This past Sunday our church considered Jesus’ view of the masses who came to Him. We are not told what the disciples saw when they witnessed people flocking to Jesus. Perhaps they believed they had hit the big time! They may have congratulated themselves on hooking their wagon to a rising star. Whatever they saw, their vision was not the same as Jesus’ vision. We are told that when He saw the crowds “He had “compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)
I must admit that my vision is not always so clear. People can appear as obstacles between point A and point B. People can merely be opportunities to advance an idea or move an agenda forward. There are times when I see people as drains on my time and energy. I’ve heard many a pastor say, “The church would be perfect if it didn’t have people in it.” This is completely contrary to the attitude of Jesus toward the masses. Jesus had compassion; we become irritated. He saw people as harassed and helpless; we see them as harassing us and, okay, helpless — and we are the ones to whom they come for help. God, forgive us, but if we are honest our view of people is not always pure and benevolent.
It is easy to identify with the Apostle Paul. He put life and limb on the line to follow Jesus. In his faithfulness he suffered physical pain and verbal abuse. People were continually lying about his motives and mission. And, to top it off, the new believers He led into the Kingdom way too often didn’t get it. They embraced grace, then abused it. They embraced freedom, then misused it. I can only imagine the stories that Paul could have told at a Monday pastors’ lunch!
Yet, in spite of all this, Paul never abandoned his mission. He went wherever the Spirit led him. He spoke boldly to rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, slave and free. Even though the Gospel message was twisted and distorted by his detractors and misunderstood and misapplied by his spiritual sons and daughters, he kept right on preaching it and trusting the Lord and other trained spiritual leaders to pick up the pieces and make something beautiful out of what certainly appeared to be a mess.
As I was reading in Paul’s first letter to the believers in Corinth, I was struck by his commitment to the mission at hand:
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
In other words, Paul said that he would do whatever it takes to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ. He understood the imperative of Jesus to “go and make disciples.” He understood the consequences of ignoring the spiritual plight of those not in Christ. He understood the love of God for people and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Paul understood, and his understanding compelled him to keep on day after day in spite of the opposition or confusion. The mission was too important not to give his all to it.
Becoming all things to all people is not about compromising the Gospel to get people to hop on board. The Gospel doesn’t change. The cross cannot be minimized. Jesus does not need to shape-shift in order to meet people’s deepest need. Strategies and tactics in evangelism may change, but truth does not change.
Do we see the need around us? Are we moved to compassion? if not, then pray that God will open your eyes and burden your heart? If so, then embrace the attitude of Paul to do what it takes to be part of ushering people into the Presence of Jesus.