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Devotion for Aug. 19, 2010

When Amy Carmichael began her missionary assignment in Japan, she insisted on wearing traditional Victorian dress: multiple petticoats, stockings, laced–up shoes, and a bonnet. But one day, bundled up in her thick woolen coat and her fur gloves, she made a visit to an older Japanese woman with the intention of sharing the gospel. The woman paid no attention to the message Amy shared. She was distracted by the curious gloves that Amy wore. Amy wept on her way home, saying, “Never again will I risk so much for so little! She traded her lace petticoats for a kimono.

Both Amy Carmichael and Paul are in a long line of missionaries who made these cultural choices about how they will live and behave in foreign contexts. The question prominent in the apostle Paul’s mind was, “Will what I choose advance or hinder the gospel?” He was committed to spreading the gospel and refused to make any choice that might cause someone to reject Christ on the grounds of his personal behavior.

First, he chose not to receive financial support from the Corinthian churches. Other churches did in fact give Paul money, but in Corinth he refused such support. His reasons may have been to avoid either being accused of greed (which characterized certain philosophers in Corinth) or of losing the independence of thought and action he had, were he to depend on either the church or a handful of wealthy patrons. Instead, he worked his day job, making tents. He had the right to earn his living from his ministry, but Paul determined to offer the gospel free of charge.

Not only did Paul forfeit his salary for the sake of the gospel, he forfeited other rights and freedoms, humbling himself to win as many converts to Christ as he can. As a minister to the Gentiles, he no longer subjected himself to the constraints of Judaism. And yet, when it was required of him to make adaptations so as not to offend a Jewish audience, he did so (cf. Acts 21:17–26).

Apply the Word

Paul showed tremendous flexibility in his choices. He did not abandon faithfulness to Christ, but he was able to discern which issues mattered and which didn’t. He asked the same of the Corinthians, especially when it came to eating meat sacrificed to idols. Some might accuse Paul of relativism, but Paul isn’t teaching that moral choices don’t matter. He demonstrated that love for Christ and others is more important than rights and preferences. Do we have such a disciplined commitment to Christ, which advances the gospel?

BY Jennifer Michel

Jen Pollock Michel is a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog. Her first book, Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition and the Life of Faith, is published by InterVarsity Press. Jen earned her BA in French from Wheaton College and her MA in Literature from Northwestern University. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and five children, and serves on staff at Grace Toronto Church.

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