Healthy Congregations, Part 5

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

The most important issue in people’s lives in any age is being in Christ. Always, many do not want to be in Christ (John 3:19, 20). Christians cannot force people to enter Christ. (Salvation involves a person’s intellect and emotions as well as his/her physical body.)

The challenge is to encourage everyone to enter Christ who wants to enter Christ. Can it be certainly determined who does and does not wish to enter Christ? No. We assume a person wants to enter Christ until he/she declares otherwise, and even then we are careful not to limit future changes in his/her interest.

Paul’s approach was fascinating! He was exposed to situations that were extreme--idolatry, judgmental religion, and atheism. He always assumed interest in Christ existed. He always began where the person was. He was the flexible one. (He did not say, “When you think like I do, I will talk to you.”) Paul found something incredible in Christ. (Have you recently read Philippians 3:8-11?). And he wished to share (1) what he had found and (2) how it changed him. No matter what your past, what wickedness you committed, or who you were at the moment, Paul knew God in Christ had something wonderful for you—no one knew that better than did Paul (1 Timothy 1:12-16)! Paul did not give up on people because God did not give up on him! God’s grace in Christ was greater than Paul’s sinfulness!

The Christian Paul’s approach: (1) Focus on the blessings of being in Christ rather than the flaws of the person. (2) Be an example of change in Christ. To me, nothing demonstrates Paul’s changes as does 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12. The man who held the clothing of those who killed Stephen (Acts 7:58), who dragged Christian men and women from their homes (Acts 8:3), who tried physically to force Christians to blaspheme (Acts 26:9-11), and who was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians (Acts 9:1, 2), as a Christian evangelized gently, with affection and blameless behavior while exhorting, encouraging, and imploring.

We exist in a visual society. Do not focus on “the rules.” Focus on being. Live as an example. Attract to Jesus by behavior as well as message. As Paul said to a preacher, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 24 April 2008

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