In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, the Apostle Paul talks about being “all things to all people.” In the rest of the passage, he talks about different groups with whom he demonstrates this. While that passage is not an exhaustive guide to ministry, it provides significant insights into how to reach people for Jesus.
Based on studying this passage, and thinking of this in the ministry context of the Bible, I have five reflections over the past few weeks on what it is to be “all things to all people.”
1. It’s love for people
Basic principles that are clear from this text and from the ministry of Jesus include that we are called to love people. It’s not a choice. It’s non-negotiable. We are called to love people. We can’t dismiss them, we can’t dismiss opportunities to share the love of Christ or to think that it’s someone else’s job to do.
It’s your job to do! It’s serving something that is infinitely bigger and greater than yourself.
And we encounter people in our daily lives who don’t know Jesus. In our families, in our offices, and in our schools. I’m not saying you need to force faith on anyone. In some ways, that’s the easy thing to do. But being pushy isn’t the point.
2. It’s building relationships
In being all things to all people, it’s about building relationships. You can’t be all things to all people without building relationships.
It’s getting to know people. The fact that Paul was ministering differently to different groups of people meant that he was actually getting to know them.
In sharing the gospel, and sharing faith, it’s not just about one conversation. It’s about a relationship with a person.
Part of the challenge of actually building a relationship is that it takes more time. It takes more investment. Being too pushy about faith can alienate a person. It can hurt a relationship, but that’s not the point. It’s about building relationships with those who don’t know Christ.
3. It’s relating to unique individuals
This principal flows from this idea in how we relate to people.
People are different. And what being all things will require with different individuals requires discernment.
People are not robots. It’s not about finding a way to program everyone that you meet. It’s not about having one approach to interacting with people. That’s not how Jesus did ministry.
In John 4, Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman. He knows that she has had multiple husbands and is essentially prostituting herself out to another man. He shows grace.
In Mark 8, he foretells his death and resurrection to his disciples, and Peter tries to rebuke Jesus for saying such things. Jesus responds by saying “Get behind me Satan.”
Different situations. Different people. Different ways how Jesus approaches them. In other instances, he’s asked a question and he responds with another question, to teach the questioner something, other times he responds with a parable.
It’s also about loving different kinds of people. In this passage, writing to the Corinthians, Paul talks about how he is all things to the Jews, the non-Jews, and those looked down upon by society.
4. It’s learning from mistakes
In being all things to all people, you will do it imperfectly and make mistakes. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. And to be fair, just to use myself as an example, I mess up in this area. All the time.
Don’t let the fear of making a mistake keep you from doing ministry, or for reaching out to people. God knows you’ll make mistakes. Paul says at the beginning of this book that his mission was to preach Christ crucified. When you do that, and are focused on the gospel, God will still work through imperfect ministries.
5. It’s pursuing holiness
Where Paul talks about being “all things to all people” for the sake of the gospel, this can be potentially misunderstood. Paul is not giving license to sin. Followers of Jesus are called to holiness, but we are not called to holier than thou-ness. Being all things to all people is done to serve people.
It’s about becoming a servant of God for his purposes. Paul actually uses servant/slave language at the beginning of this passage, and he is putting himself under the authority of God out of gratitude for the grace of God.
Paul said I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
We are to love people even if they aren’t loveable, and be all things to all people. Because we have a savior who loved us. He met us where we were. In the mire of sin, he pulled us up, and now we have the opportunity to pass the torch to others.
Originally published April 11, 2016
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what you think, and don’t forget to subscribe!
Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.