To the weak I became as weak, that I might gain the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. Now I do this for the sake of the Good News, that I may be a joint partaker of it. (1 Corinthians 9:22 23 WEB)
Every time I visit a new country I experience a new culture. Some are very similar to my American heritage. Others are so vastly different that verbal descriptions cannot convey the uniqueness which only experience could realize. Living in Europe we mixed with a plethora of cultures almost daily. Our church was a global melting pot of believers from across the globe. This unique worship environment held together in spite of the broad range of cultures because of the grace of God alone.
One culture, I found greatly different was the Middle Eastern mixture of cultures. This became evident one day when one of our Middle Eastern men asked to speak with Beth. First you must remember God has allowed us to minister to a number of young teachers from the Christian School the boys attended. As surrogate parents we were often closely tied to them in the eyes of others.
This young man had observed a lovely young teacher for a number of weeks. In full honesty he wanted Beth, as a mother figure, to arrange a marriage! There was even a discussion of gifts, perhaps camels and goats, to pay the price to acquire his bride. This wasn’t a joke. This wasn’t on hidden camera. This was a young man, enamored with a young lady, following the procedures he was taught throughout his life. This was how it was done in his culture.
Needless to say Beth turned down the offer and kindly let the young man know that this wasn’t how things were done in the young lady’s American culture. The young lady’s response, when Beth called her and told her about the proposal, was a long, loud scream searing the phone lines. In the following weeks I, along with some elders and translators from the church, met and counsel this young man, and others from his homeland, on cultural differences.
When I remembered this event I laughed and I thought of the culture which is part of me. Sometimes I’m understood and other times I must appear as unusual to others as this bartering for a bride appeared to me. In between stands the common ground of our faith in Christ. The young man, and his fellow countrymen, still attend our church and understand their cultural upbringing may not be proper in their new homeland. Still our relationship in Christ binds us together to worship and glorify God week after week.
Sometimes scripture isn’t what we interpret it to mean because of our cultural background. There are times when understanding the Biblical cultural settings helps us know God better. The same is true when working in other countries and with other nationalities. Understanding the cultural differences is critical to a clear understanding of the efficaciousness of the Gospel message.We may not comb our hair the same way, deal with family relationships the same way, or even drive on the same side of the road. In Christ we are one family. There are absolutes in Christianity and there is freedom. Paul knew this when he wrote that he became weak for the weak, and became all things that some might be saved. His Godly absolutes were not tossed aside but his culture was second hand to the importance of proclaiming the saving message of the Gospel.
We need to understand what is our culture and what is our salvation. These two should not be mixed up. One is an earthly boundary the other is a heavenly offering. May we always proclaim the heavenly that others will understand God’s salvation.