Becoming More Christlike Than American: Part 5

Part 5: Advocates for the kingdom

“One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way…Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and declared, “It was that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But since you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles.” Acts 13:2-3,46 NLT

If you’ve never read Acts 13, or haven’t in a while, first go read it.

This story of the sending of Paul and Barnabas to “the nations” (usually translated “Gentiles”) is foundational to our experience and understanding of the Church.

And they did not see it as a secondary result of the Gospel, but as a part of the primary mission of God’s people. The unity of the nations (“ethnos” in Greek) into the kingdom of heaven is essential to the outworking of the Gospel!

Jesus came to reconcile all people to God and to one another in Him. And so as the church formed it was to become a people who would display this reconciliation to the world. The earliest disciples knew this and it was an essential part of their lives.

Too many times in American church culture today you hear the refrain “Just preach the Gospel” in response to the work of reconciliation. And the assumption is that simply by verbalizing a message to people, all things that are supposed to work themselves out will. But we don’t do this with other issues that come out of the Gospel and shape the people of God…

Does just preaching words automatically give us a relationally healthy church?

Does just preaching words readily form a group of people across ethnicity, age, and socioeconomics?

Does just preaching words naturally bring reconciliation of people to God and to one another?

While words are certainly powerful, there is an active roll we play in advocating for the kingdom of heaven to come here on earth. There is a key relational piece that must occur and not just words that are to be shared.

The testimony of words is crucial. But the witness of reconciliatory relationships is too. The Gospel is not the Gospel without both.

Here’s the truth of Acts 13: Just as the Advocate (the Holy Spirit) lives in us, so we become advocates for the kingdom to be displayed on earth as it is in heaven.

We certainly anticipate the return of Christ as the ultimate reconciliation of all people into the kingdom. But we participate now in bringing the kingdom to earth, just as Jesus and his disciples did, to the highest degree we can.

And the main ministry we are called to in this kingdom work is reconciliation – a relational experience of a coming together, not merely words that are preached.

Since we know there is no division in heaven – not because of secondary theological issues, not because of cultural differences and certainly not because of personal preference – then our efforts must be toward the most amount of unity possible here on earth as well!

Yes we recognize that perfect unity is still not yet achievable before Christ’s return. And yet that shouldn’t cause us to resign ourselves to division as if reconciliation cannot be a reality while we are still on earth – this perspective typically leads to a divisive attitude or a desire to justify division.

So what do we do with the reality of this call to reconciliation while we are still here on earth?

It seems we are left with two options: 1) Leave the kingdom reality of unity across uniqueness (individually and in people groups) to only happening after Jesus returns; or 2) Advocate for that kingdom reality on earth as it is in heaven until Christ returns and it is fully realized.

And in my reading of Scripture, it seems only one of those options fits. Considering that this kingdom reality is not only described after Jesus’s return (Revelation 7), but prayed for by Jesus (John 17) and then sought out by Jesus’ followers (the whole book of Acts starting in Acts 2); then it must be our earnest prayer and earnest seeking as well.

Isn’t it amazing that the immediate result of the Advocate (the Holy Spirit) inhabiting those first believers was a bringing together of people from different unique languages and “ethnos” (Acts 2)?

Isn’t it amazing that the response of the Advocate to the dispersion of believers was to empower them to be witnesses wherever they ended up to the people right in front of them who were not “like” them (Acts 8)?

Isn’t it amazing that the plan of the Advocate was to ultimately send out believers specifically to the unique people groups (Gentiles) across the known world in order to plant the Gospel and see the Church spring up right there among them (Acts 13)?

It should not be lost on us how intentional God is in emphasizing at the very beginning of the Church how important it is that the Gospel bring together all kinds of people from all kinds of places into the kingdom of heaven.

It does not happen by chance or circumstance.

It does not happen because of some expressed cultural value.

It happens because it is a key result of the call of the Gospel and the empowering of the Holy Spirit among His disciples.

The uniqueness of the image of God evidenced in each person from every place is brought to a full display of beauty as we find ourselves united in Christ.

To devalue the uniqueness of God’s image within people and people groups is to misunderstand the Gospel altogether.

And this is what Acts displays for us.

Acts is ultimately a prophetic critique of anyone or any group of people who tie the Gospel to their specific culture or their specific nation. Any ethnocentrism, tribalism, or nationalism of any variety within God’s people is a foreign reality to the kingdom of heaven.

As we read Acts 13, and internalize this outward trajectory of the Spirit’s calling to unite the unique image of God within all kinds of people, we must wrestle with how we may have been formed by parts of our own American culture in a way that might deny this reality instead of embrace it.

Do we trust God enough to prioritize the call of the Spirit to go to those who do not share our ethnic values or do we find ourselves bunkering down into silos out of a need for comfort or control?

Do we trust God enough to live as residents of the kingdom of heaven here on earth among all kinds of “people groups” right around us (many that may not look like us or live like us) or do we distance ourselves from that calling because it may inconvenience us?

Do we trust God enough to identify and deal with our own biases so that we can love our neighbor as Jesus loves them or do we live with blinders on which keep us from valuing someone enough to love them well?

Do we trust God enough to celebrate as someone else to express their faith thru the uniqueness of how God has formed them (and the people He’s formed around them) or do we feel the need to get them to conform to our version of expression as if it is “the standard”?

Acts models for us what it looks like for the kingdom to come to earth across all earthly divisions (specifically ethnicity).

May we become Advocates for this united multiethnic kingdom of heaven being displayed here on earth and not for any ethnic-specific version of the American church.

May we become Advocates for this multiethnic kingdom that wages war against the evil in this world that divides and dehumanizes, in order that we may display fully both righteousness and justice as the very witness of The Advocate’s work in our lives.

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Son. Brother. Husband. Father. Friend. Mentor. Spiritual Director. Consultant. Student. Communicator. Organizer.

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