Becoming All Things to All People in Order to Win Some to Christ
Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth in his first letter: “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law … I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them its blessings.”
This passage sheds light on what is before us. The elders in the Jerusalem church gladly received Paul and rejoiced to hear of the conversion of the Gentiles. But there was a problem: The Jewish believers (Christians) had heard that Paul was telling the Jews who became Christians in Gentile lands that they no longer needed to circumcise their sons or follow the law of Moses. This was not true. Paul regarded circumcision as a matter of indifference (1 Corinthians 7:9). What he would not allow was that circumcision or keeping the law of Moses was a requirement for salvation because this ran afoul of justification by grace through faith in Christ alone. In other words, if Jewish Christians wish to circumcise their sons and keep other Mosaic regulations, fine and well, as long as they understand that they are not saved by such observances nor make them a requirement of their Gentile brethren in the churches.
The elders of Jerusalem understood this, but rumors about Paul’s ministry had made matters difficult. So to protect Paul and the integrity of the gospel, they ask Paul to pay the expenses of four men (Jewish Christians) who had taken the Nazirite vow (Numbers 6). We note that Paul had taken such a vow on himself once before, though we do not know the exact cause (Acts 18:18). Paul obliges, and as explained above, Paul compromised nothing in doing so: Paul would treat such a Mosaic regulation as a matter of indifference. At the same time, Paul would also have to undergo a seven day purification process as a Jew who had spent a long time in Gentile lands. As we see later in the passage, if the Jewish Christians were convinced, other Jews were not and an angry mob would have killed Paul had not Roman soldiers intervened. But none of this mattered to Paul. He would be as a Jew to Jews and as a Gentile to Gentiles for the purpose of winning some to Christ. May we adopt the same attitude of the apostle.