By Kathy Pollard
Did you ever have that one friend back in junior high that acted like your best friend at church but then when you saw her at school, she acted like she didn’t know you? Perhaps she was ashamed of you when she was with her other friends because you weren’t cool enough for the school crowd. Do you remember how that made you feel?
That kind of juvenile behavior is unfortunate but not surprising. Young people can struggle with insecurities. They want to be seen in a certain light to be accepted by certain groups. And that objective becomes a stronger motivation than caring about how their actions might hurt or affect others.
Unfortunately, for most of us, that desire to be accepted doesn’t dissipate when we grow up. By the time we’re adults, we’ve honed our skill of reading the crowd and learning how to blend in to become part of it.
Some of that is natural and good. When we move to a new state or start a new job, we observe our new environment and learn how to find our place and fit in. We make friends by learning what others like and are interested in and then try to emphasize areas of common ground. A sense of community is important and we want to feel that our part in it is valued. Paul even said, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). He observed people and found ways to connect with them.
The problem comes when our desire for acceptance becomes a stronger motivation than our determination to be Christlike. It’s a fleshly thing and I imagine that, even as Christians, we all struggle with it at some point or in certain situations. For example:
- When our conversations around the water cooler at work are different than our conversations in the fellowship hall at church.
- When we put all kinds of effort into befriending, helping, and hanging out with the “cool kids” at church but barely offer a nod to those who are on the fringe or those who were converted through benevolent outreach.
- When we use edgy or worldly humor around some to get a laugh but present a more spiritual tone around an elder’s wife.
What’s the difference between these scenarios and Paul’s declaration? Paul had one clear goal and that was saving souls. He never compromised his faith or integrity. He wasn’t trying to be liked or fit in or gain a following (1 Cor. 1:10-15). In all of his efforts to reach others, He first determined to look like the Christ he was representing.
So how does one “become all things to all people” without becoming a chameleon (presenting a different face in different situations)?
- Pray for pure motives. While being accepted is nice, our objective in all of our interactions should be, “What can I do to point the way to Heaven?” If we take the focus off of self, it will help remove the temptation to compromise in order to be liked (Gal. 2:20).
- See people as Jesus did. Think about everyone He interacted with. The Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). Zacchaeus (Luke 19). The woman who was a sinner (Luke 7). Jesus wasn’t worried about what other people thought about Him, even when His own disciples questioned His actions. Jesus could have blended in, like a chameleon, for self-preservation. But He was more worried about what others needed. Who’s sitting alone in the pew where you worship? Who goes to an empty table at the fellowship meals? Who can you invite to lunch that probably isn’t being invited? Who is being ignored where you work because their life got messy and it made them mean? Jesus SAW people and went out of His way to get to them.
- Be genuine. Paul was the same with everyone but Peter stumbled in this area. He was nice enough to the Gentiles until certain Jews came around. Then he snubbed them. He would “draw back and separate himself from them.” Paul rightly accused Peter of playing the hypocrite (Gal. 2:11-14). When others see us, it should be a given that we will be warm and friendly to them, every time, as often as we can, no matter who’s around. If we’re only thoughtful toward certain people, we’re not really thoughtful, are we?
- Protect souls. Peter’s actions lead others to ignore the Gentiles, too. Even friendly Barnabas followed Peter’s example. I imagine this had to leave a bad taste of Christianity in the mouths of those Gentiles. If we’re interested in getting others to Heaven, we will be very careful of our own influence when it comes to how we treat everyone around us. We will be protective of others. This means we will protect the souls of the worldly by trying to influence them with Christlike behavior. We will protect the souls of the less fortunate by doing our best to make them feel wanted and worthwhile. We will protect the souls of those who are on the social fringe by widening our circle to include them. We must lead the way in this!
Jesus had an inner circle but He often left them to make His way to the those who were shunned. Jesus had a comfort zone but He left it to come to earth to reach us. As much as He loved others, He didn’t always feel like being the one to make the sacrifice (remember His prayer in the garden?) but He did it anyway. And the result? Saved souls, genuine relationships, eternal acceptance.