Revolutionizing Race Relationships

September 18, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #2

You are all sons of God though faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:26-28

Jew-Gentile Relationship

The first century Roman world was in some ways remarkably tolerant concerning race and even religion. According to the Caesar as long as subservient conquered people would pay homage to the Roman gods along with the Emperor and obey Roman rule they were pretty much left alone to pursue their native culture and religion. If a nation refused to do so, then such tolerance ended. Jews in Palestine were such a people. Israel was a hotbed of rebellion. This ultimately led in 70 A.D. to the complete and utter desolation of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple—the Jewish cultural and religious center.

At the core of the Jewish rebellion was a desire to be free to pursue their own interests as a nation including the practicing of their religion. Embedded within this core was a prejudicial attitude toward non-Jews. The Jewish historian Josephus noted that the Jews “did not come into contact with other people because of their separateness” (Antiq. 13:245-247; Apion, 2.210). This separateness evolved out of certain requirements of the Law. Because of their dietary requirements, ceremonial cleansing, and other such practices, most Jews viewed non-Jews as unclean. The physical mark of circumcision also separated the Jews from the rest of the population. This led to elitism and an entrenched prejudice toward non-Jewish people. As expected a pushback to this occurred from among non-Jews. In general the Jew-Gentile relationship in the first century was not a healthy one.

This is evident in Christ’s ministry. As he expanded the idea of God’s kingdom, he often prodded at the Jewish elitism identifying non-Jews as the heroes of stories (the Good Samaritan for example). He continually challenged the status quo. He wanted them to see the revolutionary nature of the kingdom of God. It was no longer just a Jewish domain nor was it ever designed to remain so. Then the apostle Paul—more than anyone else as he carried out his “ministry of reconciliation” among non-Jewish people—dealt with the struggle of Jew/Gentile racism within the church. One commentator writes of this:

From the Jews, whose view of Gentiles was filtered by Levitical prescriptions for ethnic purity, came accusations that Paul’s Gentile inclusiveness had polluted God’s covenant to His people. After all, the majority of Gentiles led unceremoniously unclean lives and held Judaism’s mores in contempt. From the Gentiles, whose view of the Jews was marked a by derogatory racial superiority, there arose a sense that Paul was futilely pandering to his kinsmen. After all, the Jews rejected their Messiah, seemingly forgoing God’s favor on them. For Paul to conjoin Jews and Gentiles together as the co-recipients of the gospel’s salvific power was to offer a gospel liable to shame from both ethnic groups.*

Fruther commentary:

The greatest threat to the Christian faith in the first century was racism. Jews and Gentiles detested each other. Both Jews and Gentiles perpetrated stereotypes. Both made false assumptions about the other. Both Jews and Gentiles thought the best way to live was at an advantageous distance from the other.*

Into all of this Paul speaks the words of Galatians 3:26-28 and it was totally revolutionary, radical and scandalous. It spoke to the very way people for generations had been identifying themselves—and proudly so–by their race, heritage and culture.

Galatia

The situation among the churches in Galatia was fairly typical of the racial dynamic of the day. Many Jews within the Galatian churches refused to accept non-Jews unless they also embraced certain Jewish traditions and customs. Paul refused this—calling their teaching “another gospel.” It was all about identity and there was just one identity that mattered—that of being in Christ. It superseded all others. In him there is neither Jew nor Greek. Within the kingdom of God our very identities are transformed. Our race takes a back seat to our faith. This was the revolutionary message to the Galatian churches then and remains so.

In Christ Race is Revolutionized

Jesus, through his death and resurrection, dramatically ripped apart the barriers of hostility that divide races (Ephesians 2:14). He is the God of both the Jew and non-Jew (Romans 3:29-30). He is the God of both black and white and every nation and tongue. It is in him and through his power that prejudice is overcome and a new revolutionary way of thinking about race and identity is lived out.

