute them about what they were trying to abandon in their new found faith in Christ. Festivals, public holidays and government affairs were all steeped in idol worship. A real challenge for them not to fall back into their old habits or even to tolerate the practice justifying seeming good reasons. In their Christian fellowship they found comfort and utter freedom from idol worshiping customs. This tells us how important Christian fellowship is for young Christians desperately trying to flee their old habits and sinful lifestyle. We need healthy Christian fellowship in order to grow spiritually and to provide an environment for the young flock to grow as well. But here is the trouble. When some Corinthian Christians were not concerned about their weak brothers, they were eating freely whatever they wanted, and even participating in idol feasts because they considered idols as nothing. Surely this brought tremendous confusion and discomfort for the weaker brothers. It was a step from causing them to stumble and fall.
And this is no small matter. The Christian who becomes the Cause for a weaker brother or sister to stumble is in danger of falling himself. To do so was to sin against Christ (12). Jesus warned his disciples sternly about this. Here is what Jesus had said about this: “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Mt 18:6). It is the duty of mature Christians with a strong faith to be responsible before God and man. They cannot say, “I am right with God; if you are harmed by my influence it is your problem.” Rather they must exercise their freedom responsibly. Paul himself set the example. Look at verse 13. “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.” When Paul said this, we can be sure that he would deprive himself of anything, even the things that are lawful for him, if only to encourage the weak Christians and not be a stumbling block in their way.
Freedom is a great gift of God to us Christians, but it should be limited by “love”. We can apply this principle in many ways. Christians are free to drink alcohol, although the Old and New Testaments warn against drunkenness (Pr 20:1; Isa 5:11; Lk 21:34; Gal 5:2). But we must be very careful in using this freedom. If it causes a little one who believes in Jesus to stumble, by encouraging him or her to sin, we must decide never to drink. We must also consider our hobbies as Christians. We are free to enjoy good wholesome hobbies. But we must take care that our hobbies are not harmful to others. We can also apply this principle in regard to freedom of speech. In America we are free to say anything to anyone. But mind you! We are responsible for the words we speak to others. What we say in our freedom should not be arbitrary and senseless. It must be spoken not with the spirit of freedom but with the spirit of love. Here is a word from Jesus regarding our freedom of speech. “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37)
We are living in a Christian community. In this community there are both strong and weak people in regards to their faith. Those who have strong faith may be those who study the Bible diligently and know many spiritual secrets. They are seasoned Christians and are not easily hurt by others and they can enjoy many things with a clear conscience. Those who have weak faith may be the young and newly born Christians who have not studied the Bible much in order to know the heart and mind of God in matters of conscience. These weaker brothers and sisters are very sensitive to certain issues and to the kinds of words that are spoken to them. If we do not restrain our freedom in love, many may stumble and fall on account of us. As Jesus showed us, we must embrace one another and cover one another’s weakness with the love of Christ.
Look at chapter 9. Paul shares his own example of how he used his freedom to build up others. Paul received his call to be an apostle directly from the Risen Christ. And his apostleship was sealed by the evident work of God among the Corinthian believers (1-2) as he says to them. As an apostle, Paul had rights. Paul had a right to food and drink. Paul had a right to take a believing wife along with him wherever he went. Paul also had a right to receive material support (3-6). In verses 7-14, Paul he states the fact that he is worthy to receive support, both from a human point of view and from a Scriptural point of view— using all kinds of examples to show this. But the truth is that he chose not use this right. The question here is Why? First, He didn’t want his rights to hinder the gospel of Christ (12b). Second, Paul did not use any of his rights because he only wanted God’s reward (15-18). According to verse 16, he tells us that he was compelled to preach. He regarded preaching the gospel as his great reward. He cared more for God’s reward than man’s reward. We too should seek God’s reward genuinely, with a pure motive when we serve God’s purpose.
Paul was strict when using his rights for himself. He was generous in using his freedom to save others. He boldly shared God’s love with the lost. Though he was free, he made himself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible. Let’s read verse 22. “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” What a remarkable statement and truth! These words truly reflect the heart of the Messiah. They inspire us to win non-Christians by any means. We must learn to become all things to all men in order to share the gospel of salvation with them. We should make friends with the young people today who hate all kinds of authoritarian influence. For the sake of drawing them to Christ, we can abandon vain sense of authority or superiority. Those who practice unnatural sexual relations, though we oppose their lifestyle we cannot close our hearts to them but embrace them in love, putting aside all forms of legalism. Many of us are too cautious or opinionated. Thanksgiving calls for repentance so that the spirit of the Risen Jesus may guide our steps and our mouths and our hearts toward all men. As Paul said in verse 23, “I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings.” Paul learned the mind of Christ and God’s love for many different people when he chose to become like Christ everything to everybody. This was a real spiritual blessing none of us must miss.
In verses 24-27 Paul tells us that it was not easy for him. It was a struggle. But he always came back to strict self-denial and self denial for the sake of his own soul and for the sake of others. He had once been a legalistic and merciless person and a murderous person. But he finally said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Jesus became weak and denied all his privileges in heaven in order to bring us close to God our Father. He even gave his life on the cross that we might live. What excuse do we have not to follow in the same example if we call our selves a Christian. A Christian is a great man or woman who uses his freedom to build up others in Christ. That we must practice every day. Then our church will be healthy and a good influence, and God will make us fruitful in serving campus mission. Read our key verse again: 9:22. “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”