One In Christ

Where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:11).

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” This is the one of the ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, but the idea did not originate there. The idea that all men (and women) stand as equals before their Creator comes from Paul and the New Testament.

Paul emphasizes to the Colossians (and to the Galatians in Galatians 3:28) all divisions that keep people apart in the world have no place in the Kingdom of Christ. Rich or poor, slave or free, Greek, Jew, or barbarian, man or woman – all can be in Jesus Christ, and all are one in Christ.

This message was radical in the first century and it remains radical in the twenty-first. Even though it has been the ideal to believe that all men are created equal, there still remains plenty of prejudice in society. Racial disharmony still exists, even though few speak about it openly and plainly. There remains plenty of judgmentalism against those in different economic classes, regions of the country, cultures, and so on and so forth. We can always find plenty of reasons to consider people of other classes, cultures, races, languages, etc., as inferior or worth less than ourselves.

Yet none of this is true in reality. The truth – uncomfortable for many – is that we are all sinners, we are all guilty, and there is no reason for any of us to feel morally superior or inferior to anyone else (Romans 3:23, Philippians 2:1-4). Believers in Christ should actually be thankful for this– after all, if God were going to be prejudicial, He would have favored Israel according to the flesh, and we who are Gentiles would remain excluded from the covenant and condemned (cf. Ephesians 2:1-18)! Jesus of Nazareth was a first-century Palestinian Jew, not a white Anglo-Saxon American, or African-American, or Hispanic, or anything else. Through His death He reconciled us all to Him so that we would not be hindered by these divisions any longer (cf. Ephesians 2:11-18)!

Let us not imagine that it was “different” or “easier” then than it is now. For generations Jews were raised to feel morally superior to Gentiles (cf. Galatians 2:15); in Christ, they were now one. Greeks were bred to feel superior to all the heathen barbarians and their barbarian tongues (the word “barbarian” comes from the “bar,” “bar” sounds that Greeks heard as the language of foreigners); now, in Christ, they were one with those barbarians. In fact, even the Scythians, who defined barbarianism and were the ultimate in unsophisticated, could be one in Christ with Greeks and Romans and Jews!

The situation was similar for masters and slaves and men and women. After all, according to the society of the day, there was a reason that masters were masters and slaves were slaves. Yet now master and slave were both slaves of Christ (cf. Romans 6:18-23), and were now one in Christ. Ancient societies, in general, believed women to be morally and intellectually inferior to men. Yet, in Christ, both have equal standing. Notice that this equality does not change the fact that men and women and masters and slaves have different roles in which they function, and those roles are maintained (cf. Ephesians 5:23-6:9). Yet they all remain equally valuable before God.

Until the Lord returns, people will continue to use the differences that exist among themselves to judge one another, condemn one another, exclude one another, and to dislike one another. After all, it is more comfortable to believe that one is better because of one’s race, nationality, ethnicity, cultural heritage, class, and the like. Nevertheless, Jesus broke down all such barriers when He suffered and died on the cross. The hostility has been killed. God’s manifold wisdom can now shine forth in the church– the assembly of the saints, Jew and Gentile, white, black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and east or south Asian, rich and poor, male and female, employer and employee. A group of people who believe that whom you serve is far more important than what you look like or who your ancestors are or how much money you have in the bank. A place where different people with different abilities and perspectives come together to make up for the deficiencies of each other to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

That is a beautiful vision, and if we believe in Christ, we must work to put that vision into place. We can only do that by killing our own hostility toward other people through reflecting Christ: self-sacrifice, humility, and love (cf. Romans 8:29, 12:1). The barriers we may be tempted to build up against other people based on race, class, or culture must be torn down if we are going to show the love of Christ to all men and women (cf. 1 John 4:7-21)! Our faith and confidence rests on the fact that God no longer shows partiality (Romans 2:11); if we continue to show partiality and prejudice, how can we live godly lives? Let us put to death any hostility and prejudice that may remain in our hearts toward our fellow man, just as we put the man of sin to death (cf. Romans 6:6, 1 Peter 2:24), and glorify God that we can all be one in Christ!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

What Is Man?

