“I became as a Jew… I became as one living by the Torah… I became as a Gentile… I became as weak…”
1 Corinthians 9:20, 21, 22
This is an amazing passage in this letter. In fact, I encourage you to read the passage in its entirety (v 19-23), since I’ve highlighted only a few verses here.
Paul’s point, overall, is that he wants to connect with people, to win them to Christ. And in order to connect with them, he meets them where they are. It’s a very selfless approach, really. But what does that look like?
“I became as a Jew…” ~ Paul was a Jew. He had been raised with the traditions and beliefs, so he knew how to live and act with respect to those when he was with Jews. He had a greater understanding of God now, but he didn’t flaunt it. He spoke their language.
“I became as one living by the Torah…” “I became as a Gentile…” ~ Just as today, not all believers – in any religion – do their best to obey the law. I know several people who call themselves Christians who only go to church on Easter and Christmas. I know others who diligently follow every dictate of their denomination, even those not laid down in Scripture. Paul understood both of these extremes, and in both cases he met them where they were. He spoke their language.
“I became as weak…” ~ Paul, in a lot of ways, was strong. Spiritually, mentally, even physically. (You try living through everything described in 2 Corinthians 11!) But in order to win the hearts and minds of those who were weak, he became like them. He was not a phony; he simply celebrated what was possible in being unified with others. He did not emphasize differences. He spoke their language.
There’s an old saying that people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. Paul cared. And they knew it. And that made them want to know what he knew.