For the last several years, I’ve had the opportunity to teach an evening class on the Apostle Paul for a local Christian university. It’s one of my favorite classes to teach. Throughout the course, my students and I trek through Paul’s life as recorded in Acts and stop along the way to explore the letters he wrote to his fellow believers. It’s a privilege to consider and commend this man. Every time I teach the course, I come away with new insights and thoughts about who Paul was and the passions that drove his life.
One such passion is found in his letter to the believers living in Ephesus at the time. Writing to these Gentile believers, Paul reminded them that before Christ came they were separated from Him, alienated from Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God (Ephesians 2:12).
But then Paul taught that Christ came and preached peace to them: “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (2:18-19, ESV).
And here Paul makes plain one of the passions that drove his entire ministry: unity within the body of Christ. Paul said something shocking. He told the Gentiles they were now not only fellow citizens with the Jews, but part of the very household of God. In a sense, Paul was saying, “Remember when you were aliens and outsiders? Well, now you’re family!”
We find this message peppered throughout Paul’s letters. He’s constantly encouraging Christians who would have normally had no reason to be in community together to live as one big, happy family under Christ.
Today, unfortunately, the church acts a lot like the Ephesians used to. Even in our worship, we divide based on race, gender, wealth, age and marital status. There seems to be a universal human proclivity to spend time with people who are similar to us. Teens prefer to hang out with other teens, parents prefer other parents, singles prefer singles, and slowly the church begins to look more like one big, segmented body of associates.
One of the assignments I give my students at the end of every course is to think about what Paul might say if he visited our churches. What would he notice as the primary problems? How might he advise the leadership? As you might imagine, it always stirs up some great discussions.
I believe if Paul visited many of our churches, he would tell us to consider exactly what he wrote to the Ephesians. He might remind us that we are not only fellow citizens, but fellow members in God’s household. He might emphasize that we are brothers and sisters and should start acting like family. Well, Paul, easier said than done.
So what does it look like in your faith community to take Paul seriously on this point? I think it starts with a change in mentality. It’s natural to want to spend time with people who are similar to us, as it would have been easy for Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians to start separate churches back in the day.
It takes intentionality, but it is important to build family relationships with people who are different from us. Many Boundless readers might benefit from building relationships with those who are closer to the end of their lives, gleaning from their rich experience. At the same time, we might also have much to offer the teenagers and children around us. All believers are wise to seek some whom they receive from and some whom they pour into.
A few of my friends and I have been recently visiting a Sunday school class comprised mostly of people who are much older than us. In fact, some of our classmates even have kids older than us! There have been some awkward moments and times when conversation didn’t flow as easily as it might have with our peers, but we are slowly getting to know them and learning from their wisdom and life experiences.
One thing I’ve learned. When we gather together with the body of believers, we should look for opportunities to encourage as many other people as possible with the gifts God has given us. Maybe it’s a smile or a hug, or perhaps we help people through something difficult they’re going through. God has blessed each of us with such a variety of gifts, we should make it our own mission to bless as many people as possible day by day and week by week.
It might seem easier to focus primarily on our relationships with our friends and the people just like us, but to do that we’d have to ignore one of the precious prayers our Lord prayed the night He was betrayed, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11). Yes, Lord, continue to make us one…one…big…happy…family.