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, And crownest him with glory and honor (Psalm 8:3-5).

For generations man has looked upward toward the heavens and have marveled. The stars seem to go on forever! Not a few ancient cultures considered the moon to be divine. Many believed that the stars represented divine ancestors. The night sky has always been a source of myths and wonder.

David also looked up into that night sky and marveled at the mighty hand of the One True God. That night sky caused him to reflect on his own existence and he is struck by his relative insignificance. He marvels that God would even give pause to consider such a little creature as man since He created such massive and distant objects.

That feeling is entirely understandable, and for many people, extremely uncomfortable. We do not like being reminded that we are insignificant and small – we like to think of ourselves as something significant, important, and meaningful, and have done so since the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:4). But all it takes is one look back up into the heavens to bring us back down to earth. We are small. We are insignificant. We do not deserve the time or the attention of the most holy Creator of the universe.

And yet, as David understands, God has considered our estate. He has granted us glory and honor even though we do not deserve it. We have been given the opportunity to rule over the earth and all that lives in it (cf. Psalm 8:6-8). We have been made a little lower than God, having the ability to think and reason and create (cf. Genesis 1:27-28).

Unfortunately, sin has devastated that relationship and has marred our ways of thinking (Isaiah 59:1-2, Romans 5:12-18). Too many are willing to arrogate for themselves the position of the “greatest in all the universe” after attempting to remove God from the equation. As opposed to realizing how small and insignificant we are, and therefore to give thanks for the opportunity to even be recognized by God, too many are willing to stand and believe that they are the masters of the present universe and refuse to humble themselves.

The creation around us, however, manifests the power of its Creator, as David confesses here and Paul in Romans 1:19-20. We have not deserved any of the blessings God has given us – life, stature, salvation, and even association with Him (cf. Romans 5:1-11, Ephesians 1:3). God has done all these things for His glory and His praise, and it is right to honor and glorify Him for His wonderful work. Let us remember who we are and praise the God who gave us life and stature!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

Conformity

For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29).

And be not fashioned [conformed] according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2).

Conformity involves taking the shape of one’s surroundings. A simple way to see conformity in action is to consider a glass of water: if the glass is tall and thin, the water is tall and thin. If you pour the water into a short and wide glass, the water will take on that shape. If the glass spills, the water spreads over the surface of the ground. It would be an odd day indeed if water no longer took the shape of its environment!

Many people have a very uneasy feeling about conformity. For the most part, being called a conformist is not a compliment. Nevertheless, everyone, to some degree, is a conformist. Everyone follows some type of pattern! Many young people seek to free themselves from the conformity of their parents and/or the system, but in the process conform themselves to the groupthink, habits, and styles of their peers. Even nonconformists conform to something, even if it is not the standard mold!

The Bible makes it clear that everyone conforms to something. In fact, there are only two forms to which we can conform: to the world (Romans 12:2) or to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

Conformity to the world is easy: it does not take much effort. You can just go along with the flow. Conformity to the world may take on many forms. It may mean that you blindly follow the customs and traditions of your family. It may involve the repudiation of those traditions for other views. It could be just based on cultural conditioning and accepting the prejudices and norms of early twenty-first century America. It might involve following after popular religious trends or forms of spirituality that are not consistent with the revelation of God in the Scriptures (cf. Galatians 1:6-9). Or it may be blazing your own path and doing what you think is right. All of these, and many more, are simply different ways to conform to the world and its thoughts and lusts (cf. 1 John 2:15-17). They may be easier to handle in life, but they come with a heavy consequence in death (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)!

The more challenging path is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. His way is truly counter-cultural and against conventional wisdom. Jesus came to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20:25-28). He was humble, and declared that the humble would be exalted while the exalted would be humbled (Matthew 23:12). He loved everyone, including those who hated Him (Matthew 5:38-48). He ultimately expended His life for God’s purposes, and challenged His followers to do the same (Matthew 16:21-25).

