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Winning at Evangelism

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evangelism

The proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ, which arises naturally from believers’ love for God and appreciation of all that God has done for them. The NT stresses the importance of evangelism, and provides guidance as to how it should be carried out.

Dictionary of Bible Themes 8425 evangelism, nature of

evangelism, nature of

Evangelism focuses on the proclaiming of the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God in Christ, including the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

9:19. Paul had not shackled the exercise of his rights in the area of food and drink alone (as he had intimated the knowledgeable Christians should do, 8:9–13), but he had applied it to numerous facets of his ministry so that though he was free (eleutheros; cf. 8:9; 9:1) he voluntarily became a slave (cf. Phil. 2:6–7) for the good of others (1 Cor. 10:33) whom he wanted to win (9:22).

9:20. Though Paul was primarily an apostle to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:8), he never lost his concern for the salvation of his own people (Rom. 9:3). He made it his custom to seek out the synagogue in each town he entered (Acts 17:2) in order to win the Jews (Rom. 1:16). No verse points out more starkly Paul’s own consciousness of what he was, both before and after meeting Christ. Before, he was the Jew’s Jew, faultless with regard to legalistic righteousness (Phil. 3:6). Afterward, he was a new man (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 2:20), who had found in Christ the righteousness he had sought (Rom. 10:4; 1 Cor. 1:30). He was still a Hebrew (2 Cor. 11:22; Phil 3:5), but he was no longer a Jew living according to the Law (I … am not under the law). Still, he was willing to subject himself to the scruples of the Jews (e.g., Acts 21:23–36) in order to gain a hearing for the gospel and to win them to Christ. Yet he never compromised the essence of the gospel at the heart of which was salvation by faith, not works (Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8–9) and freedom from legalism (Gal. 2:4–5).

9:21. In contrast to the Jews, “those under the Law” (v. 20), those not having the Law were the Gentiles. Among Gentiles, Paul was willing to abandon past scruples of a morally indifferent sort, such as eating meat offered sacrificially to a pagan god (10:27; cf. Acts 15:29), in order to win Gentiles to Christ. But though Paul was a forceful advocate of liberty (Gal. 5:1), he did not suggest he was an advocate of libertinism (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12–20). He was still under authority, but not to the Old Testament Law. He was responsible to God (cf. 3:9) and Christ (cf. 4:1) and was enabled by the Spirit to fulfill the law of love (Rom. 13:8–10; Gal. 5:13–25), the opposite of lawlessness (cf. Matt. 24:12 where lawlessness drives out love). Christ’s law (Gal. 6:2) was to love God and man (Mark 12:30–31), which law Paul obeyed (1 Cor. 10:31–33).

9:22. In his references to Jews and Gentiles in the preceding verses, Paul explained his voluntary restraint of freedom in order to reach unbelievers with the gospel. Some suggest that the weak in this verse refers to Jews and Gentiles together in a state of unbelief and so was intended to summarize Paul’s previously stated convictions (cf. Rom. 5:6 where “the weak” are also called “the ungodly”). It is more likely, however, that Paul was referring explicitly to the weak Corinthians described in 1 Corinthians 8:9–11 (cf. Jew, Greeks, and the church of God in 10:32). His concern to win them was not in the preliminary sense of justification as in the case of unbelieving Jews and Gentiles (9:20–21) but to win the Corinthians in terms of sanctification and maturity in Christ (cf. Matt. 18:15)—and so to save them for God’s ongoing work in their lives (cf. 1 Cor. 5:5; 8:11). Paul’s condescension to the scruples and customs of all men (cf. “everyone” in 9:19) found application on a momentary case-by-case basis since it would be impossible to satisfy simultaneously the penchants of both Jews and Gentiles alike.

9:23. Paul voluntarily did this in order to gain the widest possible hearing for the gospel and so to share in its blessings as God’s fellow worker (3:9), reaping the joyful harvest of many won to Christ (cf. John 4:36).

