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Discipleship and Ethnic Diversity

Written by Ollie Ward on


“And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Luke 10:25-37

On the road of sanctification, Christians often think they are being gospel-centered while actually having a major blind spot, causing them to be out of step with the truth of the gospel. Especially when it comes to loving their neighbors. (Gal. 2:14) This is where discipleship plays a crucial role for the believer. In Luke 10:25-37, we see the lawyer questioning Jesus for the path to eternal life and loving his neighbor. However, if we go back to Luke 10:23 we see the twelve disciples were present and learning directly from Jesus during this exchange. That must not be overlooked – it is key. During the recent College Park Institute Forum, “Ethnic Diversity, Racism, & College Park Church,” I spoke about a prevalent disconnect between discipleship and ethnic diversity.

In our American Christian culture, we understand the need for discipleship when it concerns relational subjects like marriage, parenting, stewardship, etc. We agree we need constant reminders to date our spouses, to identify with each of our children for their unique developmental needs, and to execute principles that reflect a lifestyle of good stewardship. Constant exposure, encouragement, and even rebuke are seen as necessary in order to grow and thrive in these areas. Yet, when it comes to loving neighbors who don’t look like you, it’s every man for himself. Truthfully, we tend to see our neighbors more like enemies. If they don’t look like us, have the same culture as us, or vote like us, we don’t consider them as neighbors.

Jesus exposes this as a heart issue. He taught the often hardheaded and hardhearted disciples to love as God loves. Jesus frequently demonstrated this by engaging the very people that the disciples wouldn’t associate with.

Many in the church don’t recognize that there is a need to grow and learn how to lament, fellowship, or have compassion for others, that are ethnically diverse. In the CPI Forum, I mentioned a personal conversation with a majority culture acquaintance. In short, he did not see a need to “learn” or “practice” how to love his neighbors that don’t look like him; claiming it wasn’t necessary because basic decency and common sense were enough. I replied with an analogy. He was married and I was aware of some of his dating/marriage story. He had to fight for his wife. He had to pursue her. He loved her. Yet, even with all his deliberate pursuit and love he still needed encouragement, books, sermons, accountability partners, and even rebuke at times, to learn how to continue to love his wife. My conclusion was, how much more encouragement and teaching you constantly need to love someone you are unfamiliar with, indifferent towards, or do not prefer.

Our aggressive flesh nature and spiritual immaturity produce endlessly creative justifications for not loving our ethnically diverse neighbors. The frequent accusation, that this subject is just divisive “politics” or “the social gospel,” is hurtful and inaccurate. It only serves to recklessly deflect and ignore numerous biblical narratives that reveal God’s heart concerning the sin of partiality. Discussing subjects like racism requires humility, which produces gentleness, not reckless accusations. In His Word, God deals with the issue of justice and loving your neighbor from cover to cover, yet too often the general opinion in the church feels like talking or teaching about ethnic diversity, is not being Gospel-centered. The Scriptures teach us all have sinned and deserve eternal hell (Rom. 3:9-18). However, it’s theologically inconsistent to teach “justice” strictly in the vertical context (God to mankind), while allowing little room for soaking in God’s heart and teaching about horizontal “justice” (mankind to mankind), and what God expects from His redeemed people towards their neighbors (Isaiah 1:17). It is a subtle partiality that creates a major blind spot, but Christ’s description of the “greatest commandment” had two parts, not just the first.

In Luke 10, the lawyer asked a question that seemed focused on eternal life/salvation but in Scripture, the Spirit shows us that racism was a significant source behind his self-justification. This blind spot of his own partiality obscured his understanding of the true nature of God.

When Jesus tells the parable of a man traveling who was robbed and left for dead, there were three characters who walked by the injured man. Two were men to whom the lawyer would’ve been partial. The third was a Samaritan man the lawyer would’ve despised largely because of the man’s mixed ethnicity, part Jewish and part Gentile. Jesus knew of this lawyer’s racism and used the Samaritan to be the very example of what God requires from the lawyer. All who truly serve God, just like the lawyer claimed he did, are not only required to love like the Samaritan but also love the Samaritan. That demand is a part of the full gospel, and we cannot let our prejudices and partialities obscure our understanding of the true nature of God.

This applies to many Christians today. We may think we are focused on the salvific gospel message, but we are really just hiding our prejudices behind its massive magnitude. We justify our lack of maturity by claiming we are being gospel-centered. Rather, deliberately or ignorantly, we ignore that the work of the gospel not only saves us but demands change in us. We claim to be right and reasonable before God, but Jesus says our lack of compassion is like unequal weights. Our hard hearts and partiality are like false scales, which is an abomination before the Lord. (Luke 16:5, Proverbs 20:23, Micah 6)

Discipleship is all-encompassing for the Christian life. We must remember the great commission in its entirety. We often quote Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” but we must also understand the all-encompassing nature in verse 20, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” Making disciples begins with salvation, but teaching them to apply all that the Godhead cares about, is also a major part of making disciples. As the church, we must lead the discussions of unity within diversity. We cannot settle for a false Christian maturity which leaves out Christ’s heart towards seeking justice for others, loving our neighbors, having compassion, having humility, esteeming others, controlling our tongues (social media included), and celebrating all ethnicities as God’s image-bearers.

How can we be maturing in loving our neighbors if everyone around us looks like us or comes from the same culture as us, by choice, or indifference? How can we effectively fight through fears, and not submit, to stereotypes we all naturally have? How can we grow in maturity, when we talk about others more than we talk to them? Let’s continue to grow in our spiritual maturity. Let’s learn from one another and love one another. Let’s make disciples.

Ollie Ward

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