Brothers (and Sisters) In A Great Struggle
Galatians 3:28 (NKJV) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
If I remember correctly, the Korean War was the only war ever fought under the United Nations banner. Although, by far and away, the United States furnished the most men, material and money in the brutal conflict, yet, at least nominally, the combined forces were commanded under overall UN authority and subject to UN rules of engagement. That meant that there was a very, very mixed flavor to the UN forces. A startling variety of cultures, races and ethnic backgrounds were present. If you visit the only UN cemetery in the world, outside Seoul, you will find the graves of those who still remain in Korea gathered by nation under their own flag. It's an humbling experience.
The South Koreans fiercely preserve the memory of that war and they, to this day, honor those who fought it. And there is good reason for that... apart from those who put their lives on the line in those desperate days, South Korea today would be just as miserable as is North Korea. And in this monument (and its companion on the other side of the steps) we see how carefully they have preserved the multi-ethnic character of those gathered allied forces.
In the 1950's segregation (separate but equal) policies in the United States were still lawful and practiced. There were still those who believed, sometimes sincerely, that God had created different races and had (1) intended them to remain as separate races (hence no mixing of blood) and (2) that He had differentiated between the races in abilities. There were some humans who were more "human" than others.
This was, and is, poppy cock. It is not a view as widely held today as then but it is not entirely absent. However, as multitudes of examples illustrate, e.g. the "Red Tails" of WWII, when a man is the midst of fighting for his life against a vicious and dedicated enemy, he doesn't differentiate between who is allowed to fight next to him. If that guy helps him survive then the color of his skin doesn't matter at that particular moment.
A similar situation existed in the early church. Christians were literally fighting for their lives, for their future as a church, for their families, for their homes. They were not fighting with swords, though there were plenty of enemies with no scruples at all about using them against the Christians, but they fought with their witness. They fought back by clinging to their faith... by clinging to each other... and by doing good even when the desire for vengeance was strong. It was a bloody, desperate time and the Church of Jesus Christ was hanging on by a thread.
And like the War in Korea, the "allied forces" were multi-national, multi-cultural and multi-racial. As Paul teaches in this verse, this was a battle in which a significant element of the church's overall witness, was the "love of the brethren" that bound them together. Roman society was built on social distinctions. Roman "pride" was considered a virtue. For a man or woman, of any race, to not only associate but "lower" themselves to "equality" with a person of lesser social distinction, was an insult not only to the individual but the extended family. Loss of "honor" in such a circumstance carried grave penalties.
Paul's words, here and elsewhere, were absolutely revolutionary. He was telling Christians that they had to rethink every cultural idea they had ever just assumed to be "the way things are." Their first battle was to overcome their own cultural brainwashing and humbly embark on a journey of discovery... a journey of reconciliation with each other so that a new cultural order, with new traditions, and a new history, could emerge. It was an internal war against ignorance and arrogance that had to be fought, together. And the same dynamic proved itself true then as in modern wars. When you are depending on your brother in arms to help you, rescue you, shield you, provide covering fire for you... in other words, to put his life on the line for you... and he comes through, he does what needs to be done for you.... after that you never quite look at him the same way again.
The Church of Jesus Christ is indeed an army. It is a victorious army in the sense that the deciding battle has already been won and what remains now is to chase the enemy from the field. But it is still a dangerous world and there are many casualties. Blood is not absent from the fighting, but the primary opponents are the "principalities and powers" that are arrayed against us. We need each other, desperately. We need the brothers and sisters who are bearing witness in Iran and who are subject to vicious persecution... we need our Chinese brethren... we need our African communities of faith... we need those, a small remnant, who are still faithful in Europe.... We, here in our pleasant communities, need those folks. It is a World War in every sense of the word and what happens in Bosnia has repercussions here.
If we need our brothers and sisters in other lands to help us survive, how much more do we need each other here in our local communities. The force of witness demonstrated by the early church is no less powerful now. What should be distinctive about our local communities of faith is that their multi-ethnic harmony is "proof" of the sincerity of their faith. Bigotry in the community of God is treason. There is no place for it. No matter what cultural brain washing we have been subjected to, on either side of the color lines, it must be faced, evaluated, and where counter to God's commands, overcome.
We stand together or we fall separately. There is no middle ground.
[Reprinted with permission from Pastor Arch Van Devender]