19 From here, Paul launches into his missionary principle of becoming all things to all people in order to save as many as he can. The beginning statement about his being “free” touches back on 9:1, where he implied his freedom by his use of a rhetorical question. Here again, then, Paul insists that he is free from external obligation in how he conducts his ministry. But he voluntarily caters to the personal, cultural, and religious patterns of the people whom he is evangelizing, hoping thereby to win them for the gospel.

20 Paul illustrates this principle by talking about four categories of people: Jews (v. 20), those under the law (v. 20), those not having the law (v. 21), and the weak (v. 22). The first two of these are essentially the same. Though Paul did not feel personally obligated to keep Jewish laws and traditions (“I myself am not under the law”), he occasionally agreed to honor them if by doing so he would advance the cause of Christ. For example, on his second missionary journey he circumcised his young associate Timothy, not because he believed that Timothy had to be circumcised in order to be saved, but because he knew that the presence of an uncircumcised Jew in the synagogues, where he always began his ministry in a new city, would undoubtedly erect a barrier to the success of his preaching. Similarly, when Paul was in Jerusalem after his third missionary journey, he agreed to undergo a seven-day Nazirite vow as a “political” move to aid in the success of his attempt through his collection to bridge the widening gap between Jewish and Gentile Christians (cf. Ac 21:20–26).

21 The third category is “those not having the law” (anomos, GK 491), i.e., those who had not grown up under the Jewish law. In a sense, this was the category Paul championed the most, for he preached that a Gentile believer did not have to be circumcised in order to become a Christian, nor did a Christian have to adhere to a host of Jewish food laws (see his personal experience as related in Gal 2:11–14). In Paul’s thinking, what made a person a child of God was a faith relationship with Jesus Christ.

In this verse, however, Paul does add one caveat: “though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law.” What is this “law of Christ”? Since nomos (GK 3795) has a wide variety of meanings and Paul is known to play with the meaning of this word (e.g., Ro 7), presumably he is referring to the life-principle that manifested itself in Christ’s own life and that shaped Paul’s life, namely, the principle of self-sacrifice (e.g., Mk 10:45) and of love as the summary of the law (cf. Mt 22:37–40; Ro 13:8–10; Gal 5:13–14).

22a Paul’s final category is “the weak,” precisely the category that has been at issue in ch. 8. In 8:10–13, he admitted that he would voluntarily give up his right to eat meat if in doing so he would keep a fellow believer “with a weak conscience” from falling away from the faith. So here he may be suggesting that to the weak he acted as one who was weak in order to make sure that he did not destroy the faith of the weak. However, in the other three examples Paul is referring to “winning” people for Christ, not keeping them in the faith. While the overall context of this chapter must always be kept in view, Paul may also be referring to his coming to the Corinthians “in weakness” (2:3) rather than trying to cater to the wise and sophisticated (as he had done in Athens). Since so many of Paul’s converts in Corinth could be classed sociologically as “the weak” (1:27), he is reminding them of his initial style of ministry among them.

22b–23 In vv. 22b–23, then, Paul sums this principle up: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” It is not that Paul is wishy-washy; rather, he tailors his message to his audience with the intention of reaching them for Christ—i.e., so that they together “may share in [the gospel’s] blessings.”

REFLECTIONS

Paul’s missionary principle, of course, has practical applications. For missionaries it means learning the local language and customs to make the gospel understandable in the local environment. For those doing inner-city work it means ministering in a way that does not patronize the inner-city mentality. For those in campus ministries it means bringing to college students a message that challenges them in an academic environment and shows that Christianity is not anti-intellectual. The applications of “being all things to all people” are endless.

Next he picked the city of Athens (17:13–15), the cultural hub of the ancient world. Paul made little headway against the intellectual snobs of Athens (17:16–34). Thus he soon left there and headed south to the next large city, Corinth (18:1).

Corinth was on the four-and-one-half mile isthmus that joined the Peloponnesus with the Greek mainland; it was the capital city of the Roman province of Achaia. All north-south traffic had to pass through this city, and it had three harbors nearby—Lechaeum to the west, and Cenchrea and Schoenus to the east. In order to shorten the time for travel and to avoid the dangers of the coast of the Peloponnesus, many ship captains either had their boats hauled up on land and dragged across the narrow isthmus on a special track, or they unloaded their boats and took their cargo to another boat on the other side. Corinth was indeed a crossroad of the ancient world.

