To know the only true God, honor and obey Him, and make Him known.
What is the Biblical basis for our unique approach to ministry to Muslims?
The Jews in the time of Paul did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God, they did not believe in the Holy Trinity, and they did not believe that Jesus died for their sins nor that He rose from the dead. They were trying to earn their way to heaven by their works. They had many traditions and customs that were not solidly based on the Word of God, yet Paul did not hesitate to enter their places of worship. The Jewish community in the time of Paul was very similar to the Muslim community today.
Non-Muslims can only assist Muslim Background Believers (MBBs) in raising up special movements within Muslim communities. Only MBBs who have not been totally extracted from their community can fully carry out a true “insider” approach.
Socio-religious “insider” movements will probably usually be transitional in nature, since at some point they will most likely be excluded from the non-believing community, as were Jewish Christians in Paul’s time. Hopefully, they will be able to maintain many solid relationships and retain some degree of a positive identity. The fierce opposition of some in the Muslim community can and will result in martyrdom for some believers, just as happened with Stephen in Acts 7. The expression of “church” for “insider” MBBs will normally be through a house church model in areas that do not permit overtly public expressions of church. Pray that God raise up these movements throughout the Muslim world. (Ephesians 2:19-22; Acts 2:42; Acts 5:42; Acts 6:7; Acts 11:19-26; Acts 13:1-3; Acts 14:21-23; Acts 15:1-41; Acts 20:20; Acts 28:17-31; 1 Timothy 4:13; Titus 1:5; Hebrews 13:7,17).
The following passages illustrate Paul’s method, and we have included some quotations from commentaries that reflect on this philosophy of ministry that Paul employed.
ACTS 17:1-2, 17:17
“… they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews, and according to Paul’s custom, he went to them…”
“So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.”
- John Gill
To the Jews in their synagogue– for though the Jews had put away the Gospel from them, and the apostle had turned to the Gentiles; yet he still retained a great affection for his countrymen the Jews, and as often as he had opportunity, attended their synagogues, in order to preach the Gospel to them.
When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all ardent observers of the law. They have been informed about you—that you teach all the Jews now living among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What then should we do? They will no doubt hear that you have come. So do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself live in conformity with the law.
- Bible Knowledge Commentary
When the leaders of the Jerusalem church heard of Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles, they praised God. Undoubtedly included in this was thanksgiving for the Gentile offering to the believing Jews in Jerusalem (see comments on vv. 12-14).
While there was rejoicing over Paul’s report, there was also apprehension about Paul’s reputation among believing Jews who were zealous for the Law. A patently false report had gone out concerning Paul. It was true Paul taught Gentiles that it was religiously inconsequential whether they circumcised their sons or not and he did not teach them Jewish customs. However, he never taught Jews … not to circumcise their sons or to disregard Jewish customs.
- John MacArthur
Some Jewish believers continued to observe the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic law. Unlike the Judaizers (see note on 15:1), they did not view the law as a means of salvation.
The Judaizers were spreading false reports that Paul was teaching Jewish believers to forsake their heritage. That Paul had not abandoned Jewish customs is evident from his circumcision of Timothy (16:1–3) and his own taking of a Nazirite vow (18:18).
- Tom Constable
Having rejoiced over Paul’s account of the Gentiles’ conversion, the elders also added that thousands of Jews had become believers, many of them in Jerusalem. They explained that these Jewish Christians had some misgivings about Paul’s ministry about which they had heard. The word on the streets was that Paul was going beyond his actual practice of not requiring Gentile converts to undergo circumcision or to obey the Mosaic Law. They had heard he was telling Jewish converts not to practice circumcision or to observe the customs of Judaism. This was a false report. Paul did not teach that these customs were evil, just unnecessary for justification and sanctification.
21:22–24 The elders’ plan aimed to prove to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, and to all the Jews there, that Paul had not abandoned the customs of the Jews. He had, of course, ceased to believe and teach that salvation came by obeying the Mosaic Law. He was no longer a Jew in religion, but he was still a racial Jew and as such observed Jewish cultural practices (e.g., the Nazarite vow, 18:18).
1 CORINTHIANS 9:19-22
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.
