St. Paul was radically committed to the world. His commitment was based, in part, on a belief he held that not everyone shares. That belief underlies 1 Corinthians 9:22, where Paul explains the reason behind his way of life: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” Paul believed that people need to be saved.
Isn’t that old fashioned? Nowadays, when someone starts talking about being saved, people cringe. Maybe it’s not racist or sexist but it sounds religionist—and that’s just as bad. Who are you to tell me I need to be saved? For that matter, who are you to tell me I’m not already saved? You are being discriminatory and narrow-minded.
Some people are offended by the idea – not to mention the assertion – that they need to be saved. And they’re offended even though they don’t know what it means to be “saved,” aren’t sure they want to be saved, and have no intention of finding out. They do have a vague idea that being saved is about getting into heaven and they have heard that not everyone is going to get in – and that offends them too. It is a cosmic violation of the Fair Housing Act!
But when Paul used the word “saved,” he had more in mind than just going to heaven. He knew that heaven’s king is coming here to put an end to evil and get his plan for creation back on track. For Paul, to be saved was to escape the coming extermination of evil and share in creation’s rescue. The true king is coming; anyone can join him; but no one can stand against him.
But there is more. To be saved (and this is one of the primary meanings of the word in the New Testament) is to be healed of hurts, both those done to us and those done by us, including the ultimate hurt of death. To be saved is not just to live again after we die. It is to live for the first time as God intended: joyously, vigorously, lovingly, worshipfully, unendingly.
Paul understood that people’s most pressing need cannot be met by economical or psychological means, as important as those are. We need to be saved by a power outside ourselves, saved in the richest, fullest sense of the word. We need a salvation that changes our relationship to God, to others, and to ourselves; that remakes us and turns us lose to reach the mind-boggling potential with which God created us.
Everywhere the apostle looked, he saw people wasting their lives, awaiting wrath, heading for ruin. God did not create us for this: for hatred, greed, despair, and distraction. Christ did not die so that we could fall further into such lives but rather to give us new ones.
Paul longed for people to have those lives. He wept at the thought of them being caught up in the terrible annihilation of evil. He was always looking for ways to be an instrument of God’s salvation in people’s lives. To that end, he was willing to sacrifice his rights – or make use of them if that’s what it took – in order to persuade people to come over to God’s side. What’s more (and this is relevant to our situation), he expected the rest of us to do the same.