Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 1Corinthians 9:19
I have this growing sense that I don’t like people nearly as much as I should. More to the point, I don’t love people as much as I should. I realize this when I read things like Paul’s words to the Corinthian church.
I have trouble making myself a slave to select people, let alone everyone! It isn’t that I dislike people, it’s just that I like being free, I like—as Paul says—belonging to no one. Actually, I am more than willing to serve people I love or people I like. I am happy to do nice or helpful things for people I’ve deemed important or valuable to me. But to become a slave—even of these people I like—is difficult. But Paul just opens it up to everyone!
Paul’s motivation is the key. He’s not serving because he likes to be a slave. He’s not just good at taking care of other people. No, the reality is that Paul is driven; driven by his love for people. A love that wants nothing more than to see others “won” for the Gospel. To see them come to know and follow Jesus. Paul loves people deeply.
And he’s not done with statements that challenge me. The next few sentences just invite me deeper.
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. 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. 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. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:20-23
In recent months I have found myself in circumstances with people who don’t necessarily think exactly like I do. They are genuinely great and wonderful people, but some of their ways of thinking are different from mine. What I’ve realized is that my tendency—my preference—is to surround myself with people very much like me; people who think like me and see things as I do; people who tend to affirm what I already believe. I don’t go out of my way to interact with people who are different from me.
My natural reaction, when confronted with people different from me, is that I want them to see how my way is better, how my opinion is what theirs should be. I want to convince them I’m right. All this does is hide from us the beauty of the person. It mkes them something to be conquered, something to serve us rather than us serving them.
That’s not what Paul does. He sees the differences in others and instead of avoiding those differences or seeing them as an affront he finds ways to connect, to come to common ground with them. He looks to build relationships with them. Paul adjusts himself—his way of thinking and interacting—to relate to those he is encountering. It’s not about Paul being fake, or other than who he really is, but it’s about going out of his way to serve and connect with others. Why? To show people a love that will lead them to Jesus. That’s loving people the way Jesus did.
Who would God have me become a slave of? Who would he have me love this much? What would it look like to engage people as Paul did, always looking for the common ground, always seeking to love them so much they can’t help but see Jesus?
These are the questions Paul—or rather the Spirit—confronts me with today.