1 Corinthians 9:15-23 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this so that they may be applied in my case. Indeed, I would rather die than that-no one will deprive me of my ground for boasting! 16 If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel. 19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so 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 I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
I live in a country where “culture” and “personal identity” are extremely important. I am buffeted by marketers selling products such as clothing, hairstyle and furniture that claim to make me more acceptable to society, and it becomes hard work maintaining my own identity. Similarly, decades of colonialism has stripped people of their cultural identity. We were persuaded that “English” was a superior culture, and more recently that all things “American” are to be desired (such as McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken!). For this reason we witness a struggle for a cultural identity that is not defined by an external impetus. And so our culture and my identity are the things that we cling to in order to find our place in life.
The world of St Paul was no different. This was a world dominated by Roman culture – a culture that was built on a previously Greek culture, that in turn replaced a Persian culture. In the above Scripture passage St Paul shows his understanding of the importance of cultural identity. Because of this he suggests that the Christian missionary needs to share the Gospel of Jesus from within the culture of the person who hears your faith testimony. “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews… To those outside the law I became as one outside the law…. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak.” For Paul, there is no place for Christian cultural imperialism: “I have become all things to all people.”
For thought: We who follow Jesus are products of our culture and personal identity. We need to shed our precious cultural ‘skin’, and take on the perspective of the “other” before we share our faith. Not only is this respectful of other people, but it will prevent us from thinking that ‘our’ way of being Christian is the only way.
Sixth Sunday after Trinity
37 The Church for Others
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 231.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.