all things to all men; all things to all people

trying to please everyone
—In order to be elected, he said whatever the voters wanted to hear and tried to become all things to all people.

While often used today as a criticism, all things to all people is used in the Bible in a positive way. Paul writes,

For since I am free from all I can make myself a slave to all, in order to gain even more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew to gain the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) to gain those under the law. To those free from the law I became like one free from the law (though I am not free from God’s law but under the law of Christ) to gain those free from the law. To the weak I became weak in order to gain the weak. I have become all things to all people [all things to all men], so that by all means I may save some. (1 Corinthians 9:19-22)

A few verses later, Paul compares himself to a serious athlete in training—not like a runner who has no direction or a boxer who only swings his fists at nothing: 

So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air [beateth the air]. (1 Corinthians 9:26)

Someone who “works hard without a purpose or without accomplishing anything” is therefore said to “beat the air.”

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