The Bible tells us, “Do not be shaped by this world.”1 It also tells us to “become all things to all people.”2 At first glance, these instructions may seem contradictory, but they can actually complement each other. God does not want us to conform to ungodly attitudes, no matter how prevalent they may be, but He does want us to be attuned to society in ways that enable us to better show His love to others and bring them closer to Him.
The apostle Paul was a good example of this kind of flexibility as he worked to spread Christianity to a great variety of people. When addressing a predominantly Jewish audience in Antioch, for example, he reminded them of the history of Israel from the time of Moses to the time of David, and then he showed how Jesus had fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah.3 But when Paul spoke to the Areopagus council in Athens, made up of sophisticated Greeks who would not have been interested in hearing a history of the Jewish people, he began by referring to an altar he had seen in the city, which bore the inscription “To an Unknown God.” Then he quoted Greek poets to show that the attributes of this god—creation, providence, and judgment—were fulfilled in Jesus.4
Francis Xavier (1506–1552) also lived the “all things to all men” principle. In order to relate to the Indian people who considered humility a virtue, he wore shabby attire and traveled on foot. When he later visited Japan, however, he found that humility was not considered a virtue and that poverty was despised. So Xavier adapted his dress code and brought sumptuous gifts to the emperor. He did what was needed to present Jesus in the best possible light to the people he wanted to reach.
Jesus Himself “became all things to all people” when He left the grand halls of heaven and the intimate fellowship that He shared with His Father to come to earth in human form.5 He did this so that He could better relate to us, better understand our problems and weaknesses, and sacrifice Himself for the forgiveness of our sins.6 Jesus wants us to follow His example7 and manifest our love for others by reaching people where they’re at.
- Romans 12:2 NCV
- 1 Corinthians 9:22 ESV
- See Acts 13:14–49.
- See Acts 17:22–31.
- See Philippians 2:5–7.
- See Hebrews 2:17.
- See 1 John 2:6.