Conformity to the image of Christ is difficult indeed. It requires constant growth and work and all of our resources (2 Peter 3:18, Galatians 2:20). We must constantly and honestly compare ourselves to Jesus our Standard and work to better reflect Him (2 Corinthians 13:5). It may lead to persecution, temptation, hardship, and perhaps even death. Yet, while it may be difficult for the time being, it cannot be compared to the eternal weight of glory that await those who are conformed to the image of Jesus the Son (cf. Romans 8:18, 2 Corinthians 4:17-18)!

That’s the choice with which we are all faced. Shall we just go along with the crowd and conform to the world? Or shall we stand against the corruption of the world and be conformed to Christ? Eternity hangs in the balance. The path may be difficult, but let us be conformed to the image of Jesus the Christ, and obtain eternal life!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

Honoring the Name We Wear

We take pride in the names we wear. Our family names serve as a form of heritage and pride. Those names earn a reputation and reflects upon others in our family. The same is true of our name as Christian. Like we can bring honor or shame to our physical family, our conduct reflects upon other Christians and on Christ, the head of our family. Some family names are honored or scorned for their places in history. What reputation are we building for our spiritual name?

In Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, and I Peter 4:16, we find the only places where the term Christian is used in the scriptures, identifying those who are followers of Christ. It’s a name that brings great responsibility. It is part of our identity, and it defines the relationship we should have with Jesus. We should, therefore, be glorifying the name of our Father in our conduct. It’s easy to wear the name of Christian while our actions belie the claim – wearing the name for its secular benefits. We can contradict our own claims, invalidating the message of Christ, while we disregard His examples and teachings in our lives.

Wearing the Name of Chris

We cannot wear our name half-heartedly. We cannot wear this name without submitting to and following Christ’s name. It’s more than being a member of a church. Matthew 7:13-14 calls on us to be careful of our spiritual path, striving for the road chosen by few. The paths we choose can help create a good reputation or a poor one for fellow Christians. There are many names we honor, but the name of Christian is the greatest we could hope to wear. Isaiah 56:5 speaks of a name better than a family name – one that will last forever. Also, in Isaiah 62:2, the prophet says all will wear an name granted by their Lord.

We need to recognize the distinction of our spiritual name. We need to understand the meaning behind that name as those in Acts 5:41 who counted it joy to be persecuted for the sake of Christ’s name. We can never forget who we are when we are at home or when we are around others.

It is a name that is blessed when worn properly. This means we live, follow, and serve Christ in all we do. Matthew 6:33 calls on us to seek Christ first, and Matthew 7:11 reminds us that our Father blesses those who follow Him. In James 1:17, we read that all perfect gifts come from above. We are blessed among our Christian family, but the spiritual blessings, like those found in Ephesians 1:3, are the greatest. Forgiveness, redemption, the gift of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s mediation, eternal rest – these are an inheritance associated with our name that none can steal away. Jesus, in John 14:3, promises He prepares a place for those who wear come to Him.

We are taught we take Christ’s name on when we submit to His will and we continue in His word after our conversion. Taking on His name is a great responsibility; it’s a lifetime work of service. We should be servants, examples, walking the way our Savior has shown us. It takes care and responsibility as a disciple. It takes diligence to develop self control and restraining our selfish desires and impulses. Ecclesiastes 12:13 reminds us that following our God is our all.

Living to a Standard

Romans 15:1, I Corinthians 3:1, Revelation 3:15, Ephesians 4:14-16 – these verses are a sampling of those that describe the maturity toward which we should be working as Christians. There is a difference between calling ourselves Christians and acting like it. Are we living the name we wear, or do we shame the name of Christ when influenced by the world? We need to be self-reflective in our conduct – our treatment of others, our speech, our general conduct. When our real selves come out, we should be revealed to truly be Christ-like in our attitudes and the decisions we make in every setting.

