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Though we may think we understand and accept this today (most of the time), members of this newly emerging multiethnic and multicultural faith were being challenged with it all the time.
Imagine the first time that a new Gentile Jesus follower walked into the synagogue or little house worship gathering. Her hair is short. She has tattoos that she received during worship ceremonies in another god's temple. Her clothes are made of two types of material . . . Even the most kind and gracious of the proper religious folk must have been challenged by the presence of these strange and ignorant Gentiles.
In this passage we are reminded that family background, previous experience or inexperience, class, or education makes no difference to the call of God, or an individual's membership in Christ's body.
The consequences of the previous chapter require us to open our hearts, lives, and churches to people who might challenge us deeply. Paul was right in praying that we would be able to truly understand how huge God's love is. Once we do, we need to walk in that same love by demonstrating humility, gentleness, patience. When we open our lives to people that are radically different from us, it's our pride, our self-righteousness, and our lack of patience that is challenged.
Paul describes a church where people of all walks of life and all backgrounds are rubbing shoulders and being challenged by each other. The church today could be the same. When this is what the church becomes, this passage gives no opportunity for a hierarchy of faith. Speaking first to seasoned veterans of the faith, Paul challenges us not to hold seniority or position over those who may not express their faith or lifestyle in exactly the same way as we do. We all are serving the same God, the Father of Jesus Christ. By faith we have all been redeemed by the same Rabbi. Every one of us came to the cross broken. Every one of us lives only by the sustaining power of the same Spirit. Whether cultural, familial, or philosophical, all apparent differences are meaningless under the cross of Jesus.
It is to these seasoned religious folk that Paul gives his challenge to grow. He reminds us that we will grow and mature and change together as a covenant community. Every one of us has a place and a responsibilty in this growth. Every part does its' work to build the whole body in unity and love. We must humbly remember that all of these different members of our community are not only equal, but necessary. In Christ, we are interdependent. The tattooed and branded polyester wearing newcomer is as essential to our growth as the pastor.
For the newcomers to the community, we also have a responsibility to humility and unity. Regardless of how we may have lived before, we must put aside any patterns of selfish or hedonistic behaviour as we strive to live like Christ. Patience is required to be extended for new members to community, but not at the expense of the community. We are no longer alone, however so we may have lived before coming to Jesus. Painful as it may be, we do sacrifice our autonomy in covenant community. We are sustained by the Spirit of God together, not in isolation. Life in covenant community will allow us many opportunities to be angry at one another, or to covet each other's things and be tempted to steal. It is when we are confronted with these challenges of community that we are offered the best opportunity to look like Jesus by demonstrating forgiveness, grace, and self-control. Differences in background, culture, and worldview are highly valued and honoured in the Body of Christ, but selfish behaviour that would destroy the community is not tolerated, no matter what one's life may have been before. Though we are not required to conform to the image of the community, we are all equally required to conform to the image of Christ in his love and grace and humility.
In Jesus' covenant community, whether wizened with experience or newly received, we live as a reflection of Jesus to one another. We are kind and compassionate to one another. We have been forgiven, and we extend to everyone that same gracious forgiveness. It is from this root of Christlike forgiveness that the entire community remains alive in true faith and true demonstration of the Spirit of God.
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