Love All People
- Rejoice in the wonderful variety of people God has made.
- See others as persons of worth, not to be lumped together, ignored, or mistreated.
- Honor the Creator by treating all people with dignity and respect.
This lesson focuses on a particularly crucial issue that still plagues the church today: prejudice. This is not just a social issue of which we take some notice. It's an issue that is fundamental to the character and purpose of the church. The church of Jesus Christ is a new community that is called to visibly demonstrate what Paul describes in Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
When Paul wrote those words he was describing the main dividing walls between people of his time. Today we might say something like: neither black nor white, neither rich nor poor, neither immigrant nor North American, neither liberal nor conservative, neither disabled nor nondisabled . . . The church is the place that brings together those who are torn apart in the world. And the reason is not just that we have an ideal of freedom and equality but that we are all one in Christ.
We know that the early church struggled with this vision, even as we do today. In his epistle James, a leader of the church at Jerusalem, talks very practically about the issue of prejudice as it might manifest itself in the church.
Imagine a house church, as many were in the New Testament times. The group is gathering for Sunday worship and the breaking of bread, as described in Acts 2:42. Lots of people who are poor have been attracted by the gospel, which presented a message of equality and freedom that was so different from the messages they were getting from the rest of the world.
Now a prominent, wealthy couple suddenly appears at the meeting. This is huge! What a difference this could mean for the church's reputation and budget. Contributions could soar! "Hello, sir and madam! Sit right here," says one of the church members, nudging a beggar out of the way.
The vignette James tells wasn't far-fetched but was actually quite possible---perhaps even based on actual experience in the church. His message: "Have you not discriminated among yourselves?" That is precisely the kind of thing that can't be allowed in the church. The biblical vision for the church is of a multi-colored, multi-cultural, multi-generational community where rich and poor, black and white, employer and employee all experience oneness and equality in Jesus Christ.
So this issue of prejudice and discrimination is not a peripheral one we can get around to addressing when it seems convenient. It's fundamental to the very existence of the church. That's why it's important for each Christian and each church community to do some honest soul searching about who is welcome at their church and to root out any prejudice, racism, or favoritism, wherever and whenever it occurs. This task is not easy because these attitudes are often deeply rooted in our lives through family and culture. But an important part of the transforming power of the gospel takes place in precisely this area.
Why are justice and equality so important to God and his church?
How do prejudice and discrimination raise their heads in my life? My church?
What makes these issues so difficult to address?
In approaching this lesson, it’s very important to assess your own situation and that of the congregation in which you’re teaching. What does the congregation look like? What is its level of cultural or racial diversity? Are people treated differently according to the standards of the larger society? Help the group to face these questions honestly, hoping for real change.
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