“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible…I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19, 23 NIV).
I wrestle with this passage from Paul. I mean, really wrestle.
It starts out pleasantly enough, with Paul discussing his rights as a minister, unless you’re one of those people who cringes when ministers start talking about the cost of ministry, in which case, it’s a little awkward. Then, a little bit out of nowhere, Paul informs us that his rights aren’t what matters: winning people is what matters. And he won all kinds people by forfeiting his own rights and meeting them where they were at.
For those of you who don’t know, I grew up surrounded by a lot of rules that I didn’t particularly understand, whether they were rules enforced in my family, or things I observed in other families. As I have come into my own spiritually, I’ve found I grew up surrounded by a lot of rules that make absolutely no sense. For a long time, when I found a rule, I tended to challenge it, especially when I found no precedent for it. Many times, I have been well within my rights, but…it’s been abrasive.
Being a winning person has not historically been my default.
For the past three years, it has been my goal to forfeit what I consider my rights in order to meet people where they are and win them.
Paul says, “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” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22a, NIV).
Google defines winsome as “attractive or appealing in appearance or character,” and that’s the word I think of whenever I read this passage from Paul. It’s the magnetism, charisma, and appeal that comes from telling someone, whether through words or actions, that they are more important than my rights, or even what I rightfully deserve, that I consider them more than what I am giving up.
I try to remember there are gaps created by the do what I want when I want mentality. It creates distance between me and God, me and other people, and me and who I was created to be. And these distances all overlap and interconnect.
As I follow Him, God continually expands my understanding of restoration, the closing of these distances, the drawing nearer. If I want to win people closer to God, closer to me, closer to each other, closer to their purpose, I’ve got to let go of my rights. It’s never easy, but because it’s for restoration, it’s totally worth it.
“He who wins souls is wise” (Proverbs 11:30b).