Our world is becoming more and more divided. In politics, the polarization of parties and ideologies is increasing as much as the division between the rich and the poor. Even in churches, divisions and segregation are practiced every day. Sadly, tribalism is stronger than ever.
In our church, I have been preaching out of the book of Galatians. It has been a wonderful journey of seeing the work of Christ as more than forgiveness and eternal life. As Christians, we tend to focus on the work of Christ – all the things He has done for us. This is the gospel. This is good. However, I think what we have neglected to focus on or practice are the outcomes of the gospel that lead to change in our relationship with one another.
One such outcome is found in Galatians 3:28. Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This verse breaks down the walls between all believers. In essence, this is what unity in the gospel looks like. There are no divisions between different races, genders or by social status.
This does not negate the distinction or diversity in the church. We are all created in God’s image, yet each of us is unique in our personalities, backgrounds and gifting. But at the core of our being and our unity and oneness, is our faith in Jesus Christ.
One of the things people forget about the gospel is it has radical social implications. On one hand, it means that I am a Christian before I am anyone or anything else but it also means that all the barriers that separate people in the world into warring factions come down in Christ. I hear a lot of people use terms like “community” and “tribe” to identify themselves. In Christendom, this is usually through denominational ties. Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals and the list goes on and on. But even in local churches, we use terms like “young married” or “youth” and “university students” to identify and sadly segregate ourselves. The Bible is quite clear that in Christ, your identity is not your name, your gender, your age, your race, your denominational affiliation or what you do. Your identity is Jesus. When it comes to things that divide us, Paul focuses on three barriers that are broken down.
The first barrier Paul addresses is the cultural barrier. He begins by saying there is “neither Jew nor Greek.” Many of us hold tightly to our culture. For many, it identifies and defines us. Culture in and of itself is not a bad thing but cultural divisions are to have no part in the church of Christ. People of one culture do not need to become like another culture in order to be accepted by God. That is what Paul was dealing with in the church.
The majority of Paul’s ministry was to the Gentiles, people not bound by the dietary and ceremonial laws of the Jews. But some people came from another church teaching that Gentiles needed to follow the Jewish laws and customs on top of their faith. Paul confronted them of their heresy, thereby keeping the gospel about grace.
We still see today how this affects church unity and fellowship. We should accept one another without one group feeling or declaring the superiority of its cultural wars over another. Inside the church, we should associate with and love one another across racial and cultural barriers. In the end, it comes down to acceptance and love.
The second barrier is the class barrier. Again Paul writes, there is “neither… slave nor free.” Many professionals spend their personal time with those in the same vocation. Teachers spend time with teachers. Doctors spend time with doctors. Much of it is based upon going through their education together. Although there is nothing sinful about this, these kinds of borders or dividing lines should not exist in the church.
We see it in politics all the time. Wealthy corporations lobby and pressure politicians to make laws or decisions that will benefit their business. Sadly, I have seen this exercised in the church as well when pastors and leaders are influenced by large supporters in the church who like to “control” things in the background.
Class or economic status should not be extended into the church. James makes it pretty clear on giving preferential treatment to someone who might be wealthier. We too need to remember that the poor or modestly paid worker must not be made to feel inferior in any way. On the other hand, the well-off must not be resented or shunned. Christ is our foundation and unity. Rich or poor, we are equal in Christ.
The last barrier is probably the most controversial one Paul deals with here. In our modern culture, it may not seem like a big deal, but in Paul’s day, it was. He writes, there is “neither… male nor female.” We know that culture was a big issue. Jews were God’s chosen people, “set apart” from the world. But, Gentiles could be converted to Judaism.
In Paul’s day, to elevate the status of women was unfathomable. The issue of gender went against the very core of their beliefs and values. In Paul’s day, women were considered absolutely inferior to men. Many today see Paul as a patriarchal misogynistic women hater, yet when you read this passage, you see a man who was revolutionary in his view of women. Because of Jesus, women are to be seen as equal in Christ, therefore, they must be seen equal in gifting and ability as men.
The fallen state of humanity reduces each of us to the same level – we are all lost and in need of saving. The Good News of Jesus Christ tells us the only answer to this need is what He did on the cross on each of our behalfs. No one is more needed and no one is more deserving. That is why Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
God and Paul knew that divisions are a part of human depravity. If we are truthful, all of us have a tendency to put ourselves above others. But when it comes to salvation and our relationships in the church, everyone is the same. Christ came to tear the veil between God and humanity and break down the walls that divide us from each other. Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” True unity in Christ is expressed in our love for one another and that is what our fractured world needs to see and experience.
May the Lord help us to break down the walls, these things that so easily divide and fill us with the love and unity that comes from our relationship with Him.