These are troubled times. Protests across the United States illustrate the racial divide that continues to boil over. Racial equality and healing seem like distant dreams. It does not look hopeful that we will see equality practiced and healing take place any time soon. But there is a Biblical recipe for both unity and healing. It is not a new recipe – in fact it is two thousand years old, yet it is just as powerful and applicable today as it was when it was first recorded. That recipe shows us how we can be part of the solution. Let us not sit idly by as our brothers and sisters are destroyed by a deep seated division that we can do something about.
The Biblical basis for unity is resounding. There is no ethnic inequality in the body of Christ (3:28). We are one in the body of Christ (Eph 4:4). We are all to be subject to one another in the fear of Christ (Eph 5:21). We are to consider one another as more worthy of honor than ourselves (Php 2:3). We are to be diligent to preserve the unity that God has already provided for us (Eph 4:3). Even from this small sampling of Biblical wisdom it is evident that the unity and equality of people is an important thing to God.
It is notable that in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the very first prescriptive instructions after Paul’s explanation of who we are in Christ include these words:
Therefore, I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:1-3).
Applying these principles to racial unity and healing, we discover first of all that the basis for unity is our identity in Christ. So if Jesus Christ is not at the center of our discussions and behavior, then we are not going to be able to suitably address the problems we face. It all starts with the good news of Jesus Christ – through His sacrificial death on our behalf He provides us life where we were dead. By belief in Him we are brought into one body – His body (1 Cor 12:13), and we are given new life in which we can walk together. Once we recognize that the basis for unity is connected to our position in Christ, we can understand some practical steps for dealing with division and promoting healing.
Principle #1 – walk in a manner worthy. If I am walking the way I should be walking, and you are walking the way you should be walking, regardless of our ethnic, socioeconomic or other differences, we will be walking in consideration of each other. Each of us must look in the mirror first, and must take care of our own spiritual walk first, before we expect anything of others
Principle #2 – maintain humility and gentleness. These two characteristics are uniquely capable of promoting unity, equality, and healing. Pride elevates one over another in an ungodly way. The Biblical prescription is the opposite – think like Christ (Php 2:5), who lowered Himself even to the point of death on a cross (for us, by the way). Further, a gentle answer turns away wrath, whereas a harsh answer stirs up anger (Prov 15:1). Even in parental discipline, fathers are to be diligent to avoid exasperating their children (Eph 6:4).
Principle #3 – have patience. The first characteristic of love is patient (1 Cor 13:4). The term actually means “big suffering” (makrothumei). We could say that we should be willing to suffer much at the hands of those we love. And who are we supposed to love? Everybody (Lk 10:29-37).
Principle #4 – showing tolerance for one another in love. For a society that speaks a great deal about tolerance, we show very little. When we see in Ephesians 1 what God did in love on our behalf, we can recognize how we are to show tolerance for one another in love. Because of our identity in Christ, our differences can add a beautiful diversity to His body. Imagine a world in which there was only one music genre, one color, one temperature, or one flavor – not appealing at all. We are not to be homogenized, just tolerant of each other, and that tolerance is to be rooted in true love.
Principle #5 – being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. God has already established the unity, we are simply called to preserve it – to guard it. We are to be diligent about this, because it is important. How important? Remember in Matthew 5:22-23, Jesus explained how before offering something to God we should first make sure we are right with our brother. This is similar to the idea that John talked about in 1 John 2:9 – the one who says he is walking in the light but doesn’t love his brother is actually walking in the dark. How we treat each other matters to God. He did a lot to accomplish our unity and equality. The least we could do is to be diligent to guard that.
Just like in other areas of life, we are to be focused on speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15), and as we are doing so we can grow to maturity. In this context, the truth of who we are demands that we love each other. His example and His word encourages us to do nothing less.