Why did Paul usually settle in large cities as part of his missionary strategy? He knew that if he could establish a church in those major cities, then when people from the outlying areas visited these cities, there was a chance they might also hear the gospel and take it back to their villages and start (to use a modern phrase) “daughter churches.” And, of course, during the time of Paul’s stay in these cities he would be able to interact with people from a wide area, telling them about the message of salvation in Jesus. That this was indeed the case is demonstrated by 1 Thessalonians 1:7–9:

2. THE CHURCH AT CORINTH

As the brief summary of Paul’s missionary strategy indicated, Corinth was an ideal location for Paul to settle in to do missionary work. It was a prominent political and economic center, so that from it those who heard Paul preach and became believers could go back to the surrounding towns and villages of Achaia with that same message.

When Paul arrived in Corinth, he had just suffered a big disappointment in Athens—the only major city in which he was unable to establish a church, in spite of marvelous opportunities to preach in the synagogue and to address its prominent citizens in a meeting of the Areopagus (Ac 17:17, 22). Also troubling the apostle was the state of the believers he had left in Thessalonica, when he was expelled from the city as a result of a riot blamed on him (17:5–9); that situation made the apostle anxious and fearful (1 Th 2:17–3:5). Some scholars think that these experiences are reflected in Paul’s statement that when he arrived in Corinth, he “came … in weakness and fear, and with much trembling,” and that, to use his words, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Co 2:2–3; see comments).

When Paul arrived in Corinth he linked up with a Jewish couple (Aquila and Priscilla) living in that city. What brought them together was their common trade as “tentmakers”—perhaps better, leatherworkers. Aquila and Priscilla had recently arrived there from Rome because Claudius had expelled all Jews from Rome. The Roman historian Suetonius (Claud. 25.4) tells us that riots had broken out among the Jews there “at the instigation of Chrestus” (perhaps a reference to Christ [Christos in Greek]). In other words, there may have been strong feelings between those Jews in Rome who accepted Jesus as the Messiah and those who did not.

Most likely Aquila and Priscilla were Christians when they met Paul, for when Paul refers to his first converts in Corinth he mentions “the household of Stephanas” (1 Co 16:15; cf. 1:16), and he also indicates that he did not baptize Aquila and Priscilla (1:14–16). Aquila and Priscilla invited Paul to live with them and join them in their business. Paul worked during the week at his trade and, as a visiting rabbi, was allowed to preach in the synagogue every Sabbath, “trying to persuade Jews and Greeks” who attended the service (Ac 18:4).

A short time later, Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia with a report on how the churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea were faring. It was undoubtedly a good report, which led in part to Paul’s writing of his first letter to the Thessalonians. Part of Paul’s purpose in this letter was to address some problems that the Macedonian believers were having with Christian teaching about death and resurrection. Silas and Timothy also probably brought with them a monetary gift from the Philippians, which was not the first time they had given money to Paul (2 Co 11:9; Php 4:14–16). This gift enabled Paul, at least temporarily, to put aside his leatherworking and concentrate full time on “preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ” (Ac 18:5).

Apparently Paul was successful in his preaching, for those Jews who did not accept his preaching on the messiahship of Jesus became “abusive” and told him to leave the synagogue. By this time, Paul had a core of both Jewish and Gentile believers, so he “left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God” (Ac 18:7). This last phrase is a technical phrase for someone who showed a definite interest in the teachings of Judaism but had not become a full proselyte because he did not wish to undergo circumcision. These “worshipers of God” were some of Paul’s prime candidates for becoming Christians, since they could now believe the God of the Jewish Scriptures and be accepted as part of God’s people but without being circumcised. Before Paul left the synagogue, he “shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’ ” (18:6; cf. Mt 10:14–16; also Ro 1:16, “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile”).

