The bride and groom were Christians. They wanted a wedding service that would testify to their faith, especially to their non-Christian friends. Many of those friends did not lead a typical suburban American life, so the bride and groom planned a special wedding that would communicate more meaningfully to those at the service.
When guests arrived at the church for the wedding, the ushers asked, “Since the music will be quite loud today, would you prefer to sit toward the back of the church?” That question was the first indication how untraditional the wedding would be. In the church the beautiful bouquets of white flowers had black bows. A small statue of Godzilla graced the communion table. A group of rock musicians – one wearing an ammunition belt across his chest – was preparing to play.
The groom entered the church wearing a black leather tuxedo replete with white Reeboks. The wedding party boogied down the aisle to deafening rock music. (One guest remarked that in order to sit far enough back from the music, she would have had to stay in the parking lot). The bride arrived in a white dress and black veil.
The words of the rock songs had a Christian message – to the extent they could be heard. The minister read the Scriptures and explained the Gospel. He spoke of truths from the Bible so gripping that they “bite you on the behind.”
How should we evaluate such an event? One mother said to her eleven-year-old daughter, “You wouldn't do that to me, would you?” The daughter responded with a smile, “I'd do something worse, if I could think of anything worse.” Certainly most of us would not choose to copy such a service. We may even be tempted to think, “Only in southern California!” But is such a service intrinsically bad or evil?
The couple who got married were very involved in rock music. They believed that they could best express their love and their feelings through such a service. They also believed that such a service would communicate Christ more effectively to non-believing rockers than any other kind of service. After all, Paul did say, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (I Corinthians 9:22).
Paul's words in I Corinthians 9:22 have become some of the most cited in recent evangelistic activities. This text is now used to justify a remarkably wide range of practices in churches that are designed to draw nonbelievers to the Lord. Is such an appeal to Paul's words legitimate? What is Paul saying in this verse?
Clearly Paul is not speaking absolutely when he speaks of “all means.” He is not becoming a prostitute to win prostitutes or becoming a drug addict to win drug addicts. In fact, Paul specifies in the context of I Corinthians 9 what is the range of means that he is willing to use.
In the first place Paul is making the observation in this section of Scripture that he is willing to set aside his rights and liberty in Christ for the sake of evangelizing the lost and building up the saints. “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more” (I Corinthians 9:19). Paul is reminding all of us that the great cause of making Christ known is more important than our individual rights – even rights given us in Christ. He makes the same point in I Corinthians 10:32,33: “Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.”
Paul then specifies three groups in relation to which he has given up some of his rights to pursue his ministry. Those three groups are the Jews, the Gentiles and the weak. Among the Jews Paul lived as a Jew, not because he was required to by the law of Moses, but because it aided his ministry. Among the Gentiles he lived as a Gentile, that is, he lived without being bound to the ceremonial dimensions of the law of Moses. (When Paul adds that he is still “under the law of Christ” among the Gentiles, I take this to refer to the moral law of God which did still bind him.) Among weak Christians Paul lived as a weak Christian. Rather than offend their tender consciences on matters such as meat offered to idols, Paul conformed to their ways, no doubt gently teaching them of the liberty that was actually theirs in Christ. Paul used all these means to win all these groups. He was concerned both for evangelism and for building up the weak in Christ.
Yet Paul did not actually use “all means.” He did not use means that violated the moral law of God, whether that related to proper Christian behavior or to proper worship. He did not seek to please the unrepentant or stiff-necked. As Calvin put it, “We must adapt ourselves to the weak, but not to the stubborn.” Paul did not adopt means that were not winning or saving. He did not use emotional manipulation that made people feel saved briefly when they really were not. He did not avoid the great Gospel themes of lost sinners and grace in Christ in order to speak to “felt needs.” He did not flatter his hearers with a man-centered message, but always remained God – centered, speaking to the real human needs that the Scriptures reveal.
When we evaluate a particular means – a rock wedding, for example, – let us be sure that we are really using the apostle's words correctly. Let his words rebuke us for our lack of passion about evangelism. But let his words also remind us that all the proper means of evangelism must conform to God's revealed Word.