"To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. […] To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people . . . ." - 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
All things to all people?
Here's the thing, Paul: you had a wonderful, tradition-inspiring gift for words. You were, let's be honest, the creator of the sound-bite. But sometimes those 30-second snippets are misleading.
I am positive you were not a full-time tent-maker and traveling evangelist, while also being a loyal and devoted family-man, who took care of his relatives, made dinners, cleaned the house, and still had the energy to take his partner out on a romantic date now and then.
You know why I'm certain? Because it's not possible.
I know plenty of people who try to do all those things (except, maybe, the tent-making) because they think it is their good, Christian duty. "I must," they repeat, "be all things to all people." They end up in my office – frazzled, anxious, depressed, and suffering from one broken relationship after another.
I know this isn't what you meant. You know that being everything to everyone usually means nothing to anyone. I'm pretty sure you meant you were able to do one thing, with one person (or group) at a time. And that one thing? It was love.
Jewish, Gentile, weak, powerful – whoever, whatever, however – you loved them. You joined people where and as they were, so they might know the love of God who joins them where they are.
So can we publish a clarification – an editor's note, of sorts?
You, Paul, called to be an apostle of God by Christ Jesus, were not all things to all people. You were one thing – love – to one person at a time.
Yet, through the miracle of the gospel, that's more than enough to reach us all.
Elissa (on behalf of the tired everywhere)
All-knowing, all-capable God, remind me I am not You - and you don't want me to be. When I'm tempted to do it all, remind me it is (hard) enough to do the one thing you do ask of all people - to love the person in front of me right now. And then help me do it? Amen.
Elissa Johnk is the Senior Pastor of The Old Meeting House, East Montpelier Center, Vermont.