Ohhhhh, the ways this passage is twisted, and perverted, and turned on its head by the oh-so-hip, oh-so-cool, oh-so-relevant “pastors” of the many seeker-sensitive, non-offensive, cross-less “churches” that pepper the American religious community today. They take the words of the apostle Paul, and they use them as an excuse to perform all kinds of free-for-alls by inviting all kinds of filthy, heathen, Satanic methods into a place that is supposed to be sanctified, consecrated, and set apart for the worship of Almighty YHVH.
And what is their excuse? “See??? Paul said he was ‘all things to all men!’ So take that you Bible-thumping Pharisee!” And we who love the precious word of God and consider ourselves slaves to it, shake our heads and groan on the inside, knowing that one more person has just allowed themselves to be conformed to this evil world, whilst trying to hold on to Christ. So, for the sake of clarity, let us examine just exactly what the apostle meant. Here are his actual words:
1st Corinthians 9:19-22 (New King James Version)—19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more; 20 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; 21 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; 22 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.
But, let’s take the attitude of those who would say, “Of course they played Marilyn Manson music in church this morning! They were reaching out and being relevant to Marilyn Manson fans! I mean, how else are they going to draw them?” And let’s draw it out to its inevitable conclusion. This is what they would have Paul say–
1st Corinthians 9:19-22 (New Seeker-Sensitive Version)—For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I may win more; and to the murderers I became a murderer, so that I might win murderers; to the blasphemers, as a blasphemer, so that I might win the blasphemers; to the pornographers, as a pornographer, so that I might win pornographers. To the pagans and Wiccans and Druids, I became a pagan and Wiccan and Druid that I might win the pagans and Wiccans and Druids; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.
But is that what Paul was saying? If you think it is, then stop reading right now and go back to reading Rob Bell or Doug Paggitt. Because you will not like what I am about to say. Paul was not saying that he committed acts that were sinful, neither was he saying that he brought Satanic rituals into the church, nor is he saying that we should be conformed to this world so that we can be “all things to all men.”
Verse 19. For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. Here Paul hearkens back to the words of our LORD Jesus. For what did He tell the two brothers who would have had Him give them thrones? Matthew 20:26-27—“Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave.” Paul would later tell the church at Philippi to Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:3-5 NASB). So, in order that the gospel may do its perfect work in saving those whom the Father is drawing, Paul says that he has become less than the ones he preaches to.
Verse 20a. …and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews… Now, we know that he was born a Jew. That he was circumcised the 8th day. This is obvious from even a cursory reading of Scripture. Romans 9:3-4—I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites… Philippians 3:4-5—If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews… But Paul is not talking about how he was born. Keeping context in mind, he has made himself a slave to the Jews by “becoming as a Jew.” In other words, when he went to the Jews to preach the gospel, he set his mind to teach them from what they knew–the OT Scriptures. His thinking, going in, was “These men know the Tanakh. They know all the rituals and sacrifices and offerings. I will show them how these things point to Christ.” Which he did in 1st Corinthians 5:7—For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. And in Galatians 3:15-16—Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. And, if Paul is indeed the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, he spelled out how pretty much the entire Tanakh was nothing more than a foreshadowing of Moshiach.
Verse 20b. …to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law… He was an expert in the Mosaic Law. And as he was studying that Law so fiercely under Gamaliel, and seeking to become the greatest teacher of the Mosaic Law that the world of Judaism would ever know, he did not think that God was the one who was making him that expert. But now, he is an expert, and can dialog with the experts in that Law almost as well as the author of that law, the LORD Jesus Christ Himself. Philippians 3:4-6—If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel…concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. Acts 22:3-5—“I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.”
