I grit my teeth and smiled as small hands yanked my hair into a braid. I was on mission trip in Jamaica to share the love of Jesus. Drawn by the novelty of my long blond hair, the neighborhood girls surrounded me as soon as I entered. Tears squeezed through my eyes as I prayed God would leave a few strands on my head while I honored Him in becoming all things to all people. The pain was worth the gain of loving these attention-starved little ones.
Before I set out to the Caribbean, our missions group held many training sessions. Our leaders instilled our team verses into us:
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” (1 Chronicles 9:19-22 NKJV)
Paul was not admonishing believers to change their personality or alter the gospel to trick people into following the Lord. Instead, he wanted Christians to find areas of commonality with others so they could connect. People don’t care what I have to say until they know I care about them. When I listen to people, I can find ways to reach them in their hurt. God longs to restore the brokenhearted. When I serve others in love, their wounds begin to heal.
I don’t have to travel to another country to go on a mission trip. Every time I leave the house, I encounter people different than me. Yet, we all are created in the image of God with spirits that scream the need for something more than just this life. I can choose to join in their suffering or walk on by and ignore them.
Instead of using my freedom in Christ to justify obedience to God and obligation to no one else, I discover that loving God means loving people. Showing God’s grace towards others by meeting them where they are at does not excuse sin, but points them to the remedy found in Christ alone.
Paul put it this way in Galatians 5:13, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (NIV). I’m not to abuse my freedom as a new creation in Christ to fill my human desires. Rather, I must die to self to serve others because of Christ’s love shown on the cross.
I lost some hair that day in Jamaica, but the Lord loved those braids. While they played, I told the girls about the greatness of God and His grace for them. Though no one accepted the gospel that day, I planted seeds that I pray will grow up into righteousness. May God show us how to use the freedom He bought for us to serve all others selflessly.
Joanna Eccles has led Bible studies for over twenty years and completed the year-long C. S. Lewis Fellows Program. She is passionate about discipleship and helping people grow in Christ. Joanna enjoys coffee and reading, and currently lives in Florida.