  • Redefine our Primary Identity. No longer are we to identify ourselves first as Jew/Gentile or back/white, etc. Our clothing has changed! We wear Christ as our primary identity. Even further our primary citizenship is no longer within the nation we reside. Instead it is in the kingdom of God. When we put on Christ in baptism—everything changes including the way we view ourselves. We identity first with him and his kingdom. Our priorities are revolutionized. We discover a new way of viewing other people. We are adopted into a family with a different set of values.
  • Racism is replaced with acceptance (Romans 15:7). We learn to accept each other in Christ Jesus. We are set free from suspicion and separation. It is Christ who binds us together in his grace. What brings us together in him becomes more valuable than what separated us before him. Instead of making worldly assumptions about one another based upon race or other factors, we are moved with the compassion of Jesus to accept and embrace one another based upon the fact that he saved us all with the same sacrifice. No one is superior to any other. Paul stated it clearly—all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Who are we to consider ourselves better than anyone else (Romans 2:1-2)?
  • Relationships are revolutionized. They are, in fact, redeemed in Jesus. The old way of thinking is revolutionized. In God’s kingdom relationships are based upon God’s grace. In Christ we are made to be one people—not many. Race is secondary. Christ is primary. Since he destroyed all the barriers of separation, we are now set free to embrace, accept and love each other in a way that can be found no where else—a revolution of relationships that mark us as citizens of God’s kingdom.

What emerges from this is a true post-racial community. (It is not a community free of the reality of race. Nowhere does God ask us to ignore our racial heritage and culture. Paul allowed Jewish Christians to continue to practice circumcision, dietary customs and keep Jewish holy days—as long as it never superseded their kingdom identity or they attempted to enforce them upon non-Jewish Christians). It is a community that simply refuses to allow race to be the dividing line; to create hostility and separation; or to undermine the unity of God’s kingdom. It acknowledges that racism is sin in any and every form. It strives to present the kingdom alternative—the revolutionary idea that race is not primary, but Christ is. It is the revolutionary nature of the kingdom—a place that looks like this:

After this I looked and saw a multitude too large to count, from every nation and tribe and people and tongue, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! –Revelation 7:9-10

Want to revolutionize race relations in our world? The only way is Jesus. The only place is in his kingdom.

 

Both quotes are taken from article entitled. “The Gospel, Unashamed: Race Relations in Rome, Part 2 on the Downline Ministry Blogpost of July 17, 2016. 

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Truth, Propositional and Relational

February 14, 2013

The excellent article below was written by Cecil May, Jr. who currently serves as a Dean at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama. Brother May is a highly respected scholar of the Word, educator, and preacher. The article first appeared in the February 2013 publication, Preacher Talk. It is presented here with his permission. Brother May’s email is cmay@faulkner.edu if you would like to contact him about the article. 

A frequently heard postmodern statement is “Truth is not propositional; it is relational.

It is worthy of notice that much of postmodern writing and conversation, including this sentence, is self-contradictory. “Truth is not propositional; it is relational,” is itself a proposition. Is it true?

It is important to understand that Christian truth is personal and relational. Jesus is a person and he is truth personified (John 14:6). Jesus said in a prayer to his Father, “And this is eternal life, that they know you are the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

In order to know “the only true God and Jesus” we must know what Scripture tells us about them; or better said, what they tell us about themselves in Scripture. But an unbeliever can know everything Scripture says about Jesus and still not have eternal life. It is one thing to know about him and another to know him. Jesus told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). There is a real person to whom the facts in Scripture speak, and we know him, the living Christ by faith. Christian truth is relational. It also brings us into precious relationships with others who by faith follow Jesus Christ to eternal life.

Christian truth is also propositional. Any sentence intended to state a truth is a proposition and that describes  many Christian truths. Jesus’ statements, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), are often cited to show truth is relational. But they are propositions, and if they are not truth, there is no basis for saying truth is relational.

Simon Peter’s statement to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), is a proposition. If it is not true, any relationship people may think they have is not with Jesus, but with an invention of their own subjective imaginations.

“Jesus is Lord” and “God raised Jesus from the dead” are propositions. They are true and they must be believed and confessed if we are to have a relationship with Jesus and God. “Because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9)

Jesus himself asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). Propositional truth  becomes relational truth when we trust and obey.


