|Original picture by Wikimedia user Rémi Jouan and obtained from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.|
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (emph. mine) - 1 Corinthians 9:20-23You may be wondering why I'm posting a passage from 1 Corinthians instead of from Acts this week. And there's a very simple answer for that. The passage I am scheduled to write about today is Acts 16:3 which says, "Paul wanted to take him [Timothy] along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek."
And let's be honest...that's just not a typical verse we think about to memorize! But I do believe the principles and the decisions represented in the passage are extremely important and worthy of looking at and thinking about. Let me give the background information and I think you will understand what I'm talking about and you will see the relevance for today as well.
We learn from the first few verses of Acts 16 that Timothy was the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father. We also learn that he had a great reputation among the believers. We've discussed the last couple of weeks the broader context. In Acts 15, there was a vigorous debate about whether or not Gentile converts had to be circumcised and keep the ceremonial Old Testament law in order to really join the church. In fact, Paul was preparing Timothy to travel around with him to the infant gentile churches delivering the good news reached at Jerusalem. That news was that they were not obligated to keep the Old Testament law. Paul had been vehement in his arguments against requiring anyone to be circumcised as a condition of salvation. Together with Peter's account of Cornelius' conversion and James's recount of the prophecies, the Jerusalem council made the wise and correct decision not to burden new converts with laws that never had the power to save anyone anyway. The question, then, when you get to chapter 16 and Paul's having Timothy circumcised, is what in the world happened to change Paul's mind!?
And the answer is nothing at all. In fact, Luke records in the verse after telling of Timothy's circumcision that he and Paul traveled around to the churches telling of the decision in Jerusalem! (Acts 16:4) How could Paul joyfully tell others they were not required to be circumcised while standing next to Timothy whom he had asked to be circumcised!? Were they being hypocritical? Were they being wishy-washy? Were they being politically correct and trying to please everyone?
Absolutely not! They were being all things to all people so that by all means they might save some!
Here's the deal as far as I can see it. They were very different circumstances. By no means would Paul stand by quietly and let someone add requirements to salvation. He would not keep quiet while Judaizers tried to pervert the gospel of God with man-made requirements and restrictions for younger believers or new converts. But in the case of Timothy, he did not ask Timothy to be circumcised as a requirement for salvation. He asked Timothy to be circumcised in order to remove a stumbling block for Jews who did not already believe! Paul knew that Timothy's effectiveness as a missionary would be severely dampened any time they went into a city. Think about it. The first place they usually went was to a synagogue. Why? Because God-fearing Jews met there. It was a great place to start preaching. But if they had to fight a battle about Timothy's heritage and lack of circumcision every time they walked into a city, when would they have time to talk about Christ!
I think this passage and context that it comes in is an incredibly illuminating example of what it means to be all things to all people and to not lay stumbling blocks in front of others. Let's be honest when we are talking about stumbling block issues. Stumbling blocks are things that keep young Christians or those who have not converted yet from being able to see Christ. They are never issues that are about placating mature Christians in order to keep the peace. They never involve adding requirements to those who come from a different background before we can grant them salvation or consider them a brother. Paul and Jesus both fought tooth an nail against those types of things.
On the other hand, let's be honest about how far we are willing to go to bring others to the God who loves us infinitely. What barriers exist between you and your unsaved neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family? Is it a style of dress? Is it a matter of comfort? Is it a political stance? Is there anything that is worth maintaining comfort and self over accommodating someone's limited perception of me so they can quit seeing the differences between us and start seeing Christ?
I'm not saying that we fake who we are. I'm not saying we are disingenuous. I'm saying we seek out and remain vigilant about any non-Biblical barriers that stand between us and anyone else that hinders them from seeing and hearing the message of Christ in us...and we destroy them.
Let's become all things to all people so that by all means we may save some. May God give us the wisdom and discernment of Paul so we may know when to fight the slavery of extra-biblical religious requirements and when to accommodate the sensitivities of non-believers.