There are so many differences between us. Black and white, African, American, Asian and European, women and men, clergy and laity, Christian and Muslim, Jew and Greek, Israeli and Arab, slave and free, heterosexual and homosexual, rich and poor, young and old, the established and the emergent, the ruler and the ruled over. The list goes on…
Paul tells the Galatian Christians, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3.28) he gives a similar list in his letter to the Colossians (Col. 3.11). Because he says this twice, in two different letters, this is obviously something that Paul thought about a lot.
What defines my identity?
It is so easy for us to think in terms of opposites, ‘binary oppositions’. In Christ there are no binary oppositions, for we are all children of God through faith, clothed with Christ and one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3.26-28). What does it mean for there to be no Jew or Greek, male or female, etc? I am ‘in Christ’ but I am still a white Englishman. Christ hasn’t changed my colour, gender, nationality or anything else. The point is that these things do not form or determine my identity. Yes, they still matter, and they still shape who I am, but my core identity is to be found in Christ, not in my whiteness, maleness or Englishness. More than that: in Christ my identity is not an individual identity but a collective identity. Paul writes, “You are all children of God…” (Gal. 3.26). In the parallel passage in Colossians 3 Paul continues by writing about our life together as the people of God. My identity is in Christ and in Christ’s people. So I feel real pain when my sisters in Nigeria are abducted, my brothers in Pakistan persecuted, and my brothers and sisters in Syria and Iraq murdered. We are family.
What, then do we make of these differences between us? Showing love, down-to-earth, practical love, will mean that some differences become less: rich and poor for example. The early church majored on social equality with their sharing of possessions (Acts 2.44). But most of these differences are things that will not change. Perhaps God made us different from each other so as to give us greater opportunity to show love. It’s easy to love those who are like you. But if I strongly disagree with you, then it’s harder to show love. If you despise, mock or persecute me because I am different from you it is harder for me to love you.
Loving those who are different
But love is what matters, because love is the character of God.
We, as the people of God, are channels of love. We seek to bring together those who are not together for “God has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5.19). Our message and ministry is to bring together in love and reconciliation those who are hostile and separated because of their differences.
My connection with Christ
In the in-between stairwell, I am not identified by my gender, my wealth (or lack of it), my nationality, my societal or marital status or the colour of my skin. My identity comes from my connection with Christ.