Wednesday, March 05, 2008


What leads people to fuss, fight, hate and kill each other? In Rwanda, Burundi, and Zaire we have seen ethnic wars raging since the 1950s between the Hutus and the Tutsis. If you have not seen the movie Hotel Rwanda you owe it to yourself to watch it. It will make you heart sick, but it is a re-enactment of true events which happened in Rwanda in the mid-1990s.

But such hatred and atrocities are not limited to Central Africa. The ethnic cleansing that took place between the Croatian, Serbians, Albanian and Muslim populations in Yugoslavia reflected the same kind of evil as demonstrated between the Tutsis and Hutus. In South Africa it was the horrendous policy of Apartheid which was so misunderstood by many of us in the United States that served as a demonstration of how evil people can be—how cruel and how divided. We’ve seen this division between India and Pakistan, England and Ireland, Israel and Palestine—ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

In America we see some of the same things. There are still problems with racism between Hispanic, African-American, whites, and Asians—there are still problems between people of different social classes, still prejudicial attitudes that keep us divided and suspicious. Even among people who claim to be followers of Jesus there are battles over issues that seem so inconsequential when compared to the injustices and poverty we see here in the United States and across the world.

It has been this way for a long time—even since the beginning of the church. There was no church in the first century that escaped such problems: problems of division and misunderstanding. We’ve seen this is especially true among the Christians who lived in Rome. Paul has spent a quite a bit of time pointing out how everyone—Jew and Gentile, slave and free, poor and rich, male and female are in the same boat. Without God we are rootless, helpless, and lost. No one has the right to stand up with his chest puffed out and proclaim superiority over anyone else. We are equally without hope and without God in the world!

But while we are equally lost—we are equally loved. There is no one God wants to be lost. There is no one God wants alienated. There is no one God does not want in his family. And in Romans 15:7 through the end of the book Paul makes his concluding point:
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to conform the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy… [1]
Paul then begins to quote the Hebrew Scriptures from the Psalms, 2 Samuel, Deuteronomy and Isaiah showing that God from the very beginning planned for Jew and Gentile to join together as God’s people for his glory and praise. He started out in Romans 1-3 to demonstrate how all are equally lost—and he ends up in Romans 15 demonstrating how all are equally loved.

Paul’s dream is for all people to be filled with the hope of God’s love and the power of his Spirit. His desire is for all people to be filled with joy and to live in peace with each other—living under the rule of God’s Spirit. This is what he says in verse 13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

For the rest of the letter Paul talks about his mission to the Gentiles—how he wants to stop off in Rome and use it as a base of operations for a mission to Spain and perhaps farther. He discusses his heart’s desire for the Jewish Christians of Judea to accept the financial aid he has collected from Gentile churches from all over the world in order to seal relationships between Jew and Gentile.

For Paul, the sign of God’s reign and Kingdom coming, the demonstration of God’s will being done on earth as it is in Heaven, is the reconciliation between various ethnic and social groups. The demonstration of God’s kingdom is that in Christ it could be truly understood and lived out there is no distinction between slave and free, rich or poor, Jew and Gentile, Greek and Barbarian, male and female. The boundaries that prevented the disparate groups from eating together, from associating with each other, from loving each other would be torn down and completely demolished.

When Paul envisions the powers of satanic spiritual forces being dismantled, this is one of the main issues. For Paul there is no place for racial slurs, insensitive joking, and rude behavior toward each other. For Paul there was no place for a black church, a Hispanic church, a white church, a rich church, or a poor church in the same town—instead, there should be only one family of God where everyone is welcome, where no division occurs.

This is why men like David Lipscomb in the mid and late 1800s literally condemned the wearing of your “Sunday best” to assemblies—because not everyone could dress that way. Instead you wear every day street clothes so as not to embarrass the poor—to demonstrate that acceptance by God had nothing to do with whether you wore suits, ties, and nice dresses. When churches demand “dressing up” it is more a reflection of their social status than God’s will.

This is why one Christian professor in Nashville, Tennessee received several threatening phone calls in the sixties and early seventies when he attacked the segregation policies of Christian Colleges and of our own congregations. He was merely reflecting the sensibilities of Paul and the understanding of David Lipscomb who said:
To object to any child of God participating in the service on account of his social or civil state, his race or color is to object to Jesus Christ and to cast him from our association. It is a fearful thing to do. I have never been satisfied of the righteousness of forming congregations in a community along race lines. In the days of Jesus and his apostles the race antagonism between Jew and Gentile was strong and bitter. Converts were made from both races. I find no evidence that they met in different places as separate congregations. Troubles arose over the race question, but these troubles were harmonized within the churches, and the wall of separation and division was weakened, not strengthened. [3]
This is why it is imperative we who call ourselves followers of Jesus must live out the love of Jesus before all people! It is why we must do everything we can to tear down the walls that divide us, no matter what they are. If we cannot live together in peace, if we cannot demonstrate the values of God’s kingdom toward each other, then we cannot defeat the powers of evil in our world. If we cannot overcome our differences we are in danger of becoming completely ineffective in impacting the world in which we live. We risk becoming a defensive fortress against the world around us instead of an expeditionary force against the dominion of Darkness.

Paul’s fear is the church in Rome will fall under the weight of division. But Paul is convinced it doesn’t have to be this way. He says in 15:14 – I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me
[4] He ends his letter with: The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. [5]

And I can’t think of a better way to end this study: with a plea for unity and a confident belief that you are full of goodness and willing to accomplish what God wants. It is Satan’s world that is filled with selfishness and self-centeredness. It is Satan’s dominion where hatred and impatience is tolerated. It is Satan’s realm where people fuss and fight and ignore those who are in desperate need of love and care. It is Satan’s realm where people are divided over race, social standing, politics, and personal opinions—to the point they are incapable of coming together.

But you are not that way. I am convinced you are full of goodness and competent to instruct one another—you can be patient, longsuffering, and loving with each other. I am convinced the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. Because when we our eyes are opened and we recognize Satan’s deception and when we open our eyes to see the possibilities of God’s kingdom in our midst—then Satan can rule no more! He will be crushed.

So may we recognize the goodness God has given us. May we learn how to be patient and unselfish with each other. May we open our eyes to see the possibilities of God’s kingdom in our midst where people are not rejected due to outward appearances or customs, but accepted by us because they are accepted by God. And may Satan be crushed under our feet through the power of God.

[1] Romans 15:7-8, The New International Version
[2] Romans 15:13, The New International Version
[4] Romans 15:14, The New International Version
[5] Romans 16:20, The New International Version

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