Adaptability Essential to Successful Ministry

The ability honestly to admire in others their culture and art and accomplishment is worthy of the best of preachers.

I.H.E. is editor of the Ministry.

The apostle Paul had an evangelistic gift the like of which we find in no other Bible character save in Christ. John the Baptist was a mighty re­vivalist, and he profoundly stirred the hearts of Israel, drawing to the wil­derness vast crowds who listened to his scathing rebuke of sin and his earnest call to repentance. As far as the records give us an account of his life, he confined himself to work for the Israelites. John was an austere man, following much after the great prophet Elijah in his simplicity of life and methods of work. Though not a world evangelist, John did the work assigned him in God's own way.

Peter had a call to lead in the work for the Gentiles; but so far as we have a Bible record, Peter never broke away from Judaism as did the apostle Paul. We know little of Peter's activities beyond what is recorded in the first part of the book of Acts; but when we read the account of Paul's missionary tours, we are deeply impressed with the spirit of world evangelism that characterized this truly great man.

From his own letters to the churches we learn many details that we do not read in the book of Acts. One side light on the character of Paul we learn from his first letter to the church at Corinth:

"Though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you." 1 Cor. 9:19-23.

Here we have a revelation of Paul's many­sided life under the leading of the Holy Spirit. Though he was "free from all men," yet he gladly made himself a servant unto all, that he might "gain the more." Paul was not a ruler nor an administrator in the early church, but an evangelist. He made himself not superior to others, but subordinate, that he might win them to Christ. He embraced all peoples in the gospel that he preached. He was as desirous that the Jews should find Christ as that the Gentiles should accept the gospel. He declares, "Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews." Notwithstanding Paul's mission was definitely to the Gentiles, he still loved the Jews. What language in all the world shows greater love than Paul's when he wrote to the church at Rome: "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen ac­cording to the flesh." Rom. 9:1-3. Surely in such language is pent-up love such as the Master had for us all.

But Paul would not confine his labors for others to the Jews alone; his desire was for the Gentiles to find Christ as well. His gospel was for all who would believe. To them who were "under the law," he says that he became himself "as under the law," that he might gain them who were "under the law." His one con­suming purpose is summed up in the words: "That I might gain the more." It was disciples for Christ that Paul longed for. Nationalism and former associations and affiliations meant little to this great missionary. One can easily believe that he seldom reminded the heathen of the comforts he was sacrificing, the hardships he was enduring, in order to win them to Christ.

"To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak." Luke tells us how Paul talked to the elders from Ephesus, how he used to live and preach:

"From Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testify­ing both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." Acts 20:17-21.

Such a record of one's ministry, approved by those who knew his ministry, is a strong illus­tration of how Paul labored to win souls. Of his service in raising up the Corinthian church, we find him writing to them thus:

"Have I committed an offense in abasing my­self that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely? I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service. And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep my­self." 2 Cor. 11:7-9.

In one grand summary Paul writes, "I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gos­pel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you." This kind of ministry Paul carried on that he too might be saved. It was his love for Christ and the love of Christ for him that constrained him to work and preach as he did.

Sometimes it may seem strange that Paul did not bring in his nationalism and show that his country was superior to all others. This he might have done when in Asia Minor or Syria or Greece. He could have told a pretty tale of the superiority of his people, and boasted of many things. But only one thing concerned Paul, and that was that the people should ac­cept Christ as their personal Saviour. He de­sired but one thing, and that was that all men might believe and be saved.

Adaptability to one's conditions and environ­ment is ever a quality to be greatly sought after by the preacher and the missionary. Controlling committees in the church and con­ference may seem to annoy and irritate; but to be able to work gracefully and happily with all men under all conditions is a superior ac­quirement.

The ability honestly to admire in others their culture and art and accomplishment is worthy of the best of preachers. To believe in other people and to accept their statements, even if sometimes grievously deceived, is far better than to lose faith altogether.

When in a strange land it is well to lose sight of one's own country, and never to in­troduce invidious comparisons. They carry a sting that rarely benefits any one. Nor is the true missionary ever to assume or feel supe­riority.

Frequently, because of conditions, ministers are so national that they neutralize their preaching by their self-conceit and prejudices. Few people care to listen to a preacher whose speech strongly points to his superiority by birth or by citizenship above those to whom he is talking. Strong nationalism undoes many a missionary or minister, and disqualifies him for successful work. Paul was cosmopolitan, counting himself a citizen of the kingdom of God rather than of any kingdom of this world.

This spirit of adaptability made Paul not a weakling in his ministry, but a tower of strength. Disinterested in politics, untainted by the spirit of "nationalism," all his strength could be utilized in evangelical works. Though a Jew, he outmeasured all Jewish believers in his desire to win men to Christ. Loving one man as another made it possible for the apostle to preach Christ to all men with equal zest and zeal. This ability to adapt oneself to existing conditions, to make oneself superior to condi­tions in any country and among any people, is a sign of intelligent self-control as well as of a special gift from God.

Preachers are not to be a burden to people, so that they dread to see them come, owing to their extreme notions and their demand for personal attentions. "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things," wrote the inspired penman. Preachers are not only to bring spiritual blessings to the people, but they are also to preach the "gospel of peace." Their very presence should impart joy and comfort in every household they enter. This is God's ideal for a minister of the gospel.

When one reads some of Paul's statements it is easy to conclude that he possessed in a marked degree the ability to accommodate him­self to conditions where he traveled and where he stayed. And we may conclude that this at­titude on Paul's part made him welcome. As we read in Galatians 4:14, "My temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God. even as Christ Jesus." Paul seems always to have been satisfied with the treatment accorded to him, and grateful for any kindness shown. To the Philippians he wrote:

"Even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your ac­count. But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God." Phil. 4:16-18.

Adaptability stands one in good stead on many occasions. After the Civil War Henry Ward Beecher was to speak in the South. A large crowd was gathered, and he began to lecture. No one seemed attentive. He was perplexed. Again and again he tried to gain the attention of the audience, but they would not listen. Just as he was thinking of closing because of the confusion, a general of the Southern army came into the church with his wife. Beecher had never met the general, but had seen his picture. He at once stepped down from the platform, rushed up the aisle, em­braced the general, and led him to the plat­form, giving him the best seat. The audience cheered. Beecher started again, and thereafter the closest attention was given to his remarks. Beecher had won by his tact and adaptability.

The ability to make the best of a bad situa­tion, to adapt oneself to unfavorable conditions, shows superior intelligence, and is a gift much to be desired. But it is not alone a natural gift; it can be cultivated. By thought and study it can be acquired. To be adaptable, to like other people, to be able sincerely to admire their good qualities, to remember that men are not "different," but "alike"—all these help to that Christlike adaptability which wins hearts. As gospel ministers we should seek and cultivate this gift.                                                

I. H. E.

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I.H.E. is editor of the Ministry.

November 1934

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