Yep. That's me. Back in my younger days when I spent most of my time on the road running sound. I had almost perfected the typical look of "the roadie". The only downside to it was the very occasional ribbing I would get from a place of temporary ministry. It never failed a few times a year, usually when we were in a rural setting, I would have someone pull me aside and jokingly quote 1 Corinthians 11:14.
Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? (KGV)
My normal routine was to smile, tell them thank you and get back to work. It might have even been this semi-regular conversation with complete strangers that made me started really studying scripture. What I would never tell the stranger was Corinth was known for it's pagan temples. In Corinth, long hair on a man denoted his status as a temple prostitute (and short hair on a women the same thing). This admonition was just part of a much larger theme in 1 Corinthians.
So much of the books of 1 and 2 Corinthians are about Christian distinction. Paul really had to encourage this little church, existing in the Las Vegas of the Roman Empire, to seek out what was truly Christian.
Our Scripture this week comes from a section when Paul is explaining his idea of ministry in context, a culturally relevant ministry.
Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.
When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. (NLT)
The culture in which we live in really matters because it sets up what is considered appropriate or offensive. Paul wrote to Corinth, a city were almost nothing was considered offensive. It was a boom-town, supported by several major crossroads. Due to it’s economic and trade status, it was quite the exquisite place to live. They thrived in excess. What happened in Corinth stayed in Corinth.
In the middle of this fast paced, thriving and very wordly city was a fledgling group of Christians, trying to find out how to live out the message and life of Christ. They weren’t without their problems. Paul wrote several letters and spent time with them trying to sort out their issues. In this passage today he talks about how he has adjusted his life to the mission of Jesus and how they should understand their specific role as well. He writes to them about distinction. That is where we find our message today.
Paul adapts the cultural customs of those to whom he ministers to so nothing will hinder people’s embracing of the gospel of Christ. In this adaptation, Paul exercises missional distinction. He changes in the ways he needs to in order to make the message of Jesus completely relevant to the people he minister’s too, because different groups will need different approaches to Jesus. There are things that are fundamentally Christian, and we shouldn’t move from them...but we also have a missional lens to our world that we should conform to in order to reach others. This isn’t living a false life. We aren’t lying about who we are. It comes from a compassion to bring Jesus to others in a saving way.
God looks for men and women who live and share the Good News of Jesus Christ with cultural relevance, sensitivity, and power so that the eternal truth of the Gospel will be understood and received in every culture of the world.