For a moment, imagine a country and people very different from your own. To make this a really effective and meaningful exercise, make sure this country youâ€™re thinking of is one with a language completely different from the language you speak.
Think of the outer appearances of the people. How are their hair, skin, and eye color different from yours? Now, what kinds of traditions and values do they have? Are you knowledgeable of the stories behind these traditions? Do they celebrate the holidays and events youâ€™ve always grown up with? And are the values the people hold in this country like the values youâ€™ve always been taught?
Consider the foods that are eaten here. Are they similar to the foods you enjoy in your own homeland? Probably not, right? Now, if you were in a crowded marketplace with a hundred of these people all speaking in their own language to each otherâ€”almost oblivious to your presence and the fact that you cannot understand what they are sayingâ€”how would this make you feel? Lonely? Detached? Maybe inferior in some ways?
Finally, imagine having to live in this land for the rest of your earthly life. You have no choice in this matter. Itâ€™s been designated as your new home. Do you miss your homeland already?
Christians in a Foreign Land
Believe it or not, many believers in Christâ€”and, sadly, seekers of Christâ€”experience this homesickness every single time they enter the doors of some churches to honor the Sabbath and our Lord.
These Christians attend churches where the languages, physical appearances, traditions, values, and even foods served are so very different from what theyâ€™ve grown up with and become accustomed to. They feel almost like second-class citizens in a place where all citizens are supposed to be considered equal. They know they must attend the services at these churches, but, quite honestly, they never truly feel comfortable and at-home. They live like strangers in their own homes.
Some stay in the churches because of their commitment to the Lordâ€™s commandments, but they never quite feel accepted and united with the brothers and sisters in the church. Others come once or twice but are frightened away pretty quickly by a very unsettling culture shock. And when they never return for another visit, or seem reluctant to join in the church fellowships or services, we simply tell each other that these visitors were just not willing to accept the truth or commit to Christ.
But is it really true that they donâ€™t attend church simply because they donâ€™t accept the doctrines? Can we honestly say that they donâ€™t come to church because they donâ€™t want to follow Christ? In full sincerity, we must admit that there is a very strong chance that weâ€™ve allowed our own worldly traditions and cultural ideals to become almost obstacles to a personâ€™s faith in Christ and His church. Havenâ€™t we, in fact, made it really hard for others to feel like they belong to Christâ€™s church?
These are questions we really have to consider, especially since weâ€™ve been instructed by our Lord Jesus Christ to â€œgo and make disciples of all nationsâ€ (Mt 28:19).
When we look at the teachings of the Apostle Paul, we see that he wrestled with these very same issues long ago, when he was given the mission to preach to the Jews as well as the Gentiles in many lands. In various letters to believers, Paul wrote about destroying barriers through the bond of Christ. He also wrote about how he made himself almost chameleon-like to win souls of different ethnicities, and he wrote about seeking the good of others.
Through the study of the following Bible passages, weâ€™ll explore exactly how the Apostle Paul was able to break through the ethnic barriers that so strongly weighed down the Jewish and gentile Christians. And, through this study, perhaps we can link the efforts he made years ago to efforts we can try to make today, so that all of our churches may become homes to all nations and races and souls.
No Longer Foreigners and Aliens, but Fellow Citizens
As humans, we all need to feel a sense of belonging. The Apostle Paul even tells us that we should all feel united through Christ, and that there should no longer be a separation between brothers and sisters of different ethnic groups. Paul writes:
Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the fleshâ€”who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by handsâ€”that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ... And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph 2:11-13, 17-22)
Paulâ€™s Example of Sacrifice
Paul understood that in Godâ€™s eyes we are all created equal, and that no single race or culture is above another. He was able to love all souls, and because of this strong love and compassion, Paul strove to fight prejudices and ideas of ethnic superiority. He had the perfect combination of holding a deep love for God and a true love for mankind. He wanted everyone to know about our wonderful and merciful Lord Jesus Christ, and he gave up his life to help all people find and stay on the path to eternal salvation.