Paul’s ministry in Corinth was becoming successful, for “many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized” (Ac 18:8). One of the most surprising of his converts was Crispus, who had been the ruler of the synagogue, along with his whole household. His conversion must have had an impact on the other Jews in the synagogue (though, to be sure, he lost his position as its leader!). We do not know whether Paul began to experience other dangers in Corinth at this time and wondered whether he should leave. In any case, the Lord Jesus came to him in a vision one night and told him not to be afraid but to stay in the city and to continue to preach the gospel, because the Lord had many people there whom he wanted to reach through the apostle (18:9–10). Thereupon Paul remained in Corinth for eighteen months, preaching and teaching the word of God (18:11).

As we will see from our study of this letter, the majority of the believers in Corinth were from the lower socioeconomic class in the city, not from what we might call the aristocracy (1 Co 1:26). A certain number of them were undoubtedly slaves (7:20–24), though we must never understand slavery in the Greco-Roman world to have been like slavery in the pre-Civil War United States. Many slaves were treated well and even chose to remain in that position when offered their freedom. What unfortunately developed, however, was that some of the wealthier members of the church in Corinth took a superior attitude to these lower-class believers and treated them shamefully (see 11:17–22, esp. v. 22).

Moreover, many of the believers in Corinth had come from an idolatrous background (see 1 Co 12:2, which states this clearly; cf. also the long section about Christian freedom and eating food sacrificed to idols in chs. 8–10, esp. ch. 8). The very reason eating such food was a problem was that those who had recently come out of idolatry felt in their consciences that by doing so they were still honoring pagan deities. Other members of the church, however (perhaps believers from a Jewish background, who had never worshiped such idols), felt no guilt qualms about purchasing and eating food sold in the common marketplace and perhaps even going to special meals eaten in one of the banquet halls attached to idol temples.

A final characteristic about the church in Corinth was that even though many wanted to separate themselves from their pagan past, this did not always translate into different moral behavior. First Corinthians 5 clearly indicates a certain looseness about moral issues, for the Corinthian believers were tolerating in their church a member of their community who was cohabiting with his stepmother. Moreover, some believers seemed to want the right to visit prostitutes (6:12–18). Corinth in the past had been known for its immorality, especially as a seaport town—so much so that a verb had developed in the Greek language that transliterates as “to korinthianize,” meaning, “to live an immoral lifestyle.” And there also seemed to have been an insistence on the part of some church members for individual rights to the extent that they were taking fellow believers to pagan courts to get their just due (6:1–11).

All these characteristics of the Corinthian church and the problems that developed led to a most challenging church for the apostle Paul to minister to, especially after he left the city and began to get reports about what was going on in the church (see below). It is precisely these dynamics that led, at least in part, to the writing of this letter.

To finish the story of Paul’s establishment of the church in Corinth, the jealousy of the Jews against Paul finally reached a boiling point, and they took Paul to civil court (Ac 18:12). The official charge against him was that he was “persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law” (18:13)—presumably that he was promoting a religio illicita (an illegal religion from the standpoint of the Roman government). The Roman proconsul at the time, Gallio, listened to the debate about this matter and decided it was an intra-Jewish matter concerning the interpretation of their Scriptures, not a matter that affected Roman law (the Jewish religion was a religio licita, a legal religion). Consequently, he threw the matter out of court (18:14–16), which act undoubtedly set a precedent for the legality of Christianity, at least until the time of the latter years of Emperor Nero.

Some time after that event, Paul left Corinth with Aquila and Priscilla and sailed for Ephesus (Ac 18:18–19a); the Christian couple presumably had business interests in that city as well. Paul preached one sermon in the synagogue of Ephesus and was invited to preach more, but “he declined” (18:19b–20). He did promise, however, that he would return “if it is God’s will” (18:21). He then left Ephesus to go to Jerusalem in order to greet the Christians there, and from there he traveled to Antioch on the Orontes in Syria, the location of his sending church (18:22).