We Are All in it Together

September 20, 2012

From the archives:

 

To say that the Corinthian church had problems would be more than a slight understatement. Even though they were God’s church, they weren’t acting much like it. They allowed personalities, noncritical issues, and jealousies to divide them. They forgot the wonderful and imperative principle of unity. They were splintered and hurting. They needed a strong dose of spiritual medicine and the Apostle Paul provided it.

In 12:12-26 he reminds them of a crucial and basic truth. It is all about unity. In essence his message to them was “We are all in this together.” We still are:

  • Everyone is Extremely Important. By using the human body to analogize, Paul demonstrates the essentiality of every member. The weak, the feeble, the struggling are just as significant and necessary as the strong and vibrant. The church cannot function in the fullest sense without any of them. Every single person is needed in God’s church. We don’t dare think otherwise. Instead of allowing our weaker parts to fall away, we should be fighting for their souls.
  • We are Not in Competition. Our eyes do not compete with our ears. They each have their place and function and both contribute vitally to the well being of the body. Shouldn’t it be this way in the church as well? Our ministry efforts should support one another. Each of us should be in the glorious business of encouraging one another. Why should anyone ever feel threatened by the good work of others? Rather we should be rejoicing and giving God all of the glory and praise for the fruitful labor of those in Christ’s body.
  • God Put Us Here. Just where he wanted us to be (vs. 18)! Who are we to question his wisdom? It is an arrogant act to bind where God has not bound and draw lines of fellowship and acceptance that have never existed. To mistreat or turn away from our brothers and sisters because of jealousies or pettiness (or any reason) is totally out of place in God’s church.
  • We Need Each Other. No one should ever be so presumptuous as to think or say otherwise. In this context Paul emphasizes that even the weakest  among us is “indispensable.” Yes, some among us will struggle and stumble, but God wants us to allow them space to grow and encourage that process within them. We will not make heaven alone. We need each other and we need to express it. Let’s love and encourage our brothers and sisters all along our journey together to heaven!
  • Let Division Never Be! This was Paul’s foundational message to Corinth. Division on every level is damaging. Are personalities, jealousies, pride, prejudice, and issues really worth the hurt and pain of division? The wounds and scars of division run deep and call for long recovery. It ought not ever be in God’s house. We are all one in Christ Jesus.

Christ paid the ultimate price for this unity. We do not have the right or authority to tamper with it. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body” is how Paul states it in this text. We are all in it together. What a marvelous blessing. Let’s demonstrate it!


When Church Makes You Sick

February 21, 2012

Ephesus was a tough assignment. The church was broken. False teaching poisoned the atmosphere. There was an intimidation factor among the leadership. Young widows were being manipulated, creating havoc in benevolent efforts and overall church affairs. They dressed scandalously and spent their time gossiping while on the church dime. The church treasury was being plundered by greedy preachers who also served as elders. In fact it was they who were stirring up the women and poisoning the church- guys like Alexander and Hymenaeus.

Into this mess Paul sent young Timothy.

In reading the two letters that bear his name, you get the impression that he was not quite ready for it. Repeatedly Paul had to prop him up. Paul knew of the fire-pit Timothy had been thrust into and knew the tremendous task that awaited him- as well as the great need for Timothy to succeed in leading this church back to good health. (Just read 1 Timothy 1). But Timothy seemed to struggle.

So Paul urged him to “fight the good fight.”  He reminded him to live up to the anointing he had received. He counseled him not to be intimidated because he was younger than the treacherous Ephesian church leadership. He encouraged him to overcome his shyness and fear to speak boldly and fearlessly for God. He repeatedly used words like “command” to nudge Timothy to be more forceful in carrying out his work as an evangelist- while at the same time providing him meticulous instructions on how to proper handle himself to best guard his reputation in the volatile climate of that church.  Paul even continually reminded Timothy of the kind of healthy teaching he was to share in order to counter the popular but unwholesome fables which were wrecking that church- almost as if Timothy was himself in danger of being sucked into these controversies.

