1 Corinthians 9:23, "I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it."

The first century world was confusing for the person who dared to be a Christian. In a hostile place, the constant threat of physical abuse loomed--with no one to come to your aid. In pagan society, many things were outside Christian existence that previously were part of daily life. In pagan society (even matters that we would classify as political), events included (often prominently) honoring a god or goddess. In Jewish society, acceptance of Jesus as the Christ increasingly was regarded as the act of a traitor against Judaism. Opportunities for being misunderstood were enormous!

It was rather common in pagan society to exploit weak people, to get drunk, to engage in sexual acts outside of marriage, to sexually violate marriages, or to be self indulgent in numerous ways. A Christian converted from paganism did not fit in pagan societies!

It was common in Jewish society to take advantage of the defenseless, to use religion as a means of control, to get angry with those who disagreed, or to hurt those who were a perceived threat. A Christian devoted to God's holiness did not fit!

Almost every relationship was complicated through conversion to Jesus Christ. Christian slaves were to act differently toward owners (1 Peter 2:18-21). Christian owners were to treat slaves with a kindness that did not threaten (Ephesians 6:9; Philemon). Imagine the changes and confusion when one spouse in a pagan marriage became a Christian! The challenge: demonstrate through behavior that conversion to Christ makes a person better, not worse (1Timothy 2:1-4). Public opinion declared conversion to Christ made people worse: slave, masters, wives, husbands, citizens, laborers! The only way Christians could change public opinion was for their behavior to defy common expectations. That is a hard and harsh demand!

Today's American Christian lives in an increasingly complex situation. Our society has become steadily self-indulgent. A common tactic used in advertising is, "You are worth it!" Selfishness often transforms itself into entitlement. "What is in it for me?" are many people's priority consideration. Personal feelings are an important measurement of validity. We so value "feel good" and "fun" that the world easily could conclude Americans believe that "feeling good" and "having fun" is life's purpose.

Too often the Christian man or woman finds himself or herself asking questions about "me." "Who am I?" "What is my purpose?" "Is the moment all that is important in my life?" "Can anything that is truly good cause pain?" "Can anything that brings me pleasure be truly evil?" "Should I permit other people to decide the meaning and the worth of my life?" Perhaps those are easily answered in theory for others, but they are hard questions when one is personally confronting difficult circumstances.

No matter how confusing your personal world is, allow no one but God to teach you who you are. Life in this society may be confusing, but purpose is found in Jesus' cross.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 10 October 2004

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