V. The Annulling of Ethnic Distinctions: In the Bible there is another distinction between Greeks and Jews. The Jews re a very religious race, whereas the Greeks are a race that embraces philosophy and wisdom. Historically, when one speaks of religion, he thinks of the Jews, and when one speaks of philosophy, he thinks of the Greeks. All branches of sciences and philosophy in their primitive form come from the Greeks. Today, all scientific terms have their root in Greek. Hence, the Greeks symbolize wisdom. If one wants to talk about science and philosophy, he has to go to the Greeks. If one wants to talk about religion, he has to go to the Jews. These are distinctions in ethnicity.
People living in various parts of the world often have their own ethnic characteristics. For example, those who grow up in the south are more affectionate, while those who grow up in the north are more reserved. Southerners are generally more easygoing, while Northerners are generally more serious. People living in tropical regions like to dance and sing all day long, while Northerners, especially the northern Europeans, do not like to even jump. Instead they appear reserved and conservative. But the Southerners can be Christians as much as the Northerners can. Jews can be Christians, and Greeks also can be Christians.
The wise can be Christians, and the religious can be Christians also. In Christ, there is no distinction between Jew and Greek. Some people like to reason; they want to explain everything. Other people like to talk about the conscience. Does that mean that these are two different types of Christians? According to the flesh, these two are totally different. One walks by the intellect and the mind. Another walks impulsively by feelings. But in Christ, there is no distinction between the Greeks and the Jews. Not only are national distinctions gone; even ethnic distinctions are gone. A reserved person can be just as good a Christian as a warm person. Those who walk according to the mind can be Christians, and those who walk according to feelings can also be Christians. All kinds of people can be Christians.
Since all kinds of people can be Christians, one must learn to drop ethnic characteristics when he comes into the church. There is no such thing in the church life. Many problems arise in the church today because people bring their ethnic flavor into the church; they try to bring in their own distinctive characteristics. When the non-talkative people meet, they become a non-talkative group. When the talkative people meet, they become a talkative group. When those who are reserved come together, they become a reserved group. When those who are affectionate come together, they become an affectionate group. In this way, many distinctions are built up among God’s children. Please remember that ethnicity does not exist in the church, in Christ, or in the new man. Do not condemn a person just because he has a different temperament than yours. You have to realize that others may not appreciate you that much either. You may feel that you always speak affectionately and wonder why others are so cold.
But others may think you are talking too much; they may find your disposition intolerable. Whether you are quick or quiet, cold or warm, intellectual or sentimental, as soon as you become a brother and enter the church life, you have to drop your disposition. Such things do not belong to the church. As soon as you introduce these natural elements into the church, they become standards for judgment and separation, and brothers will be divided. You will become the standard, and all those who are up to your standard will be considered good Christians, while all those who are not up to your standard will be considered poor Christians. You will become the standard. You will introduce your own nature, character, and temperament into the church. All confusion in the church issues from different human temperaments. Your silence is not necessarily good, nor is your talkativeness. Your reservation is not necessarily good, nor is your warmth. Your strong intellect may not necessarily be good, nor are you intense emotions. All these are distinctions outside of Christ. They are represented by the Greeks and the Jews. None of these natural dispositions can be brought into the church life.
A new believer must learn from the beginning to reject anything that comes from the old man. He should not say, “This is the way I was.” Many brothers shamelessly speak this way. We must tell them that we do not want their old person. They should not bring in their old person. That is not something in Christ, and we cannot create distinctions based on that. Such distinctions have to be totally abolished. In Christ, in the Body, and in the new man, these distinctions are totally annulled. No brother or sister should carry his or her natural disposition into the church. As soon as you are saved, you have to leave these things behind. If you come to the church and contact the brothers and sisters, approving only those who agree with you and are up to your standard and disapproving those who disagree with you or are not up to your standard, you will bring confusion and division into the whole church.
Throughout the years, the church has suffered damage through differences in dispositions. Never bring your dispositional differences into the church. Some people have a quick disposition, and they may say, “I am quick, and I do not like anyone who is slow. God does not like those who are show.” Some people are slow by nature, and they may say, “I am steady by nature, and I do not like anyone who is quick.” But neither quickness nor slowness should be in the church life to divide God’s children. The moment you bring these things in, you make yourself the standard. The Greeks want the Jews to repent, and the Jews want the Greeks to repent. But God wants to set both aside. There is nothing else but Christ. If a new believer upholds this principle from the very beginning, the church will be spared much hardship. We must never discriminate according to our character. We must reject the things that belong to the old man. We should walk in the same footsteps as all the other children of God.
