Of course, if we really want to be more like Paul, then we need to work on how we engage the world. It absolutely must be off-limits to bring the world into the church, and especially to set it at center-stage, but that does not mean that we should be off-limits to the world. Too many Christians believe that the best way to engage the world is to separate from it, to be wholly other...all the time. They don't even tell their kids about Santa, don't participate in holiday parties (for many holidays), refuse to enter a bar, don't drink or smoke or chew or kiss those who do.
But the answer to the world is not to pretend that we're better than it. We cannot pretend that we're perfect. And we cannot pretend that we aren't human.
If we do, we put the emphasis on us, not on Jesus. We set up the idea that we have it all together and that's why Jesus loves us, rather than Jesus loving us and helping us get it together.
Not only that, but we set up an impossible standard for Jesus, one that we know (whether we admit it or not) He doesn't meet. Those outside the church look at us and think, gosh, their Jesus makes their lives perfect. They never have any troubles, always have enough food and money, don't have to worry about anything. And then they come to Jesus and find that their lives are pretty much the same. Redeemed, but day-to-day? The same. And they think there must be really nothing to this Jesus.
He's just not all He's cracked up to be.
And that's what Paul's talking about. He says that he became all things to all people in the hopes that he might save some. What he means is that he let others see the sides of him that they needed to see. If they needed to see someone with questions, he asked his questions out loud. If they needed to see someone with faith, he spoke boldly about what he believed. If they needed to see someone who loved, he loved them and the least among them in visible ways. If they needed to see someone grieve, he grieved publicly. If they needed to see someone still wrestling with the imperfect world, he wrestled. If they needed to know that Jesus doesn't fix everything right away, he bragged about his trials and weaknesses. Whatever someone needed to see about the Christian faith, it is that that Paul put on display.
Which means that none of the human experience was foreign to Paul, and he didn't pretend that it was.
That's a lot of our problem. We like to pretend we're above all that. We don't want to admit that we're just as much in this world as anybody else. We like to pretend that we are no longer human, no longer susceptible to life in the flesh. But the truth is...we are.
We need to get better at letting the world see that. We need to stop thinking that what they need to see is a perfect life because Jesus is perfect. What this world really needs to see is our messy lives that point to a perfect Savior. And yes, they do.
When we're down and out, Jesus is up and at 'em. When we're grieving, Jesus is comfort. When we're lost, Jesus finds us. When we're joyous, He rejoices with us.
We spend so much of our time wanting the world to see who we are "in Christ," but the real question is, how is the world ever supposed to see who Christ is if we're not honest about who we are "in flesh"?
May we be a real people, a vulnerable people, an authentic people. In the world, but not of the world. Not afraid of the world, but wholly engaging it. Not separating ourselves, but diving in. Being a part of the human race, a part of God's people, a part of all people, embracing what it means to be here, to live here, to love here. That's what the world needs to see of us.
So that they may see Him.