One final event in the history of the church at Corinth needs to be mentioned. While Aquila and Priscilla were in Ephesus, a Jew named Apollos arrived there from Alexandria. This man was a deeply learned man with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He knew about Jesus and believed in Jesus as Lord, but for some reason he did not know anything about Christian baptism. (He knew only the baptism of John the Baptist; see Ac 18:24–25.) When Aquila and Priscilla heard him speaking in the synagogue, they invited him to their home and “explained to him the way of God more adequately” (18:26).

Because Apollos was so gifted in the Scriptures and because he knew that the church at Corinth needed regular leadership, he wanted to go there to preach the gospel to unbelievers and nurture those who were already in the church. Aquila and Priscilla encouraged him to do so, and Apollos developed an effective ministry there: “He was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Ac 18:27–28). Apollos’s intentions were of course noble, but as we will see in the commentary, his presence in that church led to divisions among its members as to whether Paul or Apollos was the more effective leader

19 From here, Paul launches into his missionary principle of becoming all things to all people in order to save as many as he can. The beginning statement about his being “free” touches back on 9:1, where he implied his freedom by his use of a rhetorical question. Here again, then, Paul insists that he is free from external obligation in how he conducts his ministry. But he voluntarily caters to the personal, cultural, and religious patterns of the people whom he is evangelizing, hoping thereby to win them for the gospel.

20 Paul illustrates this principle by talking about four categories of people: Jews (v. 20), those under the law (v. 20), those not having the law (v. 21), and the weak (v. 22). The first two of these are essentially the same. Though Paul did not feel personally obligated to keep Jewish laws and traditions (“I myself am not under the law”), he occasionally agreed to honor them if by doing so he would advance the cause of Christ. For example, on his second missionary journey he circumcised his young associate Timothy, not because he believed that Timothy had to be circumcised in order to be saved, but because he knew that the presence of an uncircumcised Jew in the synagogues, where he always began his ministry in a new city, would undoubtedly erect a barrier to the success of his preaching. Similarly, when Paul was in Jerusalem after his third missionary journey, he agreed to undergo a seven-day Nazirite vow as a “political” move to aid in the success of his attempt through his collection to bridge the widening gap between Jewish and Gentile Christians (cf. Ac 21:20–26).

21 The third category is “those not having the law” (anomos, GK 491), i.e., those who had not grown up under the Jewish law. In a sense, this was the category Paul championed the most, for he preached that a Gentile believer did not have to be circumcised in order to become a Christian, nor did a Christian have to adhere to a host of Jewish food laws (see his personal experience as related in Gal 2:11–14). In Paul’s thinking, what made a person a child of God was a faith relationship with Jesus Christ.

In this verse, however, Paul does add one caveat: “though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law.” What is this “law of Christ”? Since nomos (GK 3795) has a wide variety of meanings and Paul is known to play with the meaning of this word (e.g., Ro 7), presumably he is referring to the life-principle that manifested itself in Christ’s own life and that shaped Paul’s life, namely, the principle of self-sacrifice (e.g., Mk 10:45) and of love as the summary of the law (cf. Mt 22:37–40; Ro 13:8–10; Gal 5:13–14).

22a Paul’s final category is “the weak,” precisely the category that has been at issue in ch. 8. In 8:10–13, he admitted that he would voluntarily give up his right to eat meat if in doing so he would keep a fellow believer “with a weak conscience” from falling away from the faith. So here he may be suggesting that to the weak he acted as one who was weak in order to make sure that he did not destroy the faith of the weak. However, in the other three examples Paul is referring to “winning” people for Christ, not keeping them in the faith. While the overall context of this chapter must always be kept in view, Paul may also be referring to his coming to the Corinthians “in weakness” (2:3) rather than trying to cater to the wise and sophisticated (as he had done in Athens). Since so many of Paul’s converts in Corinth could be classed sociologically as “the weak” (1:27), he is reminding them of his initial style of ministry among them.

22b–23 In vv. 22b–23, then, Paul sums this principle up: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” It is not that Paul is wishy-washy; rather, he tailors his message to his audience with the intention of reaching them for Christ—i.e., so that they together “may share in [the gospel’s] blessings.”

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