Post moderns like myself love to quote 1 Corinthians 20-23. These are the verses where Paul talks about his ability to become like whoever he witnesses to. Usually, we use this to emphasize the importance of cultural relevance.
I don’t think that we’re misinterpeting or misapplying the scriptures when we do all these things. But there is a wider context, that puts quite a different spin on the whole deal. There is a different meaning going on here when the verses before are read and considered.
In the verses before, he is talking about how he has the right to be paid for the work he does for God. He goes on to say that though he has this right, he won’t exercise it. (A side note: how much would Christian ethics be revolutionized if we followed this example more… noting that there is a difference between having a right and choosing to exercise it.)
At any rate, the lynch pin comes right before the often quoted portion. In verse 17, he says “This means I am not bound to obey people just because they pay me, yet I have become a servant of everyone so that I can bring them to Christ.”
It’s an often-noticed phenemon that pastors are unfairly and unnecesarily bound, or atleast tempted to be bound, by the whims of their congregations. (I suppose from a different perspective, it could be said that they are held accountable by their congregations…)
I think of this as a somewhat modern occurence, but clearly it’s not, if Paul noticed it. But the thing even more interesting is this, a repurcussion I’d never considered:
If a pastor is bound into a certain style via the purse strings of a congegation, that pastor is not free to explore a style which might be relevant to people who haven’t yet found Christ. I always viewed the main problem with pastors feeling stymied by their congregations to be an issue of theology, experimentation, etc., etc.
Clearly, though, it has consequences related to spreading the gospel itself. This is a pretty interesting thing to me, and it’s truly astounding that it’s all sitting there, in 1 Corinthians.