Our actions can either lift up or bring down our family names. We build a reputation around ourselves, and our conduct also reflects back on Jesus. Even when we post things online, we are showing who we are and what’s important to us. We should be wearing Christ’s name with honor at all times. How would He respond to a waiter or waitress in a restaurant? How would He treat someone who cuts us off in traffic? How would He treat someone who disagrees with Him? We need to be aware of our actions in comparison to those of Jesus.

Am I involved in my service to Christ? Am I restraining from engaging negativity in the world? Am I honoring my name at all times? Do others know I am a Christ follower by the good influence I have. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus describes us as good salt, as a city on a hill, as lamp-stands in a dark house, as lights to the world. What do others see in us? What name is reflected in our words and actions? Do we honor the name we wear?

lesson by Mark Ritter

The Paradox of the Christian Life

What does it mean when we say, “I am a Christian?” We know we are supposed to be different, but that difference occasionally runs contrary to human reasoning. We have died yet live. We have been transformed, yet we remain the same. We are not of this world, yet here we are living and functioning with this world. What is involved – outside of merely making claims of being different – in being a Christian that truly does make us different.

Contradictory Ideas

  • Dead Yet Living. Romans 6:1-12 records Paul addressing our death to sin and the things of this world. He compares obedience to baptism with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. In Colossians 3:1, Paul calls upon us to seek things that are above, being raised up in Christ, and he refers to putting our earthly selves to death in verse 5. Galatians 2:20 calls us crucified with Christ. Self is put away, and Christ lives in us as we continue living.
  • Transformed Yet Unchanged. In Romans 12:1, in referring to us as living sacrifices, calls upon to be transformed, to be changed. II Corinthians 3:18 and Ephesians 4:23 both call on us to transform or renew ourselves. As we are raised from the grave of baptism, we undergo no physical changes, but Paul calls us transformed.
  • In, Not Of the World. John 17:16 records Jesus referring to His disciples as not of the world as He is not of the world. Colossians 3:2 tells us to set our minds on things above as opposed to the things of this life. In Philippians 3:19, Paul speaks of the shame in minding earthly things.

Reconciling the Confusion

How do we make sense of these paradoxes? How can we be so changed, yet appear unchanged? The death of Romans 6 is basically a separation from sin. Where physical death is a separation of life from our bodies. When we die to sin, we remove sinful attitudes and behaviors from our lives. We are still who we are, but we’ve put away those things and that former self that keeps us from God and His mercy. We become a living sacrifice according to Romans 12:1-2. Without physically dying, we cast off all that we formerly held valuable and give ourselves entirely over to God’s will.

When it comes to our transformation, Paul calls on us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We remake our mind in the likeness of Christ. We take on a new mindset. How I may have lived, how I may have treated others, or the things I may have prioritized – these things are now part of the past. I Peter 1:14-15 calls us to fashion ourselves after God’s holiness in all things. I Peter 2:10 speaks of us obtaining mercy to undergo this change. In our death to sin, in our transformation through the reforming of our minds, we separate our priorities from this world. While in the world, we are no longer part of the world.

Conclusion

Saying we are Christians is more than believing in Christ, but there is much more involved in becoming a follower of Christ. Romans 6:12-14 warns us against letting sin reign over our lives. The changes in our lives as Christians involve us no longer pursuing sin and pursuing spiritual interests instead. In I Corinthians 6, the Christians at Corinth think that what they do with their bodies has no impact on the soul, but Paul demonstrates that theory as flawed. Our conduct, according to Romans 6:16, demonstrates our true identity.

If the world cannot tell a difference between who I am now and who I was, can God see the difference? When God looks down upon us, do we reflect Him, or do we still reflect the world in His eyes? Until the truth of God’s word is reflected in our lives, we demonstrate them to be no more than platitudes. We cannot merely listen to His word. We must learn from it and live it.

lesson by Tim Smelser

What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding?

