Who Strangled God?
In conversations among Christians about the shape of our cultural lives, it is common to hear references to St. Paul’s “all things to all men” declaration. That oft-cited phrase appears in the middle of his first letter to the Corinthians (in chapter 9), in a passage in which he is addressing questions that had been raised about the legitimacy of his apostolic office. This defense is part of a larger argument in the letter about how Christians should always use their freedom for the sake of others, not for their own gain. St. Paul insists that his becoming “like one not having the law” or “like a Jew” was done “for the sake of the gospel, that I may share [with them] in its blessings.”
Later in the letter, continuing his discussion of the shape of Christian freedom, St. Paul insists that freedom must always be exercised with wisdom. In chapter 10:23, he cites a slogan apparently in vogue in Corinth among believers eager to assert their freedom in Christ: “Everything is permissible.” But this wise (and inspired) shepherd amends the slogan: “but not everything is beneficial.” Again, he writes: “‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive.”
Every effort by Christians to adapt the shape of the Church’s life to accommodate contemporary cultural conventions must be guided by a concern for what is constructive and beneficial as well as what is superficially winsome. St. Paul’s “all things to all men” formula must always be applied in the light of other inspired guidance.
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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.
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