When discussing his pattern of life, Paul testifies, “And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews . . . to those who are without law, as without law . . . that I might win those who are without law; 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. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake that I may be partaker of it with you” (1 Cor. 9:20–23). 

What exactly does he mean by “become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” and how does that relate to our personal evangelism?

The apostle Paul, by not requiring financial remunerations for his ministry, experienced a tremendous freedom from suspicion of mercenary motive (1 Cor. 9:18). But this was not the only way he subjected himself to the concern of others. Among Jews, he often kept their feasts and fasts and observed their customs and vows. He did not do this as a basis of salvation, for he knew such observances could not save him. Instead, he observed them as a manner of social life and national custom to avoid being offensive to those he desired to reach.

At the same time, when among the Gentiles who didn’t share the feelings and conviction of the Jews, Paul did not feel compelled to observe such ceremonies. Instead, he identified with them by quoting from their literature and even making reference to their altars (Acts 17:22–31). Even unto those who were weak or, in his opinion, overly scrupulous in their practices, he would attempt to accommodate himself to them. Paul is thus speaking in those verses in the context of the unbeliever’s culture and background.

Unfortunately, the phrase “become all things to all men” has been misused today. Paul was not practicing a weak compliance with every wrong action or immoral practice. He was not approving the idea “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” He was instead referring to matters of moral indifference, weak prejudice, or foolish scruples.

If your neighbor feels certain things should not be done on a Sunday, although you don’t share those convictions, would you give up those activities in order to reach the neighbor? If you go to dinner with a Hindu, who is a vegetarian, would you give up eating meat to be certain not to offend? If a fellow with whom you work has some rather odd idiosyncrasies, will you submit to them in order not to offend and reach this fellow worker for Christ?

Find out where the person is coming from and be willing to do what is encouraging and not offensive to reach the person for Christ. That person’s eternity matters a lot more than anything you might consider peculiar or unnecessary about his life, convictions, and attitudes.