"I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some."
From the New Testament (1 Corinthians 9:22)
Each November, Remembrance tells us that we know that every human life is valuable.
An estimated 20 million people died in the Great War of 1914-1918. Most of the approximate 10 million military who died were young - sometimes very young - men. Barely men, even. Boys.
I’m forty one. I find it hard to think of a boy going to war for me.
Because, in a very real sense, they did go to war for me.
Their bravery, their sacrifice; the shocking fear they experienced; the pain they felt, far from home and in unthinkable conditions, in a sense it was for me. Their sacrifice means I can live the kind of life I enjoy today. They saved me.
They brought me salvation.
A story of salvation
The Bible is a story of salvation. An even greater and grander salvation than that won by the brave soldiers of years gone by. It's a salvation from the power of evil and darkness that lurks within our hearts and leads us away from the God who made us and wants to know us. The Bible writers frequently called that power 'sin'.
It's a salvation from the power of evil and darkness that lurks within our hearts and leads us away from the God who made us and wants to know us.
At one point in the New Testament, the apostle Paul says,
“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some”
Paul's thirty years of missionary work were far from comfortable. He was frequently in prison or under house arrest, was often beaten, went hungry, was shipwrecked, and endured periods of isolation and loneliness.
And then he died, probably in Rome, martyred, perhaps by beheading, under the persecution of the wicked Roman Emperor Nero.
Like how the sacrifice of the young men of that first world war generation changed our nation, Paul’s missionary work all those centuries ago changed his world, and it is still changing our world today.
What was going through Paul's mind as he fought to take the gospel out from his home in Jerusalem to the world?
Those young men who went to war in mainland Europe and beyond had to adapt to very new circumstances. For the majority who fought in both world wars, travel beyond their own county, or even town, was unusual. The pace of change in society was slow. The people they knew were the ones they had always known.
And yet they were thrown into military life. New places. New routines. New tasks. New people. New accents.
It was extraordinary upheaval for very ordinary men.
The apostle Paul regularly had to adapt.
Sometimes he would strictly keep Jewish cultural practises concerning what he ate, what he would wear and what religious practices he might adopt.
When he was in what the New Testament calls 'Gentile' places (Gentiles are what the Jews called anyone who as not Jewish - like me) he adopted local customs and practises, so he could build bridges with new people and win the opportunity to share Jesus with people from a very different background to him.
Paul's many travels into far off lands weren't the actions of an indulgent twenty-year-old travelling the world for their own pleasure. They were the actions of a mature man making conscious changes to his own way of life in order to bring people the message of salvation.
When the young men of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland left the British Isles on boats across the English Channel, they went to fight not only for their own nations, but also a very real sense for the nations of the whole world.
The second world war (1939-1945) was fought to save us from the advance of Hitler’s evil regime; but it was also to liberate the French and the other occupied nations, and to even rescue the German families and communities from the tyranny of a wicked regime.
It was a was fought to save all people.
Similarly, God’s concern was never just for one particular nation, be that the Jews, or England, or America!
God loves every type of people on the planet. And his offer of salvation is for all men and all women and all boys and girls, no matter where they are from.
And that’s why the apostle Paul was consistently colour-blind when it came to his gospel ministry. He didn't favour one group of people over another. He didn’t think any nationality or skin colour was more deserving of salvation. In fact, he knew that everyone of us is equally undeserving of God’s salvation.
I am far from an expert on military hardware and technology. But I understand that times of war radically speed up the pace of technological innovation.
Even I know that Barnes Wallace's 'bouncing bomb', designed to destroy the three important dams of the Ruhr Valley, was developing at break-neck speed
And I know about the enormous and powerful V2 rocket, designed by German engineers, which was then adopted and further developed by both the Americans and the Soviets during the ensuing Cold War and the 'space race'.
And the code-breakers of Bletchley Park, whose experts decoded the Nazi Enigma machine, their work perhaps shortening the war by up to two years.
They did whatever they needed to do in order to win the war.
That’s the kind of thing the apostle Paul means when he says ‘that by all possible means I might save some’.
If it needed him to be imprisoned so that he could share the gospel of salvation with the prison guards, that was fine
If it meant crafting expert letters to the many congregations he had founded, so be it.
If it meant preaching in synagogues and being frequently thrown out, ok!
If it meant travelling long distances
If it meant hard physical work making tents
If it meant preaching in the city centres then being chased out of town
If it meant visiting house to house, or preaching to gathered churches
Whatever means were necessary, he would do it.
Today, the churches where Jesus is loved and worshipped around our city and country find creative and imaginative ways to give people the opportunity to consider the meaning of their own lives, to think about God and eternity, and respond to the claims Jesus Christ made about his power to rescue us.
An unthinkable number of civilians died in the Great War. An estimated 6 million. Which is dwarfed by Second World War casualties which were anywhere between 50-55 million.
Not everyone were saved by the heroism and sacrifice of our fallen.
The apostle Paul was fighting, if you like, for to give us a grander salvation, an even more important salvation, from a far more dreadful outcome, due to a far more sinister enemy,
The Bible is clear that God's perfect justice demands we face an eternity of conscious judgement in a place the Bible sometimes calls hell (it is unfashionable to talk about hell, but Jesus, a loving man, warned about it readily, so it would be wrong for us to not talk about it).
It’s what we deserve for turning our backs on the God who made us, clothes us, feeds us, gives us everything we have, and made us to know him personally.
It's not that God wants us to experience this judgement. He wants to rescue us through his gospel, the gospel Paul fought to proclaim by becoming all things to all people and by using all possible means.
The gospel is that, if you put your trust in Jesus Christ, who died for your sins, you will be forgiven completely. You will be in the right with God. One day you will certainly live with him and all his people in a perfect world, with no more war or indeed anything evil or bad.
But Paul acknowledges that only some will experience that salvation.
Will you? Only those with humble faith in Jesus Christ will experience his eternal freedom, safety, liberation and peace.
Paul acknowledges that only some will experience that salvation. Will you?
A great cost
In a prisoner of war camp during Second World War a guard found a shovel had gone missing.
He gathered together all the prisoners, and asked them where the shovel was.
He asked again, this time adding that, if no one admitted to taking the shovel, they would all be shot.
One prisoner stepped forward. He, he said, had the shovel.
He was shot dead.
Later, the same guard took the opportunity to count the shovels. There was no missing shovel. He had simply miscounted.
Jesus Christ stepped forward, when he died on the cross, into the fair and just anger of God because he wanted you to live.
But only some will accept the offer. Will you?