Becoming All Things to All People to Win Some

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 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. 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. 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. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23, ESV)

One of the marks of a good teacher is the ability to adapt one’s teaching approach to the learners’ needs. The better you know those you teach, the better you are able determine where to start, what concepts may need more explanation, what teaching methods may best fit them, what may hinder their learning, and more. A mark of a great teacher is that she or he cares enough to actually adapt their teaching to help their students learn. It’s not enough to have the ability to do it, we also need to care enough to do it, even when it increases our workload or makes us uncomfortable. I had a statistics professor who patiently worked with students who had math-phobia, doing everything he could to help them understand. It made a huge difference in their learning!

Paul cared deeply for those he taught, both Jews and Gentiles. His greatest desire was for them to respond in faith to the gospel and be saved. He was willing to shift his approach to meet the needs of those he taught, considering their background, understanding, values, and what would most likely persuade them. Paul was willing to “become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” Paul did everything for the sake of the gospel, that he could share the blessings he had in the gospel with them in ways that spoke to their hearts.

What motivates you to lead a Bible study group? Paul knew the gospel and was blessed by it, and he wanted others to share in that blessing. That desire, that love for people and care for their salvation, moved him to do all within his power to help them understand the good news of what Christ had done for them. Earlier in this chapter, Paul wrote that those who shared the gospel with others should be paid for their hard work, but he himself did not want to receive any payment for his efforts—this was God’s calling for him—he was compelled to share the good news with others. He had no desire for monetary gain, instead finding deep satisfaction in helping others understand and respond in faith to God’s gospel.

How far are you willing to go to help someone understand the gospel? Paul was willing to do anything he could think of to reach people from different backgrounds. He was not content to use a “one size fits all” method, but adapted his approach in light of his hearers’ backgrounds and needs. When I think about our teaching ministries today, we are a bit like missionaries who want to take the gospel to a new people group. They spend much time studying the culture of those they will serve, looking for insights that might help them explain the gospel in ways the people can understand and receive. They live with the people, enter into their daily life, striving to understand how best to teach them, trying out different approaches until they find one that really works well. Paul approached his ministry the very same way, as he traveled and taught, and I believe God calls us to this same kind of effort.

This points to the need for we, as teachers, to take the time to really get to know those we teach. The better we know their backgrounds, their knowledge of the Bible, and cultural influences, the better we can adapt our teaching to be more effective in helping them learn and respond to God in faith. We don’t just teach Bible lessons, we teach people, and like Paul we must love our people enough to get to know them so we can learn how to teach them well.

How are you doing at getting to know those you teach and at discerning what helps them learn? This kind of discernment requires significant time investment. With so many other demands on our time, only our love for others and our desire to share the blessings of the gospel with them will move us to carve out the time we need to know them well. I pray that you will catch the same love for others that caused Paul to do everything within his power to reach them with the gospel!

Father, thank you for reaching out to me where I am, helping me understand and respond to the gospel message. Thank you for Paul’s example, and may his love for others be my own as well. As I teach others, move my heart to the point where I will do everything within my power to help them know your gospel message, and may you move their hearts to respond in faith so that I may have the joy of sharing the blessings of the gospel with them! Amen.

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