Some years ago, my fellow pastor Joshua and I went to the island of Zanzibar to preach the gospel. One evening our host tuned his TV to a channel which I had never seen before. It was an Arabic Christian channel, and in that particular program they were singing gospel songs in Arabic. The words they were singing raced at the bottom of the screen and I could clearly see that these were Arabs singing songs of praise to Jesus.
Let me say in all honesty that at that point in my life I had never heard of a saved Arab, and it had never entered my contemplative realm that an Arab could get saved. My view of the Arab was permanently one of a violent and incorrigibly irreconciliable species.
As I sat there watching this program, the tears began rolling down my cheeks. In the weak light provided by a low-watt bulb, I allowed myself to cry like a baby. What I was witnessing was contrary to what I thought I knew. I never imagined the day would arrive when I would be seeing with my own eyes an Arab praising Jesus!
But here I was seeing Arabic brothers and sisters – saints – magnifying our Lord Jesus Christ! Deep in my heart I repented of my pride and folly.
Ever since that day I have come to realize that I have a lot to learn about God’s grace and love.
People in the modern world might not notice it, but the natural differences that Paul outlines in Colossians 3 are some of the most notorious roadblocks for believers. But they are just that – natural, a result of the flesh. And yet people – believers – allow the flesh to imprison them in racism, bigotry, prestige, self-importance – and they miss God’s mark.
But scripture is un-ambiguous. Once we are in Christ, all our differences, whether genetic or whether picked up along the way, all get bulldozed to the ground. That is the power of the gospel. If the gospel cannot break down the barriers that separate us, then that is simply not the gospel of Jesus Christ!
“… there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free”.
Neither in Paul’s day nor in ours could the name “Barbarian” be referring to a civilized people. And in fact history does relate that the Barbarians and the Scythians were extremely barbaric races. They were certainly not anyone’s idea of a neighbor, let alone a ‘brother’.
But one day the gospel of peace knocked at the gates of these war-like tribes and Paul intimates here that these people also accepted Jesus into their hearts. Many other assorted races and tribes also received the gospel, including many uncircumcised (whom Paul told to stay put with their skins on).
The minute these people began turning to the Lord, the whole equation changed. Now they were no longer classifiable as “barbaric”, “uncivilized” or ”uncircumcised”. On the contrary, these were now dear, beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord.
It may be that they still carried with them their uncivilized customs, but Paul is reminding everyone that once a man is in Christ, we can no longer regard or measure them in any physical aspect.
“… henceforth know we no man after the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:17).
(To this day, most tribes that circumcise have a problem accepting those who do not. Paul, a circumcised man, had no such problem).
But for the spiritual man all that matters now is living the crucified life, where we are called upon to take up our cross daily and follow Christ.
Unfortunately, there are still people in church, brethren, who will want to consider things in the flesh. They will regard their fellow brethren in the flesh, and they court relationships in the flesh. It is incredulous, but you will find in church people attached to each other by restrictions of color, race or tribe; education or social status, or wealth. People ‘grade’ themselves in church! It is so sad that these things should be so. This indicates that these people have failed to clear the bar of bigotry.
And yet the Apostle Paul says that the only thing that matters after we receive Christ is how we walk a holy, Godly and loving life. That life is our common denominator. God will praise or ‘grade’ us to the extent that we are willing to live the Christian lifestyle, which in practical terms translates to losing our lives for the sake of Christ.
I am so thankful for the many brethren, men and women from all walks of life and from West to East, whom God has brought my way and given us the grace to know and love one another in truth and in the Spirit. Yes, I thank the true church of Christ, of whom I am a part, for enriching my life beyond my wildest dreams.
[Below: With Pastor Joshua]