“We are in the world, but not of the world.”
That’s a phrase you hear pretty often from Christians.
Usually it’s from those asserting some kind of cultural purity or holiness they posses, in opposition to the rest of the world, which is made up of a bunch of identical drones parroting the party line as given this week by some Hollywood celebrity or godless politician.
This saying is often accompanied with a life that is exemplified by “separateness,” with as little interaction with “outsiders” as possible, especially for their children’s sake. Loving neighbors is important, yes, but at a distance, with one’s purity intact and ability to recognize (vocally) the faults in others preserved.
And yet, we find in Paul today, a set of verses that seems to contradict this way of life, this “not conformed to the world” viewpoint.
“For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law, I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I become as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but an under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I become weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”
Paul tells us we are called to anything but a life of separateness. What Paul is saying is, as Christians, we meet people where they are. We don’t hold back, we don’t cloister ourselves and win people by being separate from them. We join with them in their lives, in their struggles and their successes. In short, we are to join in solidarity with the people of the world, that we might play a part in their liberation.
Only when we identify with those we love and serve can we show them the authentic message of Jesus. That is the other point Paul makes in these chapters: through the freedom that comes we grace, we shed our fear of the world, our fear of living under the law and thus failing to achieve God’s standards. Paul says, don’t refuse those who invite you to dinner, even if they are unbelievers. Don’t shut them out. Join them, love them, serve them, identify with them, become as they are so that they might become as you are!
Yes, as Christians, we have a separateness, a discernible difference between us and the world. But it is not a separateness outside of the world, but very much in it. We can only show the love of God by being with the people we wish to love. We can only serve others by living with others. We are One Body, One Church, One Human Race. Our unity with all people is our strength and our blessing. Be in the world and of the world. Show your oneness with all other people.
Next: 1 Corinthians 11-12