Who Am I?

How many of you have seen the movie The Runaway Bride? Julia Roberts plays a woman with a particular personality type. Maggie (the girl played by Julia Roberts), is the absolute epitome of the phrase “all things to all people”.

Have you ever met anyone like that? He (or she) gradually shapes himself into someone he thinks you want him to be. If you say you like jazz, this person likes jazz. If you like anchovy and garlic pizza, that becomes his favorite food. You’ll never have any arguments with him because he will always find some way to agree with you.

Image © Providence Collection from GoodSalt.com

Oddly enough, he’s not doing this consciously at all. In the world of psychology, this is called low ego strength. (In the 70’s and 80’s it was called “co-dependency.”) When a person has low ego strength, he really has no sense of himself—his feelings, his likes and dislikes, opinions. He is open to being led by the people around him. In The Runaway Bride, Ike (Richard Gere) demonstrates to Maggie that she is so dependent on other people for defining who she is that she doesn’t even know how she likes her eggs fixed. She has always just “liked” them the way her boyfriend liked them. When her boyfriend changed, so did her egg preparation preference.

Psychologists will tell you this is NOT a healthy way to live; we can’t make everybody happy all the time. So, then why does Paul say in 1 Corinthians 9:22,

“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.?”

Is he saying that we should be chameleons like Maggie? Is it more of a cultural thing (When in Rome… and all that)? Or none of the above? What do you think?

There are some folks who assert that Paul was telling Christians to be “situational pragmatists.” First I had to look up what that meant—if you already know, go ahead and skip down a few lines, but for the rest of us: A situational pragmatist is someone who goes through life like a chameleon, continually changing to match his environment, for the sole purpose of convincing other people of his ideas. Remember the Nixon years and the phrase “The end justifies the means”? That is a situational pragmatist’s mantra. But I don’t believe it was Paul’s, do you? He never pretended to be something he wasn’t or to believe something he didn’t, just to get folks to become Christians.

Ellen White describes Paul’s approach to his mission like this:

We know that the apostle did not sacrifice one jot of principle. He did not allow himself to be led away by the sophistry and maxims of men. He was not to coincide with the suppositions and assurances of men who were teaching for doctrine the commandments of men…” (E.G. White, The Southern Work, p76)

Another interpretation of Paul’s statement “all things to all men” is that Paul was keeping up with the cultural changes around him so that his message remained “culturally relevant.” This particular angle has taken up a lot of web space. People feel very strongly about what they believe Paul would/would not have condoned if he were around today. Would he have added music to his worship service that did not consist of hymns in the hymnal? One pastor went so far as to comment that he believed Paul would be the first to be thrown out of the church today for disobeying the law.

Mrs. White explains it a bit differently in Sketches From the Life of Paul, p. 214:

“…his purpose to become all things to all men as far as he could do this and not sacrifice principle,….”

So, Paul wasn’t a chameleon and he wasn’t a pragmatist, so what was his point?

“He [Paul] did not approach the Jews in a way to stir up their prejudice. He did not run the risk of making them his enemies by telling them the first thing that they must believe on Jesus of Nazareth; but he dwelt on the promises of the Old Testament scriptures, which testified of Christ,… Thus he led them along …, showing them the importance of honoring the law of God. He also gave due honor to the ceremonial law,… After dwelling upon these things, evincing that he had a clear understanding of them himself, he brought them down to the first advent of Christ, and proved that in the crucified Jesus every specification had been fulfilled. This was the wisdom that Paul exercised. He approached the Gentiles, not by exalting the law at first, but by exalting Christ,… Thus he varied his manner of labor, always shaping his message to the circumstances under which he was placed; and, yet,… many would not be convinced. There are some who will not be convinced by any method of presenting the truth. The laborer for God should, nevertheless, study carefully the best method, in order that he may not arouse prejudice or stir up combativeness unnecessarily. Let him give the people evidence that he is a true Christian, conscientious, desiring peace and not strife, and that he has a love for their souls. Thus the confidence of the people will be gained. (E.G. White, The Atlantic Canvasser, December 11, 1890)

This tells me that in the service of Christ, we must know who we are: We are created in God’s image and very much loved by Him. When we are secure in Him, we no longer need to think of ourselves, but we can focus on the best way to approach others to share God’s truth with them.



