“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.” – 1 Corinthians 9:20
When the Apostle Paul was sent out from the church in Antioch, he met Timothy. Timothy was an impressive young Christian man who would later play an important role in both Paul’s missionary journey and in leading the early church. With a Greek father and Jewish mother, Timothy was Jewish but uncircumcised.
The religious significance of circumcision in Judaism is a bit foreign to many today, especially when we know that it’s not our words, deeds, or even actions (following the Old Testament laws such as circumcision) that guarantees salvation, but only by the grace and sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins (Ephesians 2:8). So why would Paul care that Timothy was uncircumcised?
It was about cultural sensitivity. Paul knew that when they inevitably shared the Gospel in Jewish territory, such as in synagogues surrounded by the religious elite, that Timothy’s words would lose credibility if they discovered that he was uncircumcised. (How they would know, I have no idea). It was about respecting the traditions and culture of the times in order to earn the right to be heard. Missionaries serving in predominately Muslim regions often adopt this same mindset by dressing more conservatively or women sometimes choosing to wear the headscarf. Does this decision compromise their Christian faith? Absolutely not. They’re simply showing proper modesty relative to that culture in order to gain the right to be heard when they share the Gospel.
Respecting another’s culture, beliefs, and traditions doesn’t mean that you always agree, but it does give your words more weight when it comes to topics such as faith. You might not live in a foreign culture, but you can still show respect and sensitivity at your workplace and in your community. How are you building bridges to share the Gospel?