Among all of this advice, instruction, reminders, warnings, and encouragement is this:

Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and frequent illnesses- 1 Timothy 5:23

So Timothy had stomach problems. Really? It should come as no surprise considering the pressure he was under. The church had made him sick!

Outrageous? I don’t think so. If you have ever been involved in anything like what he was dealing with- you can relate. Could it be that Paul’s teaching to men about “raising holy hands” in prayer was meant not only just to teach a prayer posture, but to prevent them from using their hands to harass and hurt each other?

Yes, the church can make you sick,  Not the beautiful bride of Christ in all of her splendor and glory, but the weak, misguided, flesh-bound folks who, by grace, make up this church. We can make that much of a mess- and when we do it ain’t pretty. Timothy lived it in Ephesus.

So what did he do?

He hung in there. He endured hardship. He did the work of an evangelist. He continued to emphasize healthy teaching. He avoided being sucked into foolish and empty discussions. He demonstrated a better leadership model than previously seen in Ephesus. He worked to squash quarrels. He unashamedly testified about Christ. He knew Jesus was the answer to make that church whole again. He leaned on what he had known since his infancy- God’s Word. He never gave up, quit, ran away, or considered a job change. He guarded what Paul had entrusted to him. He gave it all he had- for the kingdom’s sake. Ephesus was, after all, still God’s church.

It wasn’t easy for him. Who likes to be sick? But he endured and by the time we read about Ephesus again- it was a healthier church.

So remember Timothy if the church ever makes you sick. Don’t give up. Rather work to bring healing. It may be why you are there.

“The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”


“We Will Understand It Better By and By”

March 14, 2011

The melody still echoes vividly in my memory. I was in college and visiting the Tipton Street Church of Christ in Kosciusko, Mississippi. The rich voices and harmony of my brothers and sisters singing:

Trials dark on every hand,
and we cannot understand
all the ways of God would lead us
to that blessed promised land;
but he guides us with his eye,
and we’ll follow till we die,
for we’ll understand it better by and by.

With tsunamis crashing down; gas prices skyrocketing up; crises in the Middle East; civil unrest in the States; cancer being diagnosed in my family and friends; and consistent attempts to marginalize the message of Christ, it is certainly a time of “trials dark on every hand.”  Part of me desires immediate answers and solutions- just like Job. But- just like Job- those answers are not for me to wrestle with now. (See Job 38-42.) Instead I am called upon by God to live by faith.

I recognize that this seems a poor solution by some- maybe even a uninformed substitute for reality. But to me it is the only context through which to process life with any hope at all.  Outside of faith, the answers often still do not add up- leaving more questions. Plus there is nothing to hope for beyond what we have. God promises more. In him there is hope beyond our trials.

Consider Paul’s counsel in Romans 8:16-39. God promises:

  • Sonship- The Spirit testifies that we are God’s children. We are the sons and daughters of God. Amazing to consider, but true. He adopted us (Ephesians 1:5) and placed us into his family (1 Corinthians 12:18). No matter how dark the trials get we are assured the blessings of God’s family.
  • Inheritance- One of those joys is our promised inheritance which is equal that of Christ himself. Imagine the immense riches awaiting all God’s children! But also know this- it may also mean an equal share in the suffering of Christ. Heaven, however, Paul next reminds us- will be worth it.
  • Future Glory- Compared to the glory of eternal treasure that awaits- our trials are truly minimal (see also 2 Corinthians 4:17). Granted, this is a faith perspective. Job did not think his trials minimal, but eventually through faith was able to realize a greater perspective and rediscover his ability to trust God.
  • Victory- We are “more than conquerors.” Only through a faith perspective can we comprehend this. In Christ we have resources and certain promises that disasters, recessions, terrorism, injustice and disease cannot diminish. Nothing can separate us from the wonderful, eternal consequences of God’s love.

I freely admit. I do not understand it all now, but I put my faith in him who does.

By and by, when the morning comes,
when the saints of God are gathered home,
we’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome,
for we’ll understand it better by and by.


Endeavor to Keep the Unity!

