by Barry Newton
His quotation of Paul had flowed flawlessly word for word. “I have become all things to all men so that by all means I might save some.”/1 So how audacious for anyone to reject his proposal to alter worship services in order to attract those outside the community of Christ.
After all, had not Paul clearly elevated church growth above everything else by writing he used “all means”? And if this methodology drove the apostle, then Christians would be amiss if they failed to follow his lead.
A soft veiled smile shone in the eyes of his objector. Perhaps the gentle response suggested how they were to be interpreted:
“Yes, Paul wrote those words. But they gain their meaning from their context. After Paul provided personal examples how he had chosen to limit himself, his statement affirms the lengths he would go in restricting his rights in order to win others. Nowhere among the preceding examples did Paul even hint that his evangelistic objective had guided him to expand his activities beyond what God had permitted from his people.”
The ensuing discussion entailed a succinct survey of chapters 8 through 10 of 1 Corinthians. The issue at Corinth had involved the right to eat meat sacrificed to an idol. Some Christians knew that since nothing had happened to this meat, eating it did not violate God’s will. Unfortunately, others might misunderstand with disastrous consequences. Paul wanted to hammer home that a Christian’s love for others should cause him to override his rights.
Brilliantly, Paul had transitioned away from this emotionally charged topic. Using his own life, he had illustrated how love can motivate a person to limit his freedom. Paul knew he had many rights, but he willingly chose to forgo them in order to achieve a greater good.
As Paul outlined how he morphed himself for the sake of others, he emphasized that the end did not justify the means. His pen scribbled, “I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law.”/2 Paul refused to violate the higher principle of serving God’s will in order to evangelize.
The remaining synopsis was concise. The objector explained how Paul had emphasized the seriousness that every Christian persevere. A stumbling block for anyone could be disastrous. Using the example of ancient Israel, the apostle had underscored the danger of anyone engaging in idolatrous activities.
Paul had argued Israel had stood on equal footing with the Corinthian Christians because they too had been baptized as well as nourished by Christ. Therefore, the Corinthians should take notice how many in Israel had been destroyed when Israel had engaged in idolatrous practices.
Paul proceeded to shock those who thought nothing of eating sacrificed meat. They needed greater sophistication. Although eating sacrificed meat might not be anything, to eat meat in a pagan temple would cause someone to fellowship demons! Finally, Paul had concluded by outlining specific practical instructions regarding sacrificed food.
Misquoting Paul encompasses more than getting his words wrong. It also involves misrepresenting his message.
1/ 1 Corinthians 9:22
2/ 1 Corinthians 9:20