To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:22-23 NIV)
I was born in Malaysia. I grew up in Malaysia until I went to Australia for my university studies. In secondary school (high school), I had many friends. Malaysia has what I call a “stir-fry” mix of different cultures and faiths. I grew up with Malays who are Muslims, Chinese people who follow a mixture of Taoism and Buddhism and Indians (“South Asians” in Canada) who are Hindus. My home church in Malaysia has people coming from Chinese and Indian cultures. Therefore, the multicultural reality of Canada is not a new experience for me. Not only are there different faiths in Malaysia, it is also expected that you were functional in at least 2 languages. One grew up with their mother tongue at home and learned Malay at school which is the national language. However, you picked up English as it is the language of business and the 2nd language in education (My family of origin is Chinese but we spoke English at home). Malaysia also belongs to the British Commonwealth like Canada.
Right now, it is the month of Ramadan. My Muslim friends will not eat or drink from sunup to sundown. A few years ago, in Canada, I offered a drink to a Muslim person during the fasting period. He reminded me that he was fasting. I thought to myself; how far I had deviated from the practices I grew up in.
However, the greatest thing I experienced in Malaysia is visiting my friends during their religious festivals. At the end of Ramadan, I visited the homes of my Malay friends during what in Canada is known as Eid al Fitr. Food is a major component in this celebration. They serve varieties of curry, rice and other snacks. Then during what is known as Divali in Canada, I visited the homes of my Indian (South Asian) friends. Again, food is a major component. They serve varieties of Indian curries, rice and other snacks. During Chinese New Year, I visited the homes of my Chinese friends. A major custom in Chinese culture is to give red packets of money to those younger than you during Chinese New Year. Certainly, I looked forward to this.
It was later in life that I truly appreciated the multicultural nature of my growing-up years in Malaysia. I realised I had an inner confidence with entering cultures different from my home and family culture. I had the experience of visiting a Muslim home, a Hindu home and a Taoist-Buddhist home. Even though we had different mother tongues, we could connect with each other in Malay and English.
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul says that he becomes like a Jew to Jews (9:20). He goes under the law to reach out to those under the law (he means the Jewish religious law here; 9:20). He becomes like those not having the law to those who do not have the law (he means those who are born outside the Jewish religious law; 9:21). Finally, to the weak he reaches out to them by becoming weak (9:22). Why does he do all this? He says it is because of the gospel. By the gospel, he means the good news that that God has entered our world by becoming a human being named Jesus Christ to save us (1 Corinthians 9:22-23).
The rationale behind Paul’s mission is this. God becomes a human being and enters our human culture. If God can do this, Paul can do this too. If God can do this, we can do this.