“I do it all for the sake of the gospel”
In 1854 Hudson Taylor went to China to be a missionary. However, Taylor’s work was not easy because of the large cultural differences between his Victorian England and China. So, out of love for the Chinese and passion for the gospel, Taylor did what no missionary of his time had done before – he decided to live and dress like those around him. Taylor began wearing typical Chinese clothing, shaved part of his head and began growing a ponytail. He even bought some Chinese eyeglasses to wear. In almost every way, he ate, dressed, walked, lived like the Chinese people.
While this is common practice today for missionaries, it was not done in Hudson’s day. This is surprising because Hudson’s actions have root in Paul’s strategy for reaching the lost. In 1 Corinthians 9, he says, “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. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. 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 in its blessings” (1 Cor 9:19-23, esv).
In Michigan today, we have amazing opportunities for evangelism and mission work because the nations are coming to us. From large Islamic communities, to Hispanic migrant workers, it doesn’t take long to find even first-generation immigrants in our state. This gives us exciting prospects for outreach, but it also means we must begin thinking like missionaries. Like the apostle Paul himself we must have a willingness to enter into another person’s world, to respect that person’s culture and customs, and age and life situation, so that we may effectively share Christ to him or to her.
Like Paul we must say, “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.” We must not only begin engaging our own culture, but the cultures from around the world that have found their way to Michigan. That means, asking them about their customs, culture, and beliefs, looking for common ground and way to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to their lives. When Paul spoke to Jews, he began with the Old Testament and its promises about Christ (Acts 17:1-3). When he spoke to Greeks, he began with the God who created everything, whom we rebelled against in our sin. This same God then took on flesh and made himself known through the person and work of Jesus Christ (Acts 17:16-34). It was the same message adapted – contextualized – for different hearers.
Paul explains how to do this without compromising ourselves and invalidating the gospel message we share. While we may be flexible and creative in our methods for sharing the gospel, the gospel message itself must never be compromised. He says, even in being ‘all things to all people’ he is always ‘under the law of Christ.’ So we cannot say, I have become a murderer to reach murderers or I have become a drunkard to reach drunkards. No, our methods must never compromise the message we preach.
We sometimes make all kinds of excuses for not sharing the gospel. But at the end of the day, our lives are to be ruled by the love of Christ. This is the only law that dictates how we live. And so out of love for God and a desire to be obedient to him, and out of a love for our neighbor, desiring to see them find forgiveness and life with Christ, we must be willing to follow Paul’s example and make some sacrifices, give up some things, go some places we would rather not, spend money we would rather save, so that we will have an open door for the gospel.
God has given us incredible opportunities to reach the world right here in Michigan. Let’s be faithful to give and serve to see the gospel bring light to those in spiritual darkness.