Contextualization? (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

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1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (ESV)

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
 
            In context, the above passage has to do with Paul’s authenticity as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Some of the Corinthians were objecting to Paul’s authority, seeing him as different than the other apostles. One way in which Paul was different was in the fact that, while Paul lived in Corinth,, he made his own living and preached the gospel to the people of Corinth without taking a salary for doing so.
 
            When Paul answered why he would preach for no pay, why he would not demand the salary that was rightfully his, Paul pointed out that he often changed his own life for the sake of taking the gospel to others. He had no problem living in such a way as not to offend the Jews for the sake of taking the gospel to the Jews. When Paul lived among gentiles, he had no problem living in such a way as not to offend the gentiles for the sake of getting the gospel to the gentiles. In truth, Paul adapted his lifestyle in order to make sure that he could preach the gospel to others, and that adaptation had to do with all things, including his vocation.
 
            Of course, the above passage has been a great source of discussion among Christians. How much contextualization should a church do in order to reach her community? How much like the world should we be? How far is too far? How much contextualization is actually compromise?
 
            I don’t have a full answer to the contextualization question. However, I do have some thoughts for myself and for individual believers. Perhaps it would be better to start here than to try to make church-wide calls and denominational changes based on contextualization. It is easier to think this issue through for yourself, for you as an individual.
 
            So, as an individual, what do you change about yourself in order to have a hearing among those who do not know you? What are you willing to change about your lifestyle? No, I’m not talking about adopting pagan behaviors or morality. But, is there something that you can do that would help you simply connect your life to the lives of others so that they will be able to hear you when you speak the truth in love?
 
            Without attempting to prescribe a list of contextualizing behaviors, can I challenge you as I challenge myself to think about what you need to do to connect your life with the lives of some who do not know Jesus? Ask yourself what non-essentials you put forward that separate you from the lost. What things do you wave a flag for that are just not gospel? What parts of your life are you keeping to yourself that prevent you from knowing lost people, from relating well to lost people, that cut you off from the world that you live in? You and I need to be ready to change small things, give up unimportant things, in order to be able to have others hear the message.
 
            Paul was willing to change his career path in order to be sure that people around him could hear the gospel. When he was around Jews, he changed his dietary habits for the sake of getting them to hear the gospel. When he was with gentiles, he let go of dietary laws that he grew up with for his whole life in order to have them hear the gospel. Can we not make some easy changes in order to have the world around us hear the gospel too?

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