“I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the Gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.” (1st Corinthians 9:22b-23)
On a certain occasion in my younger life (before my mentor took me as his student), I recall asking him how does one know if he has the talent to be an evangelist or a preacher? It is not uncommon for anyone who has yet to understand what spiritual gift God has given him to be filled with doubt about one’s purpose in His kingdom. I admit that I had been told by several faithful brethren (including my precious mother) that I had been blessed with the ability to teach and preach His Word but, similar to Moses, I was very hesitant in accepting this responsibility. I was intimidated by the lofty weight this honorable office held and I remember feeling as the least qualified man for this duty. Thus, I decided to ask with the intent of settling once and for all if this was my calling or not. The answer our brother gave me was an echo of the pericope above. He looked at me and very passionately answered, “How much do you love the souls of men?” With this answer, the brother was revealing to a young man the very definition of self-sacrifice. As I now look back at this personal life lesson, I am reminded of a valuable revelation spoken by the lips of Jesus. Matthew writes that “a certain scribe came and said to Him, ‘Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head’” (Matthew 8:19-20, emphasis added). It is wise to understand that the Master was not discouraging the scribe who expressed his desire to follow Him. Rather, our Lord was revealing to him the hardships linked to his request. The Lord was wisely and compassionately teaching the scribe that to follow Him, one must be willing and ready to leave it all behind for Him. It is for this reason that Paul was the best man to exhort, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1st Corinthians 11:1, emphasis added). Unquestionably, the apostle Paul’s imitation of the Lord is an exemplary one for every Christian to emulate. Paul proved that indeed, a man could transform from his wicked deeds and could find joy in self-sacrifice. The selected passage at the beginning of this treatise is a portion of the inspired apostle’s defense against horrid accusations launched at him. His enemies sought to soil the validity of his apostleship by manifesting that Paul did not accept payment for preaching the Gospel to them because he was ashamed of being an impostor. Due to this, the apostle very passionately reveals to the Corinthians, “what is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel. For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more” (1st Corinthians 9:18-19, emphasis added). Paul was proving to the Corinthians that winning them for the Lord was much more precious than any monetary profit they could probably give him. Although he as an apostle and preacher was entitled to receive from them wages for his labor, he explains to them that it was by choice, not embarrassment as his opponents accused, that he opted not to accept it. Paul understood the power of self-sacrifice practiced in genuine love. Having been a Pharisee in his previous life, the apostle had witnessed the tragic consequences of lack of compassion and understanding. His complete intolerance of Christianity and his misguided zeal for the traditions of his father removed sympathy and love for his fellow neighbor and provoked him to commit the greatest regret of his life. Paul recognized that even though he believed to do it for God, in fact he was doing for himself. He understood the dire need for him to change from a self-serving man to a self-sacrificing man. Paul later realized and accepted that “all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14, emphasis added). One must comprehend that it is impossible to love God if one does not love his fellow man. That it is impossible to love our fellow man, if we do not make an effort to know who they are. This method is highlighted by Paul as he states, “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; 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; 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 means save some” (1st Corinthians 9:20-22, emphasis added). There are some who have named these inspired words as “the law of adaptation.” Yet, the implications of this label are perilous for the apostle’s message is deviated by them. Paul is not condoning hypocrisy nor is he saying that he was willing to compromise the Gospel in any way. Instead, the apostle is demonstrating to them his love to them by learning more about who they were and how they lived. Paul is declaring that he was empathetic to them and thus was able to use this to his advantage to bring them to Christ. An outstanding example of the significance of Paul’s words is his approach toward the Athenian philosophers at the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34). What the apostle makes manifest to the brethren in Corinth is his profound love for the souls. He loved God and man so much that he was patient and diligent in getting to know the person he was evangelizing for Christ. He focused on understanding the person so that he could identify the proper and efficient way to teach the person about God. Paul emulated the Master magnificently in his sincere devotion to “lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). The apostle of the Gentiles learned that there was nothing more valuable than to win souls for God. For this reason, he always fervently encouraged “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2nd Timothy 4:2, emphasis mine). Therefore, how much do you love the souls of men?