VI. The Annulling of Cultural Distinctions: The book of Colossians speaks of two kinds of peoples — barbarians and Scythians. These two names have posed a problem to Bible scholars. In English a barbarian means a savage, an uncivilized person. But what is a Scythian? This word comes from the Greek word Zema, which became Zecotha, then Zecothia, and then Zecothian. Mr. Wescott said that Zecothia was the name of a place. In ancient Greek literature, Zecothians and Galatians were often mentioned together. Hence, the Zecothians were a respectable people. Like the names of many cities, the word Zecothians brings a certain image to mind as soon as it is mentioned. For example, when Shansi is mentioned, one thinks of those who deal with money because most of the people from Shansi are businessmen. When Shao-Shing is mentioned, one thinks of court secretaries during the Ching dynasty. The name of a place often conjures up associated images. If you consult Greek literature, you will see that the Scythians were a respected people, while the barbarians were a despised people. This is a matter of culture. Culture creates a big distinction in the world. If you put a typical English gentleman beside an African native, the difference in culture will become very obvious. However, Paul tells us that barbarian and Scythian alike must abolish all distinctions.
This cultural distinction has brought in frustration for many people. Once I met two Jews. Because I knew both of them quite well, I asked them frankly, “Why do so many people in the world hate Jews?” One said, “Our Jewish culture does not conform to the standard of others.” That was the first time I heard such an answer. I did not understand what he meant. He went on to explain, “Consider the case of an American Jew. Honestly speaking, if I were a non-Jewish American, I would not like American Jews either. I would despise the Jewish culture. If an American earns two hundred dollars a month, he spends a certain portion of it on food and rent. He polishes his shoes and changes his shirt daily. Once every two months he buys a pair of new shoes and keeps his house neat and clean. He is happy if he has ten dollars left in his pocket at the ned of the month. But the Jews are different.
A Jew who makes the same amount of money spends only ten dollars a month and saves the rest. He calculates how much he can save if he does not polish his shoes or buy new ones. He can tolerate a dirty shirt to save on soap. Unlike the American who is so particular about his creature comfort, the Jew is not particular about food or lodging. All he wants is an ever-growing savings account in the bank. We Jews look down on Americans because they are so poor. Americans look down on us because they think we do not care for personal grooming and living conditions.” He went on to day, “We Jews are good at making money. We are good with our brains but not with fashion. We cannot get along too well with others. This is why no one likes us.” That was the first time I heard such an answer.
It is difficult for a person with a polished culture to see eye to eye with one who has a seemingly unpolished culture. This is a matter not of class, intellect, or financial status, but of culture. Form a Scythian’s point of view, nothing about a barbarian is right. A barbarian is wrong in the way he dresses, eats, and lives. From a barbarian’s point of view, a Scythian is too hedonistic. He is too particular about food and clothing. These two persons have two totally different perspectives. If both of them come to the church, each will bring his own opinion along and consider the other wrong. When they come together, there is bound to be a clash. They can never be one with each other. The Chinese eat with chopsticks, while the Indians eat with their fingers. Put them together at the same table for a few meals and both will feel uneasy at heart. They may not say much. But leave them together for two days and they will not be able to stand each other; they will start to quarrel. One may feel that chopsticks should be used because it is unsightly to eat with one’s fingers, and the other may feel that eating with chopsticks is merely for show and that one can truly enjoy his meal when he eats with his fingers. One will say that the other is wrong and vice versa. This is a difference in culture. Such cultural differences present a real barrier.
But even this is abolished in Christ. Those who are in Christ should be the most accommodating persons. They can tolerate all kinds of human differences. A man in Christ does not set up a standard and demand that everyone else to come up to his standard. He does not respect only those who come up to his standard and despise those who do not. This is not how a person in Christ should behave. This kind of behavior does not belong in the church or in the new man. Suppose some brothers among us come from India or Africa. Their cultures are different from ours. But we should ask only one question: Are they in the Lord or not? They should ask us the same question: Are we in the Lord or not? If we are in Christ, all problems will be settled immediately. When we contact each other in Christ and love one another in Christ, there is nothing that cannot be tolerated. We should not allow anything to come between God’s children, to differentiate the brothers and sisters in Christ from one another.
