No, I am not referring to racial matters. And no, I am not referring to paint colors. Of course, sin is sin—–>I am not referring to this matter either. I am referring to what is perceived as either a right way or a wrong way.
When I was a young Christian, I lived too much in a black and white world. Let’s call it a cookie cutter world. There was no flexibility. Gray was a non-existent color.
But as I got older, I realized to appreciate and understand what Paul was really saying:
Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NLT)
I just wonder how many people I turned off from the Gospel, when I was a young Christian, simply because I failed to seek out a common ground?
The best example I can find in the New Testament of how Paul conducted himself in this area is with the matter of circumcision. Paul made it absolutely clear that circumcision was not necessary for one’s salvation:
While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question. But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.” So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue. When they had finished, James stood and said, “Brothers, listen to me. “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood.” This is the letter they (Paul included) took with them: “This letter is from the apostles and elders, your brothers in Jerusalem. It is written to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. Greetings! “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.” And there was great joy throughout the church that day as they read this encouraging message. (Acts 15:1-2, 5-6, 13, 19-20, 23, 28-29, 31 NLT)
But now for the big “BUT”! Paul made sure he did not become hardened. He recognized that ‘hardness’ was not ‘holiness’. Instead he used circumcision as tool to win the Jews:
Paul went first to Derbe and then to Lystra, where there was a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek. Timothy was well thought of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium, so Paul wanted him to join them on their journey. In deference (respectful submission to the opinion of others) to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek. Then they went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day. (Acts 16:1-5 NLT)
Even Jesus was careful not to unnecessarily offend anyone:
On their arrival in Capernaum, the collectors of the Temple tax came to Peter and asked him, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the Temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” Peter replied. Then he went into the house. But before he had a chance to speak, Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Peter? Do kings tax their own people or the people they have conquered?” “They tax the people they have conquered,” Peter replied. “Well, then,” Jesus said, “the citizens are free! However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.” (Matthew 17:24-27 NLT)
The lesson we can all learn from this is that, yes, there is a right way and a wrong way. But, many times there is a better, higher way!
Each person and situation is unique and needs prayer and discernment:
And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives. (Jude 1:22-23 NLT)