But, what happened one day as he was carrying the extradition papers to bring the Damascene Christians to Jerusalem to face the sword? Acts 22:6-11—“Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ So I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’” He was called by the risen Christ, and shown that salvation does not come by keeping the Law, but by faith in Christ. And upon learning this great truth, he gave himself all the more to the study of the OT, to the Law and the prophets, to show those who were still slaves to the Law and the prophets the true way to life eternal. Romans 3:27-28—Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Galatians 3:21-22—Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
And in the Scriptures, we have an illustration of Paul showing these who were “under Law” just how useless the keeping of that Law is. In Acts 16:1-3, Paul and Silas meet a young man named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted to have him go on with him. There was just one problem. Because Timothy’s father was Greek, he did not have his son circumcised. And in order to have this young man heard by the Jews in that area, he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek. And what is so ironic about this incident is that Paul had, in his hands a decree from the apostles James and John and Peter (as well as Paul himself) stating that a man does not need to be circumcised to be a Christian. In fact, I doubt the ink was even dry on the parchment. But, since circumcision is NOT against the Law, he talked Timothy into being circumcised. And this, as if to say, “Fine! Now look, you’ve mutilated the poor man. But Men of Israel, this man is no more saved now that you have mutilated him than he was before. And he would have been no less saved if you had sheathed your knives!” What would Paul say later about these men? Philippians 3:2—Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! Galatians 5:12 (NASB)—I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.
Verse 21. …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. Here he is speaking of the Gentiles. These are the ones “without law.” Romans 2:14—for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves. Do the Gentiles also have a part in the Kingdom of God? Well, of course!! Romans 3:29-30—Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. And now, Paul having been shown that salvation is apart from the law, and is not for the Jews only, has gone to the Gentiles preaching faith in Christ Jesus. And that these Gentiles are not bound by Law, but are actually free from the Law. Colossians 1:8-16—Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ…Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
And of course, there would still be many Gentile Christians who would think that if they did not keep the Law perfectly, they would again fall under the wrath and condemnation of God. So to dispel that notion, he wrote Romans 8:1-4—There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Verse 22a. …to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak… What about the one whose faith is not a threefold cord, but is rather a slender thread? He has taken them into account. In fact, he rebuked the apostle Peter for acting in a way that had the potential to damage the faith of the weak Jewish Christians. Galatians 2:11-13—Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.
Paul had a compassion for weak brethren that was as near to equaling that of our LORD Jesus as is possible in a man. And he was not shy about letting that be known. In fact, in this same letter to these Corinthians, he says Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you (1st Corinthians 11:20-22). If this is not a rebuke of “bring anything you want into the house of God” doctrine that many churches follow, I don’t know what is. Here were people bringing evil into a gathering of the body of Christ–and Paul rebuked them for it!
He would go on to tell the Roman saints, Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks (Romans 14:1-6). He would go on to say, in that same chapter, that It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak (Romans 14:21). In other words, if there is a chance that a weak brother may come into the house you claim to be a church, and they hear you playing Satanic music, and they walk out and go back to their old sinful lifestyle–you have made that brother stumble, and you will give an account!! those aren’t my words. Those are the words of Scripture.
Verse 22b. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. If you have not gathered, from the preceding verses, how mixed up and muddled the “Anything Goes in the House of God” crowd has made this verse, then please go back and read it again. I don’t know how much clearer I could make it. Or have you seen something in Paul’s actions–ANY of them–that have given you even a hint that he would allow satanic practices in the house of God. “Oh, but I was drawn to this church by them playing AC/DC music!” Really? Then you have given the glory to Satan. You are saying that it was Satan who was responsible for you going to that “church.” Does it mean you aren’t saved? I can’t make that call. But if you continue to listen to Satanic music, and you do not repent and if you do not call that which is Satanic “Satanic,” then I do fear for your soul.
And don’t give me that lame old “Well, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and God used it for good!” That is an excuse. That is a very tired, very old excuse used by those who want to hold onto the things of this world while still claiming to be Christian. I will allow God’s word to answer that. James 4:4-5—Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously? 1st John 2:15-16—Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world. 2nd Corinthians 6:14-18—Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate,” says the Lord. “Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters,” says the LORD Almighty.”
And yet, there will still be those who will search for loopholes in the word of God. They will craft arguments so as to avoid the clear teachings of Scripture. They will appeal to their own intellect and their own reasoning and their own desires in order to nullify the word of God. And they will push the boundaries God has laid down so that they may appeal to the basest instincts of those who follow them. They will be popular. They will win applause and admiration from men. They will go through life thinking that they are doing something good and noble (no pun intended). And they will not consider that one day God just may push back.