February 22, 2011

Such was Paul’s divine mandate to the Ephesians (4:1-6). But the original source of this idea is even above Paul’s head. Remember Christ’s unity prayer in John 17:20-23? Unity is a precious biblical commodity. Division discredits the Christian message and disqualifies Christians as credible messengers of Christ. A unified people are a strong people. A unified church is a mighty force for God. Little wonder why Paul repeatedly emphasized it (see 1 Corinthians 1:10).

The Psalmist had it right, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity” (133:1)

Some points to consider about unity:

  • Unity Takes Effort.  This is why Paul instructs us to “make every effort” or to “endeavor.” Developing and maintaining unity among even people who have much in common often takes an intentional effort. To do it- our hearts must be filled with humility, gentleness, patience and love (4:2) and our focus must be upon what holds us together (In the text Paul’s provides” seven ones” around which we should unite).
  • There is Unity in Diversity. Actually it can’t be found any other way. Beyond the “seven ones” of the Ephesian text there was great diversity in New Testament churches. Even as Paul instructed the Corinthians to “speak the same thing” he allowed for differences on certain matters. Jewish Christians and Greek Christians came to Christ’s with vastly divergent backgrounds and expectations. In the book of Romans Paul teaches them how to find unity in this diversity.  It wasn’t easy. It takes a certain amount of  accepting each other just as we are. Remember unity takes effort- especially in diversity, but it is well worth it. We have an old saying about unity in Churches of Christ which states it well: “In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; in all things, love.”
  • Unity is My Responsibility. I must do my part to maintain it. Never should I assume I have the right to tamper with it. God has clearly mandated that no division should exist within Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:25).  It is in fact unity created by his Spirit and he absolutely “hates” it when this unity is threatened (Read Proverbs 6:16-19). If this unity is disturbed I am to make every effort- “in the bond of peace”- to restore it.
  • Unity Reflects Heaven. How can we be a credible witness for the unity of the Godhead and their mission to unify us to them through the blood of Jesus (Ephesians 2:14-18) if we are a divided people? Division, divisive attitudes, factions, fear, splits, continuousness, polarization do not reflect heaven. Seeking unity through peace, patience, grace, humility and the wisdom of God does.

There is nothing quite as beautiful and satisfying to the Father than to see his children working, worshipping, and living together united. By the way, there is nothing quite as threatening to Satan either.

So take up this “endeavor” and make every effort to promote unity and peace in and out of God’s church. Let’s all strive to be one as Christ and the Father are one.


“Blessed Are the Peacemakers”

February 17, 2011

So says the Prince of Peace (See Matthew 5:9). He knows whereof he speaks- having himself brought peace and reconciliation to the Creator and the creation through his blood (Ephesians 2:14-18). Now he seeks a people of peace. Disciples who will share it, honor it and promote it. Who will let this “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7) reign and overflow to others. Peacemakers are blessed. “They shall be called sons of God,” Jesus says.

This peace stems from the very person of God (1 Thessalonians 4:23). Strife, divisiveness, arguments, dissention, turmoil, factions, grudges, confusion, etc. have no place where he reigns. (God “hates” such- Proverbs 6:19). Nor should any of these define God’s people.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. – Romans 14:19

This is what peacemakers do and their ministry is just as urgently needed now- in and out of the church- as ever.

Peacemakers:

  • Seek Solutions.  Like spiritual ambassadors always seeking out a way to let peace rule. Problems always exist. Peacemakers seek to peacefully solve them.
  • Promote Harmony.  This is at the heart of peacemaking. Like Scripture teaches, “Finally all of you, live in harmony with one another, be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8).
  • Generate Goodwill.  The atmosphere created and encouraged by peacemakers is a joy. That is why it is a “beatitude.” It is spiritually healthy and conducive for growth and goodwill.

God blesses all who seek and promote his peace. All who do are lights shining a dark world. All who do are invaluable to God’s kingdom. All who do are sons and daughters of the King!

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. – Romans 12:18

With this blessed attitude we can’t go wrong.  Praise God for the peacemakers!