Thursday, February 23, 2012

Being all things to all men has limits…

Most Christians are aware of Paul’s method of evangelism – relating to the people he is trying to bring to Christ – namely “becoming all things to all men.”  This is also known as “relational evangelism” or “friendship evangelism.”
More completely, the verse reads:
“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”     
1 Corinthians 9:22-23
The motive of  Paul’s application of this method is fantastic.  There is no higher goal.  To him, obviously the end justifies the means.
On a secular level, good salesmen in any industry use this method all the time to drum up business:  They relate to their customer in any way they can so they can gain their confidence, build trust, earn a customer and earn an income.
Personally, I have become suspicious of such tactics.  To me, this reeks of hypocrisy and delusion.The result for many is expectation of friendship, only to discover they have been used.
The same abuse can result when sharing the gospel using this method.  While we are urged to have “pure motives” while becoming “all things to all men”, pure motive alone does justify a false front or deceptive behavior.  Paul may have mastered this technique.  Perhaps this “technique” fits his personality and his “gift” for relating to people.  This is certainly part of the gift of evangelism:  The ability to relate to people in a sincere way with pure motives without getting caught up in beliefs and behaviors contrary to what we understand to be Godly standards.
But not all of us have this “gift.”  Not all of us are fitted with the same skill set as Paul.  Certainly even Jesus himself was not “all things to all people.”  He never compromised His principles to “fit in with the crowd.”  He certainly dialogued with sinners (all of us are sinners in one way or another).  But he never led people to believe he would become a hooker or a corrupt tax collector or a money changer so that he could gain their confidence and convert people to His way of thinking.
Being “all things to all men” is not the only way to express God’s desire to those people we encounter.  It was Paul’s way.  And some of may choose to mimic that “method.”  But those of us who cannot relate to that method should not feel or be considered inferior.   For example the apostle John had a variety of ways of conveying the truth of God’s words.  In his gospel he emphasized  the love of God and forgiveness.  In his last book, Revelation, he focused on God’s final judgment.   In that book John made no attempt to win friends and influence people ala Dale Carnegie.
What other ways are there to get our message across?  Here are a few:
  • Lifestyle evangelism:  Being an example so that others see Christ in you.
  • Service evangelism:  Assisting others in need via personal service, food kitchens, helping neighbors, missions, etc.
  • Focused evangelism:  Short of being “all things to all people” focus on a group of people you can sincerely relate to.  Luke focused on the Jews.  An attorney may focus on other attorneys.  A former Muslim may focus on current Muslims.
  • Topical evangelism:  Focus on topics you know about which will be of interest to other people.  Write or speak about political or moral issues from a Christian perspective that may garner interest.
  • Evangelism via apologetics:  Using logical reasoning with people
  • Direct evangelism:  This might be through church initiated  visitation, street or door to door evangelism or discussions with friends and neighbors you already relate to.
Indeed, attempting to be “all things to all men” has its limitations.  Some, like me, may be suspicious of that method.  They may be more open to logic and evidences (apologetics) such as in Josh McDowell’s 1970’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict books.  Others may be receptive only to hitting bottom, losing everything, with no place else to turn except to God.
Above all, genuine, as opposed to feigned, sincerity is essential.  The end does not always justify the means.  If it did, you would make a good Muslim or Communist.

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