Growing up during the 1950s, I never questioned racism and the segregation practices that permeated daily life in the city where we lived. In schools, restaurants, public transportation, and neighborhoods, people with different shades of skin color were separated.
My attitude changed in 1968 when I entered US Army Basic Training. Our company included young men from many different cultural groups. We soon learned that we needed to understand and accept each other, work together, and accomplish our mission.
When Paul wrote to the first-century church at Colossae, he was well aware of the diversity of its members. He reminded them, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). In a group where surface as well as deeper differences could easily divide people, Paul urged them to “clothe [themselves] with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (v. 12). And over all these virtues, he told them to put on love “which binds them all together in perfect unity” (v. 14).
Putting these principles into practice may often be a work in progress, but that is what Jesus calls us to. What we as believers hold in common is our love for Him. On that basis, we pursue understanding, peace, and unity as members of the body of Christ.
Amid all our wonderful diversity, we pursue an even greater unity in Christ.
Christ’s love creates unity in the midst of diversity.
Colossians 3:11 lists ancient Colossae’s diverse people groups. Most familiar are the Jews (the children of Israel) and the Greeks (Gentiles in general—all non-Jews). Paul describes these two groups with the terms circumcised (Jews) and uncircumcised (Gentiles). Then he adds barbarian, Scythian, slave, and free. The distinctions between slave and free are obvious. Scythian refers to wild nomadic tribes and barbarian describes those who didn’t speak Greek and therefore were considered uncultured. The result is a spectrum of ethnically, linguistically, economically, and socially diverse people—all who found the ground to be level at the foot of the cross.