For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. 1 Corinthians 9:19 NASB
A slave to all – This verse is probably the bulwark of religious relevance. We are taught that if we want to get the message out to the masses, we must embrace the environment of our pagan targets. We don’t mean that we take on the morality of the masses. We still hold on to Christian values. But we have to be where the non-believers are if we are going to “save their souls.” The problem, of course, is how we engage.
“In Acts 17:28 Paul debates with philosophers and quotes a local philosopher, Aratus from Phaenomena 5; in Titus 1:12 he quotes Epimenides; in 1 Cor. 15:33, he quotes Meander. (Hegg 40) but this Hellenism makes him no less Jewish in his own eyes or in the eyes of the Jews around him. He still declares that he, like James, still lives according to the law (Acts 21:24), has a zeal for Torah (Acts 22:3), declares himself to be a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), a Hebrew of Hebrews (Phil 3:4-6) and at the end of his life, recounts that he served God ‘the way my forefathers did…’ (2 Tim 1:3)”
What does Paul mean when he says “a slave to all”? Does it mean we accommodate to the cultural modes in order to gain entrance and acceptance? Paul’s life says, “No!” Paul knew his opponent’s positions. He knew their thinking, their assumptions and their lifestyles. But knowing is not accommodating. Becoming a slave (doulos) is not the same as becoming a proponent or even a tolerant observer. Paul never stopped living according to Torah. But he understood the perceived reality of those outside Torah.
Some time ago one of my graduate students refused to take a class I offered on prayer because I assigned Henri Nouwen’s book, The Way of the Heart. In his mind, Nouwen’s work was tainted by the fact that Nouwen openly admitted to homosexual feelings. There is no evidence that I know that Nouwen ever acted on those feelings, but this student rejected Nouwen simply because he had the feelings. I was reminded of Paul’s statement. If I don’t know what the world looks like from the perspective of someone who struggles with homosexuality, what do I have to offer as consolation and forgiveness? If my worldview of God’s order excludes even reading thoughts about prayer from a man who struggles, then point me to the monastery. Paul knew his Greek philosophers and playwrights because he wanted to address their world. But Paul didn’t change his practice one bit. His foundation remained firm. It had to if he was going to speak truth into the lives of those who were lost.
I am amazed when I encounter individuals who refuse any contact with non-Christian thought on the basis that the thinking of non-Christians can’t be true because the authors aren’t believers. Any short course in the history of doctrine will convince you that believers are just as much subject to error. The secret is constant renewal and review. Keep going back to the text and asking, “Do I still understand this passage as I once did?” Become a slave to all by understanding what they believe. Only then can you ask the most telling question, “How’s that working out for you?”
Topical Index: slave, doulos, 1 Corinthians 9:19
 Donna Dozier, Losing Your Religion, p. 14.