*By Dave Zuleger, lead pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church (south campus).
A Day of Divide
We’re living in an age of divide. An age where the cultural and political winds seek to convince us that our differences are not ordained to highlight the brilliance of a wonderful Creator, but instead ought to be weaponized to win the cultural moment or election. An age where races, ethnicities, genders, economic classes, and parties are weaponized against each other.
Yet, as blood-bought Christians we know that the Bible teaches us that all humans are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28), all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), all need redemption that tears down walls of hostility (cf. Ephesians 2), and one there will be a people defined by the blood of Lamb from all the peoples (cf. Revelation 5) who have found Jesus to be their supreme treasure they would trade away everything else for (Matthew 13:44). There is a beautiful unity amidst all of the diversity God has created and he means for Christians to be part of the work of reconciling not weaponizing.
He First Loved Us
How can the Christian speak and live in such a way that begins to practically tear down walls of hostility? It may sound simple and trite, but Christians can love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).
Our God – who is love – purchased a beautifully diverse people to make one in Christ (cf. Ephesians 2) by the blood of his Son. This is how God loved the world – that he sent his only Son, that whosoever would believe in him would not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
That same love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 5) who indwells believers and empowers them to glorify Christ (John 16:14) by being ambassadors of his good news to a dying and divided world (cf. 2 Corinthians 5).
Two Sides of the Same Coin
So, in the midst of a lot of divisive noise in the culture we’re currently living in, what are some practical, clear ways we can move forward as those whose citizenship is first in the kingdom of God and not in this world (cf. Philippians 3)? In other words, what are some “kingdom ambitions” we can seek to apply in our daily lives and encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ towards?
James, the brother of our Lord, whose book is often applying the words of Jesus we see in the Gospels, gives us two sides to the same coin in James 2.
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)
This is a strong commandment of what not to do. As those who hold to the reality that all humans are made in the image of God and in need of reconciliation by the gospel of Jesus Christ, we dare not show partiality. We dare not treat people as if their worth or value is based on some external appearance or circumstance. We dare not make distinctions and make ourselves the judge of other humans beings with our evil thoughts and motivations.
Listen, we are prone to this. We all drift towards people who are more like us and who we feel comfortable around. Perhaps that’s a particular ethnic group for you. Perhaps that’s a particular economic class. Perhaps it’s a certain affinity group. This is the human condition and why James addresses it as he writes to the church of God. We like comfort and commonality. We shy away from diversity that pushes us or makes us uncomfortable.
Most of us wouldn’t explicitly tell someone to sit somewhere else away from us or in a way that would seem less than us (though that is the history of our nation!), but we simply do this with our time and relationships. O, Christians, let us not show partiality. If that is what we ought not to do, – what should we do?
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. (James 2:8)
There’s so much more to unpack in James 2 and you should go read it. But, the positive side of this coin is to love your neighbor as yourself. Now, let us be careful that we not ask the question the lawyer asked in Luke 10, “Who is my neighbor?” and seek to justify ourselves like he did. If we do that, we will hear Jesus refusing to answer our question and instead telling us what it looks like to be a good neighbor.
And it looks a lot like imitating the love of the gospel. The Good Samaritan (in Luke 10) moved toward pain without partiality (even though there were massive ethnic realities at play), loved at great cost to himself, and paid the price for the healing until he would return. What does that sound like to you? It sounds like our Savior who entered into our sinful pain and mess, loved at great cost to himself, and paid the price for healing for all who would believe until he returns again.
Look Around, Listen, and Love
So, Christians, let’s be those who keep our eyes open to the pain around us. John Piper once said, “Christian love moves towards need, not comfort.” Oh, how we need sacrificial, impartial love in our day. Oh, how we need Christians who consider themselves citizens of the kingdom of God first – with an obligation to speak and act with kingdom allegiances before any other allegiance. Oh, how we need to be those listen carefully to those who are in pain around us and then love them with the truth of the gospel.
Today and every day your job – that flows out of your redemption and is empowered by the Spirit that dwells within you – is to fulfill the royal law of love. To love as you have been loved. To see diversity around you as an opportunity for the glorious unity in Christ to shine. To show no partiality and be instruments of reconciliation instead of giving into the culture of weaponization.
If we fulfill the royal law we are doing well – for the good of all peoples around us and the glory of God.