Changing Colors

Color change markers are pretty impressive. Have you ever used one? You color in one color, then go over it with a special invisible marker and the color changes. There is something fascinating about things that change color, especially for kids. I could fill our countertop with all the toys in our house that change color. From markers to cups to bathtub mermaids that turn blue in cold water, we have loads of the stuff. Kids think this concept is amazing. God must have thought this was pretty amazing too, because he created animals that change color. Take the classic example of a color changing animal: the chameleon. I used to think chameleons changed colors mainly to blend in with their surroundings, as camouflage. But this is not why most chameleons change color. In fact, scientists have discovered that a more primary reason a chameleon changes color is to communicate with other chameleons. For example, it will turn black when it meets another chameleon who is encroaching on its turf to say, “Hey, buddy, back off.” And as for that amazing rainbow color? Well, as you might guess, that is reserved for that special someone…“Hey baby, why don’t you come on over here and give me a smooch?” Chameleons change color in order to communicate. In fact, sometimes, even for humans, changing color can be a powerful way to communicate.

We even find this concept discussed in scripture—not for chameleons, but for Christians. Paul brings this up in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 in reference to sharing the gospel. He begins by making a profound statement: “I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” Paul had a passion and zeal to spread the gospel, and not only was he willing to sacrifice things in order to accomplish this mission (as we saw in the beginning of this chapter) but he was also willing to change his words and actions in order to reach different kinds of people. Why? So he could win as many as possible. Paul didn’t want to share Christ with just a few people he bumped into; he was determined to share Christ with as many people as he could. He was committed to taking as many people to heaven with him as possible.

Wow! I long to have this passion permeate my heart and soul as it did Paul’s, don’t you? I don’t know about you, but my daily goals don’t often consist of “winning as many as possible” to the Kingdom. But God has asked us to share the good news of Jesus with others as passionately as Paul. It is our calling too.

Furthermore, not only did Paul have a passion to communicate the gospel, but he had a passion to communicate the gospel effectively. This meant that he communicated it with sensitivity and relevance to people within their cultural environments. Although it certainly would not be limited to these, he offers three groups as examples: Jews, Greeks, and the weak. So, when he is with Jews, those “under the law,” he behaves in accordance with their customs, including observing Jewish dietary laws. When he is with the Greeks, ones who do “not have the law,” he behaves in a way in accordance with their customs. Thus, he wouldn’t observe Jewish dietary laws in that context, because that is not a requirement of New Testament faith. He does, however, make the disclaimer that even though he does not observe the Jewish ceremonial laws (related to cleansing, eating, etc), he is careful to follow the moral laws of God (vs. 21). In other words, he would not do anything that would disobey God in those laws that transcend cultures and times. For example, just because Paul was with the Greeks, he would not bow down and worship the Greek gods or other such things that would go against Jesus’ commands. Finally, the third category he speaks of is “the weak.” There has been much debate on who this is, but some think that he is referring to those he spoke of previously who are “weak in conscience” (8:11). When Paul is with those who are weak in this way, he would not do things that would lead them into sin or away from the truth of the gospel.

So why exactly was this “color changing” important? Would it have been a big deal for Paul to snack on a pork chop while he was sitting in the courtyard of the synagogue talking to Jews about Jesus? Would it have hindered the gospel if he refused to eat a chicken leg from the poor bird that had been sacrificed to the goddess Aphrodite while sitting in the market with some Greeks? What exactly was the issue here? First of all, Paul wanted to be careful he didn’t offend people in ways that were unnecessary, so that they would be open to hear from him about the gospel. To be honest, the gospel message itself can be offensive, and that was a truth that Paul refused to water down. However, customs and traditions that weren’t important to God but which were held very deeply by a certain religious group were things on which where Paul was willing to tread lightly. For Paul to communicate that he cared about these people by not violating their laws and customs would have gone a long way towards openness in their hearts toward him and the gospel. Second, Paul wanted to ensure that the gospel was not equated with certain religious customs. If this happened, the truth of the gospel message could get blurred. If, while sitting at a Greek table, he said he wouldn’t eat the meat sacrificed to idols, what would they have assumed about the gospel? They would have assumed (wrongly) that this was a requirement of this new religion of Christianity. Not only would it have adulterated the truth of the gospel message, but it might also have laid a hindrance in front of them that was unnecessary. Paul wanted to make clear what the gospel was and what it required so they could make a decision based on the truth of the gospel and the necessary changes that had to accompany it.

So, how does this play out in our culture? How can we apply this truth? I believe there are several applications of this in our lives today as believers: First and most important, our life goal needs to be as Paul’s: to win as many as possible to Christ! We need to step out of our comfort zones and share our faith! Tell people our stories about how we came to Christ, about what God has done in our lives! Invite them to church! Start spiritual discussions! Give them a book, movie, pamphlet, or some other written material about spiritual things and follow up and ask them what they thought about it. Pray for opportunities! Make opportunities! Schedule a lunch or dinner specifically to talk with them about God. There are many practical steps we can take starting today to share the gospel with those around us. And remember, the gospel message, by its very definition has to be accompanied by WORDS. It is important to be a witness in our life and behavior, but it can’t stop there. For people to know the truth, it has to be communicated with words. If not, they will think Christianity is just a nice interest for us, not a life-changing critical decision that affects our eternal future. And if we don’t tell them this message, who will?

Second, we need to look for common ground with non-believers. As much as possible, wear their colors. What are they reading? What are they talking about? What are they watching? Read those things, watch those things. Be conversant in things that interest them. Spend time with them. Too many times, we as Christians isolate ourselves from the culture around us. We need to be conversant enough in the issues of today so that we can have some common ground with those around us—common ground that can allow us to build bridges to the gospel in our conversations with them. Certainly, we don’t want to disobey God when we are doing this, but there are many ways we can connect in our culture while still honoring and obeying God.

Third, we need to be careful not to make “sacred cows” of things that are not central to the gospel. For example, my husband and I homeschool our kids. Now, if we are sitting around at a block party in our neighborhood and say, “Yes, we are Christians, that is why we homeschool our kids,” then what are our non-Christian neighbors going to think about Christianity? They are going to think that to become a Christian, they need to homeschool their kids. Well, this would be enough to start some people hyperventilating (to be honest, it is pretty daunting to me some mornings). So, how willing are they going to be to hear about Jesus if they think that it means they need to homeschool their kids? This is just one example. We can do this with a lot of things that we may be convicted about but that aren’t necessarily requirements of the gospel. We don’t want to attach things to the gospel that aren’t necessary and put up stumbling blocks to people having an openness to the message of Jesus.

Fourth, we need to try not to be weirder than necessary. Now I know for some of us, this is a challenge :). We are strange enough as followers of Christ, going counter-cultural in so many ways that are necessary to our being obedient to God. But wearing plaid shirts buttoned up to the top and suspenders may not do the trick for connecting with people in our culture. And saying “Praise the Lord!” every five minutes at the grocery store may not be the best tactic either. Remember, our goal is to win a hearing with as many people as possible. Some degree of normalcy will help with this.

Adapting our colors to the people around us can be an amazing way to communicate. It can help us build bridges to others that will, in turn, bring them to Christ. And, as it did for Paul, it can help us fulfill the mission that God has given all of us: to tell everyone about the amazing gift of Jesus and to win as many people as possible into His Kingdom.