Who Am I? — 6 Comments

  1. Great point. About approaching others, I noticed it's best to talk about other secular things first and then in a clever, systematic way to change the conversation towards religion and God. I believe this is partly what Jesus meant when he said, "be wise as serpents." People nowadays think you're fanatic or extremist when you talk about Jesus right off the bat. So we gotta massage the message easily—kinda like how babies are fed with milk first before solid food is introduced. I have used this tactic and been successful. My labor ground is normally local starbucks coffee shops. I often find fertile soil in these places. Turn off the TV and go fishing for Jesus, guys!

  2. Who am I? I am a child of God waiting for rapture. Albeit I do believe I will be taken up at His second coming as taught in the Bible. "Every eye shall see Him at the same time." Rev. 1:7. I will be carried away, and as I rise above the clouds, I will shout for joy. Whats wrong with shouting for joy now? Nothing as long as it is in appropriate context and setting. If for some reason He delays coming, I will be raised to Hear God The Father pronounce the everlasting covenant. The pastor asked are we alone? Our answer is, no, we have Jesus, by sitting at the feet of Jesus everyday, yes, kneeling too, talking to Him as a friend.
    I like chocolate without sugar and fat, put in the blender with frozen bananas, frozen figs, and soymilk, twice a day, it increases brain power by 30 percent, recent studies have shown. The extra brain power allows a better communication with God. By the way soymilk much to the chagrin of a few scientist is not toxic. In moderation it is a good substitute for meat, yes it is a legume which is a good protein source. It does have isoflavinoids to inhibit cancer.
    Good day

  3. I think your article is very well balanced. I see Christ's approach to different people in the same way that you have presented Paul's. He tailored his ministry according to the personality of the individual. In most cases He was very gentle according to Isa 42:3 but when it came to the hardened Pharisees He became a fire breathing dragon in an attempt to get them to see where they were.

    In our ministry I believe we need to do the same and remain flexible. Jesus told us to, "be wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matt. 10:16 NKJV) and that doesn't mean that we always have to be a door mat. What it does mean is that we need to use a lot of God given wisdom and even more love.

  4. [Please include your full name when posting on this site as is explained in the SSNET "Comment Guidelines." Thank you.]

    when someone talks about themselves they tend to open up to what is the innermost issues of their hearts. When this happens the Holy Spirit gives us the onus to step in and minister. Paul says to all he became all to reach all.

  5. As I don't watch fictional movies, I have no clue about Julia Roberts. I also don't listen to Jazz, Rock, Blues etc. There was a time when I did conform to the world, but by the grace of God, the "old things have passed away" - if we strive to do all things to the Glory of God, we will indeed be given power to resist temptation to slip back into our old way of life. Solution: As brother Newton Shaw states, strive to win souls and engage in mission, this is the sole reason why our Church was raised up and given so much light. We must remember, to whom more is given, more will be required.

  6. In the phrase 'being all things to all people' I find that there is a commonality search implied. When I am with a person I strive to find what I have in common with them, be it strengths or struggles, likes or dislikes. This creates a common bond, a basis to build conversation and create a foundation for empathy, sympathy and sharing.

    Once I have established this, the Lord often shows me where my story can connect with theirs. Many times it's something in my past that the Lord has healed or given me deliverance or victory from. When I reveal what I have been through I'm often asked for advice or guidance and to tell more of my story. Which leads to the question of how did I get to where I am now? And then, praise the Lord, I am able to share to an open mind and heart of what the Lord has done in my life and can also do in theirs.


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