Monday, July 18, 2016

The Nature of Hostility and Division

“Side? I am on nobody's side, because nobody is on my side, little orc.”  
Treebeard, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers 

For many, July 4th is a day to celebrate in our country.  It reminds us that we are a country that is devoted to the freedom of all people.  However, Christian rapper Lecrae tweeted a picture of what his ancestors were probably doing on July 4th all those years ago: working as slave hands.  It was a sobering reminder that not everyone has had the same advantages or circumstances.  Even more so, it was a reminder that America's Independence Day is not going to be viewed in the same light by everyone.  

Some appreciated it.  It provided clarity to the cries of the black community about white privilege.  Others, however, claimed it was disunifying, un-american, and even racist.  

Unfortunately, things have dissolved further since then.  Two killings that went viral.  A sniper murdering five policemen.  And now, it feels like the battle lines are drawn.  

#Blacklivesmatter.  #Bluelivesmatter.  #AllLivesMatter.  "If you are silent, you are part of the problem!"  "BLM and these complainers are part of the problem!"   

The anger, frustration, and hatred has led many to wonder, "What has happened to our once great nation?"  Others are crying out, "It has never been great!"  It begs this question: why is this happening?  Thankfully, while we don't necessarily know why, God knows exactly why, and we can be sure it will bring Him the most glory.  

What we can be sure of is why divisions like this happen.  Many point to racism and privilege.  These are very real things that are happening.  But the scriptures point to an even deeper issue.  Paul speaks to it when he addresses the churches in Ephesus.  In that time period, and in that location, Jews and Gentiles were in serious conflict.

In Acts 19, there were riots in the city.  One of Paul's companions, Alexander, tried to speak to the Ephesian rioters (Gentiles), but as soon as they saw he was a Jew, the crowd increased their rioting!  Tensions were high.  

In Ephesians 2, we see even more evidence of hard relations: "You were once called uncircumcision."  This was a derogatory term for the Gentiles.  Not unlike the use of the n-word for black men or women.  

These were issues that took place 2000 years ago, halfway around the world!  What does Paul say in response to it?  

He says three things:

Remember the nature of hostility --> Paul, a Jew, wants the Gentiles to remember they were once called "uncircumcision."  This was a risky thing for a former Jewish religious leader to say to them.  So why does he say it?  So they would remember that they were alienated not just socially, but spiritually.  Gentiles couldn't enter the temple, so they could not worship God.  It was a literal "dividing wall" of hostility with the Lord.  Vertical hostility with God causes horizontal hostility with people. 

Be Reconciled --> But, Jesus came and preached peace to those who were near (the Jews), and those who were far (the Gentiles).  Jesus preaches peace to the privileged, and to the oppressed.  The first step then is not to be socially reconciled, but to be spiritually reconciled.  It's counter-intuitive.  First we must look at our own hearts and confess the sin within, so we might be reconciled to the God who drew near to us first. 

Be Rooted --> How does society change?  By clinging to Jesus for his transforming power.  Through Him, and only through Him, can a person lay down his comfort to draw near to a person who is radically different from them.  Why?  Because that's what Jesus did for us.  He drew near by becoming a perfect man, and dwelt among imperfect rebels.

It's why the quote at the top is helpful.  God is not on anyone's "side."  Why?  Because He's on His own side.  He's not on the side of conservatives, and He's not on the side of progressives.  He's on His side.  And His agenda is to win sinful men and women back to Himself, and then to make them more into the likeness of His Son. 

So church, the call is to repent of our sin.  If we find racism in the recesses of our hearts, it's time to come clean.  If we find hatred and bigotry and stubbornness, we can come clean.  Because it's evidence of your bigger problem, your hatred of God.  And He took care of that on the cross.

It's only through Gospel transformation that hostility will be vanquished.

It's only through the Gospel that true unity will be established. 

It's only through the Gospel that the church will continue to reform, seeking to draw near to other sin-sick rebels in hopes of winning them to the God who has reconciled us.