Our world is not always a nice place. We see evidence of violence, sorrow, and hatred everywhere we look. Much of our common history is driven through conflict motivated by religious intolerance, ideological differences, oppression, or wonton cruelty. We are told by many political and even religious leaders to fear the world around us, to distrust those who are different from us, and to suspect anything we don’t understand. We are taught and reinforced to dwell on pain, hatred, and misery.

We live in a world that marginalizes the notion of peace, that chides a loving attitude as naïvety, and that demands conformity rather than embraces understanding. Too often, we laugh at those who would reflect these attitudes. So I want us to consider: what’s so funny ‘bout peace, love and understanding?

Inspiration from a Song

In 1974, singer-songwriter Nick Lowe released a song called “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” on the album The New Favourites of Brinsley Schwarz. In 1979, Elvis Costello  & The Attractions released a cover of the song on the American version of their album Armed Forces, and his version is probably the most famous.

The lyrics of the song are simple, asking where is the hope in this wicked world? Who can be trusted? Is there only pain, hatred, and misery? Where is our harmony, and what’s so funny ‘bout peace, love, and understanding? We might say the answers to these question are easy. We would say our hope is in God, like David in Psalm 39:7. We might be like Solomon in Proverbs 3:5 who says he trusts in God with all his heart. What do our lives say, however? Do we live like we trust God, or do we pay Him lip-service while we allow secular concerns to stir up conflict, animosity, and distrust in our lives?

The Bible on Peace, Love, and Understanding

Jesus and the New Testament writers have a few things to say regarding peace, love, and understanding.

  • On Peace. We often make a big deal of Jesus saying in Matthew 10:34 that He does not bring peace but a sword. We use that passage to occasionally defend ugly behavior, and we overlook the fact that the image of a sword is consistently applied to His message in the New Testament – not His people. His word is divisive, but we are to be peaceful. James 3:17 tells us that wisdom from above is peaceable and full of mercy. Jesus, in Matthew 5:9, calls peacemakers sons of God. Peace is listed as a fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22 along with gentleness in verse 23, and Romans 12:18 calls on us to live peaceably with all men. We are a peaceful people.
  • On Love. In Mark 12:28-31, a scribe asks Jesus what the greatest command is, and Jesus answers with two – love God and love our fellow man. I Corinthians 13 goes into a long description of what Christian love mean – being humble, hoping for the best, being gentle, patient, etc. – and verse 8 concludes that Christian love is unfailing. Jesus, in John 13:35, calls our love our identifying trait, and I John 4:7 calls those who demonstrate love born of God. Our lives should be defined by the love we show others.
  • On Understanding. This understanding is more than academic knowledge. It implies empathy, caring, and concern. Galatians 6:2 simply calls on us to bear each other’s burdens. To do this, we must be understanding toward each other. In Matthew 6:14, Jesus calls on us to be as forgiving toward others as we expect God to be of us. Ephesians 4:2 calls us to be gentle and long-suffering in our walk of unity, and Philippians 4:5 says our gentleness should be evident before all. We must be understanding if we are going to be a patient and forgiving people.

What’s So Funny Then?

What, then, is so funny about peace, love, and understanding? The answer is nothing, and when we criticize or mock these qualities in others, we make a mockery of the name we wear. In Matthew 23, Jesus decries the Pharisses’ habits of making mountains of molehills while neglecting the weightier matters. I fear we too often let personal agendas, political affiliations, and societal biases inform or be reflected in our lives more than the qualities demonstrated by our Savior. We cannot be more concerned with being good fiscal conservatives than good Christians; more concerned with following in the footsteps of the GOP that the footsteps of Christ; nor should we make more of our citizenship in this nation than we do our citizenship in Heaven. Jesus was peaceful. He was loving. He was understanding. We should be also.

We have a God who understands our troubles and cares for us according to I Peter 5:6-7. John 3:16 tells us that God’s love for us is so complete He sent His Son to die, and Philippianns 4:7 tells us that we find peace that surpasses understanding in Him. Our God is one of peace, love, and understanding. There is nothing funny about these qualities, and He asks us to live likewise in His image. Our daily lives should demonstrate that we see value in peace, love, and understanding.