We cannot group the sophisticated brothers and sisters together to form a church. We cannot group the unsophisticated ones together to form another church. That would not be the church. Such things are not in the church. They belong outside the church, outside the Body, and outside the new man. We must never bring such problems into the church. All cultural differences have been abolished in the church. However, we must learn to “live as Romans among Romans” and be under the law among those who are under the law. Whatever kind of culture we are in, we do as others do. If some African brothers come to China, and they have the knowledge of God, they should use chopsticks. If we go to Africa, we may have to eat with our hands. We do not want to come into conflict with the local brothers and sisters. When we go to them, we must learn to live among them. When they come to us, they must learn to live among us. When we go to England, we must learn to behave like the Englishmen, and when an Englishman comes to China, he must learn to behave like the Chinese. If we do not do this, we will stumble others, and they will not be won to Christ. If God’s children have a good start in this matter, they will avoid much trouble later on.
VII. The Annulling of Marks of Piety in the Flesh: The last distinction spoken of in Colossians is the distinctions between the circumcised and the uncircumcised. This speaks of the distinction of outward marks of piety. We know that the Jews are circumcised with a mark on their bodies, indicating that they belong to God, that they fear God, and that they deny the flesh. In doing so they put themselves under God’s covenant and become a part of God’s covenant. Many people (specifically the Jews) love circumcision. They think that only those who are circumcised are under God’s covenant, while those who are not circumcised are not under His covenant. A Jew cannot marry an uncircumcised person. Acts 15 says that even the believing Gentiles were forced to be circumcised. The Jews paid much attention to this mark of piety in the flesh. Today we can fall into the same pitfall as the Jews, paying too much attention to external signs. For example, I may be baptized by immersion while a certain brother may be sprinkled instead of immersed. God’s Word tells us that we should be baptized by immersion. It is true that a brother should be baptized by immersion. It is true that a brother should be baptized by immersion. However, if I consider myself to be better than my brother, who is not baptized by immersion, then I have made baptism by immersion a mark of piety. I have, inn effect, claimed that in one thing in the flesh I am better than my brother. If I consider my brother wrong in the eyes of the Lord because he has not gone through an outward immersion, I have made baptism by immersion a cause of separation.
Head covering carries a spiritual significance to the sisters. However, it can become a mark in the flesh. The breaking of bread has a spiritual significance. But it can also become a mark in the flesh. The laying on of hands has a spiritual significance, but it can become a mark in the flesh as well. These things indeed carry much spiritual significance. But if they are used to separate God’s children, they will lose their spiritual significance and become mere marks of the flesh. In reality they will become some things similar to circumcision. Please do not try to misunderstand me. Instead, try to understand what I am saying. Do not think that we disagree with baptism by immersion, the breaking of bread, the head covering, or the laying on of hands. I am trying to show you that once you separate God’s children by these things; you are making distinctions according to the flesh.
In Christ there is no circumcision and uncircumcision. Physical symbols must not be used to separate God’s children. In Christ we are one. The life that is in Christ is one. It is good for something with spiritual reality to have a physical symbol as well. However, if a person has the spiritual reality of something but is unconcerned about its physical symbol, we should not isolate him because of this. In short, God’s children should not allow physical symbols to damage the oneness that they have in Christ. It is true that some of God’s children do not have an accurate view concerning certain things. But as long as they have the spiritual reality, we should be satisfied with our spiritual oneness and should not insist on the symbols. For example, a sister may be very submissive before the Lord and before the brothers; she knows where she stands before the Lord and before the brothers. If she is short only of a sign on her head, we should not ostracize her. The moment we separate God’s children, we damage the oneness.
Paul stated quite clearly that circumcision is not for the purification of fleshly blemishes but for the removal of fleshly activities. In the eyes of God, what counts is the inward reality, not the outward things. If the inward revelation is the same, one should not make separations based on outward differences. If a person has neither the inward reality nor the outward sign, that is not our concern. If a sister does not take the place of submission, or if a brother’s baptism is not a separation from the world or a burial and resurrection with the Lord, he or she is too far off from the truth. In such cases the responsibility does not rest on us. But if a person sees baptism as one’s burial and resurrection with Christ, yet holds a slightly different view in the matter of the outward signs, we cannot damage the oneness because of the slight difference. You cannot set yourselves apart from others just because you are obedient to the Lord with respect to certain physical symbols.
It is wrong to separate God’s children according to these things. We are all brothers and sisters. In Christ we are a new man. We are fellow members in the Body. In the church we have annulled all distinctions outside of Christ. Everyone stands on a new ground. Everyone is in the one new man that the Lord has established and in the one Body which the Lord has created. We must see that all of God’s children are one. We cannot look upon anyone with a special frame of mind. We must thoroughly eradicate denominationalism and sectarianism from our heart. If we do this, we will have taken another step forward.
Written By Dr. Lewis Akpogena