1 Corinthians 9:19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.
One of Paul’s goals was to win as many souls for Christ as he could. The way he did this was by being a servant to all. Paul understood that when you teach people about Christ, you cannot start by condemning everything you do not personally like. There are many customs others have that we may not have done before. As long as these customs are not violating the law of God, we can participate in them so we can have something in common with those we are trying to reach.
For example, Paul had Timothy circumcised because many Jews knew his father was a Greek (Acts 16:3). Paul did not want circumcision to keep these Jews from listening to the truth. However, Paul only had this done as a matter of expediency because he was adamant that circumcision was not necessary for salvation in:
Acts 15:1 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.
Here we have Paul defending the truth about circumcision, and he did not allow it to be turned into a salvation issue. He also shows this truth by using Titus as an example in:
Galatians 2:3 Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 4 And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), 5 to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
At times, Paul would also refrain from doing lawful things for the sake of others.
1 Corinthians 10:23 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.
One issue he was dealing with in the first century was eating certain kinds of food. Though all food is acceptable according to (1 Tim. 4:1-4), Paul would not eat certain foods if it was going to cause someone to stumble, as can be seen in:
1 Corinthians 8:13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
So, we learn from the example of Paul that we need to serve our Lord according to
His will. If we want to reach others, we must be willing to get involved in some of their customs as long as they do not violate God’s law. Even if there is something we can do that is lawful, there will be times that we will have to refrain from doing those things for the sake of others until we have the opportunity to help them see the truth about the matter. Our priority should be like Paul’s, which is putting God first and doing what we can to win the lost to Christ by becoming a servant to all. When we do this, we not only follow the example of Paul, but also the example of Jesus. As Jesus said:
Matthew 20:27 “And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave -- 28 “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”