The Church is like a box of chocolates; you never know who you’re going to be in community with. Shout out to Forrest Gump for the modified quote, but it is true about life and the Church. However, by my observation, many churches tend to avoid diversity and settle into a snug little groove of being surrounded by the same kind of people, doing the same kind of things, over and over and over again.
However, a quick glimpse at Scripture shows us a different picture, at least as far as the early church was concerned. Part of the cultural pushback on Jesus when he was ministering was his inclusion of the undesirable and marginalized. Jesus included women, cultural traitors working for Rome, the uneducated, the unclean, and those that were unproductive.
A quick snapshot at a typical Jewish synagogue in Jesus' day would reveal some differences among the people attending, but we would quickly note that all those different people had been grouped together, and towards the back, out of sight. Not so with Jesus. There was no preferential seating and no concern for anyone’s ego. This is, among other reasons, why Jesus was wildly unpopular with the religious elite of his day. He upset the “natural” spiritual hierarchy that had been so carefully created.
To find a beautiful example of this, we need to look no further than Paul’s launching of the Philippian church. In the book of Acts chapter 16, we see Paul planting this amazing church on three distinct personalities. First, Paul begins with a woman, which, though more acceptable in Greek culture, would not have been a typical first choice as a founding member.
Paul discovers Lydia while looking for a place to pray. There she is, a Gentile woman who had decided to follow the God of Israel, and who was meeting with her women’s prayer group by the river. Paul, as an expert in all things Jewish, would have been a gem to these women who were looking for more of God.
Next step? Church planted in Lydia’s home as she and her family come to Christ and are baptized.
Moving to the next scene in this box of chocolates church, Paul and Silas are walking through the market and a demon-possessed girl begins following them around and shouting at them. She is announcing that they are emissaries of the “Most High God,” which sounds good on paper, but Paul becomes terribly bothered. The reason for this is that no one will ever come to faith based on the confession of a demon and as such, Paul looks to silence this spirit at once. Thus, Paul casts the demon out and sets the little girl free. This causes some great issues for Paul as this girl was a money maker for some of the townsmen, and they have Paul and Silas thrown into prison. However, this little girl becomes the next stone in the foundation of the Philippian Church.
While in prison, Paul and Silas meet a Roman jailer, whose responsibility is to keep every prisoner in place and serve Rome with honor and loyalty. Rather than crying out for mercy while chained up, Paul and Silas sing praises to God and offer worship, which must have put Paul high on the list of the most irritating prisoners ever. One night there was an earthquake so powerful that it opened the cell doors and loosened all the shackles. Paul was free, but rather than making a break for it, he stayed. Had he and the other prisoners escaped, the jailer would have had to commit suicide for the failure of duty, but because they stayed, the jailer’s life was saved.
The jailer was so overcome that he invited Paul and Silas to his home to show his gratitude, but rather than “you are welcome” he and his family received the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The final stone in the new church had just been laid. Look back at this incredibly diverse yet unlikely group of people that founded this incredible church, a woman, a former slave girl, and a Roman jailer.
This unlikely group became a seat of Christian mission and were known for their radical generosity.
What is the point? Well, we need to value the differences in those around us, just as God does. The more variety God brings into the body, the better. And the more capable we are of carrying out his mission to spread the hope of Christ all over, but this will only be done when we live the hope out ourselves. This means that though there will be problems, we stand firmly together in our vast differences, knowing that God knit us together by something much deeper and stronger than our dissimilarities. We are bound together by the blood of Jesus Christ and empowered by his Holy Spirit, and as such, we can carry on pushing the hopeless darkness into the enemy's lap, just as our brothers and sisters in Philippi did 2000 years ago.