- John Gilchrist
What, then, is the Biblical approach to Muslims in the light of this method into which the great apostle allows us to enter? It is simply this – in the same way that he became as a Jew to the Jews, so each of us must become as a Muslim to the Muslims. We must discover the beliefs of the Muslims, their view of prophetic history, their assessment of Jesus Christ, and their overall religious perception of life, and present the Gospel against that background. [1 CORINTHIANS 9:20]
- Thomas L. Constable
It was the apostle’s custom to follow Jewish ways when he was in the company of Jews. He did so to make them receptive to him and his message rather than antagonistic (cf. Acts 21:20-26). He did not do this because he felt obligated to keep the Mosaic Law. He did not feel obligated to do so (Rom. 6:14). The salvation of Jews was his objective in observing Jewish laws and customs, many of which dealt with abstaining from certain foods (cf.1 Corinthians 8:13). He had circumcised Timothy at Lystra for this purpose (Acts 16:3). [1 CORINTHIANS 9:20]
- John MacArthur
Within the limits of God’s Word and his Christian conscience, Paul would be as culturally and socially Jewish as necessary when witnessing to Jews (cf. Romans 9:3; Romans 10:1; Romans 11:14). Also see Acts 16:3; Acts 18:18, and Acts 21:20-26. [1 CORINTHIANS 9:20]
- David K. Lowery
Paul made it his custom to seek out the synagogue in each town he entered (Acts 17:2) in order to win the Jews (Romans 1:16)… He was willing to subject himself to the scruples of the Jews (e.g., Acts 21:23-36) in order to gain a hearing for the gospel and win them to Christ. Yet he never compromised the essence of the gospel at the heart of which was salvation by faith, not works (Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9) and freedom from legalism (Galatians 2:4-5). [1 CORINTHIANS 9:20]
- Donald Tingle
God did not ask the world to step into His realm to understand Him; we as Christians believe that God stepped into our world so that we could understand Him. Likewise, we must take that great step into the house of Islam, as guests, and let Christ be seen there, if the gospel is ever to be seen truthfully by the Muslim world. (“Islam and Christianity” p. 28.)
- Matthew Henry
Though he looked on the ceremonial law as a yoke taken off by Christ, yet in many instances he submitted to it, that he might work upon the Jews, remove their prejudices, prevail with them to hear the gospel, and win them over to Christ. [1 CORINTHIANS 9:20]
- Adam Clarke
In Acts 16:3, we find that for the sake of the unconverted Jews he circumcised Timothy. [1 CORINTHIANS 9:20]
- John Wesley
To the Jews I became as a Jew – Conforming myself in all things to their manner of thinking and living, so far as I could with innocence. [1 CORINTHIANS 9:20]
- A.T. Robertson
He was emancipated from the law as a means of salvation, yet he knew how to speak to the Jews because of his former beliefs and life with them (Galatians 4:21). He knew how to put the gospel to them without compromise and without offence. [1 CORINTHIANS 9:20]
- John Gill
“And unto the Jews I became as a Jew” – That is, in religion; or with respect to some religious observances peculiar to the Jews, for he himself was really a Jew by nature; who became as one unto them in this sense, when he for their sakes circumcised Timothy at Derbe, or Lystra, purified himself at Jerusalem, shaved his head at Cenchrea, observed their sabbath, and abstained from some sorts of food forbidden in the law; and his end in so doing was, not to confirm them in such usages, but that he might hereby have the greater influence over them, and by little and little bring them off of these things, or, as he says, that I might gain the Jews; bring them over to Christ, and off of a dependence on their own righteousness, for justification before God. [1 CORINTHIANS 9:20]
You observe days and months and times and years. I fear for you, lest somehow I have labored among you in vain.
- Thomas L. Constable
Paul himself observed the Jewish feasts after his conversion (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:8; Acts 20:16). However he did so voluntarily, not to satisfy divine requirements. He did not observe them because God expected him to do so but because they were a part of his cultural heritage. He also did so because he did not want to cast a stumbling block in the path of Jews coming to faith in Christ (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; cf. Romans 14:5-6). In other words, he did so to evangelize effectively, not to gain acceptance from God.
Paul kept going to the synagogue after he put his faith in Christ, even though the people who congregated there did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God, nor that He died for their sins; nor did they believe in the Holy Trinity. They were trying to win their way to heaven by keeping the Law (Romans 9:31-32). Paul loved them and desired their salvation (Romans 10:1). He was very willing to go to the Jews at their place of worship, and interact with them in the context of their own customs (Acts 9:20; Acts 13:5; Acts 14:1; Acts 16:3; Acts 17:1-2; Acts 18:4-8; Acts 18:19; Acts 21:20-26). When Paul went to Rome he identified himself as a Jew with the Jewish community (Acts 28:17). He did not say that he used to be a Jew and now was a Christian. It is interesting that when he did this there was already a Christian community there.
Jesus, Himself, is the ultimate example for all of us concerning this kind of ministry (Luke 4:16; John 18:20; Philippians 2:5-11; John 1:14; Hebrews 2:9-15 and Hebrews 4:15). We want to help raise up Muslim Background Believers and encourage them to imitate this Biblical strategy in Muslim communities throughout the Spanish-speaking world