In order to save so many souls, Paul understood that it would take uncomfortable and very dangerous sacrifices to carry out his mission. Just what types of sacrifices did he end up making? Well, we all know about his beatings, persecutions, jailings, and stonings. Those were all huge and noticeably significant situations that took place in his life quite often.
Itâ€™s amazing that Paul chose to bear those terrifying and horrible loads for the sake of Christâ€™s call. Just as amazing, though, were the small things that Paul did to find ways to reach out to all of Godâ€™s people. Take a look at the following passage, and youâ€™ll see the touching detail Paul put into making sure all nationalities had the best opportunities to hear the message of Jesus Christ and to commit to a life for Him:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospelâ€™s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my own body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (1 Cor 9:19-27)
A Seamless Quilt of Ethnicities
So then, just how do we apply Paulâ€™s example to our own spiritual lives? And what will it take to make our church a home to all nations and peoples?
First, we must truly understand that if we are to be united as one in Christ, we must strive to stitch our backgrounds and cultures together almost seamlessly. We must look to the Apostle Paulâ€”the zealous preacher to both the Jews and Gentilesâ€”to provide us with examples of just how this union of ethnic groups in Christ can be achieved.
Letâ€™s take that last passage from the Bible and see if we can somehow translate it to todayâ€™s situation (I do realize that this is a very, very loose translation, but bear with me, because it just may lead to something):
Though we, as a church, are predominantly Chinese, and really donâ€™t have to hide our ethnicity or our values and traditions, we must somehow find ways to blend into the lives of all non-Chinese truthseekers, and brothers and sisters in Christ, in order to make them feel more connected to our church and the Christ we share.
To Caucasians, we become like Caucasians (even making conscious efforts to serve their foods and speak their languages), in order to make it easier for them to come to our church and hear the message of our Lord Jesus Christ.
To the Latin or Hispanic heirs of Christâ€™s salvation, we become like our Latin or Hispanic friends (even serving yellow rice and black beans, learning a few phrases in their languages, and appreciating their love for various forms of dance), in order to win those souls to Christ.
To those brothers and sisters, or friends of ours, of African decent, we make ourselves like those of African decent (understanding and respecting their histories and cultural traditions), in order to connect with them and offer them a comfortable church to attend and worship our one Lord and Savior.
We, as the True Jesus Church, become all things to all men so that by all possible means we might save some. We do all this for the sake of the gospel, that we may share in its blessings.
We know that in a race all the teams run, but only one team gets the prize. That is why we run in such a way as to get the prize of souls saved for Christ. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict trainingâ€”just as we train ourselves to give up our own comforts of speaking our native language and eating our favorite kinds of Chinese foods.
Runners do this to get a crown that will not last; but we, as Christians, do this to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, we do not run like men running aimlessly; we donâ€™t fight like Christians beating the air. No, we beat our bodiesâ€”our cultures and traditionsâ€”to make them slaves, so that after we have preached to others, we, as members of the True Jesus Church, will not be disqualified for the prize.
Loveâ€”The Simple Answer
Now, that wasnâ€™t too much of a stretch, was it? Probably not, if we seriously think about it. The bottom line is that we must learn to sacrifice our own comforts and identities in order to reach out to souls in search of Christ. We cannot sit back and relax with only those of our own ethnic groups. We can no longer allow Christians of other races, nations, or cultures to leave our churches feeling such a strong sense of being different or excluded.
Since we know we have the true gospel of Christ, we must take that truth to other nations and peoplesâ€”this is what our Lord Jesus Christ has commanded of us. In order to reach as many nations and individuals as possible, and to make their conversions to Christ as easy as possible, we must eliminate as many obstacles to their faith as possible. We must find ways to blend our separate traditions, languages, and cultures together as smoothly and unnoticeably as possible.
All it takes is true and active love. If we strive to imitate our Savior by following his actions of sacrificial love, we will draw many, many peoples and nations to eternal life.