II. The Annulling of Nationality: A. There Being No Distinction
Between Jews and Greeks: In the world the greatest distinction is based on nationality. The Jews and the Greeks are two very distinct races. The Jews are very nationalistic. They are the descendants of Abraham, the chosen people of God; they are the only nation established by God on earth. They are separated from other nations and are a peculiar people unto God. But instead of humbling themselves before God and exalting Him, they are proud and boast of themselves before other races. Their pride carries their nationalism to an extreme degree. They despise all Gentile nations. In their eyes the Gentiles are animals, dogs. They do not recognize the Gentiles in any way. This is why it is rather difficult to put a Gentile next to a Jew and ask them to be fellow Christians. A Jew may believe in the Lord Jesus and call himself a Christian, but it is very difficult to persuade him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. The book of Acts tells us that the gospel was preached first to the Jews on the day of Pentecost. Later, when the gospel reached Samaria, it was the Jews who were saved. In order to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, the Lord had to raise up Paul and charge him with the preaching. Even then, it did not immediately begin in Antioch. Peter had to make a start in Caesarea first. It was quite hard for Peter as an apostle to the Jews to go to the Gentiles. Therefore, he needed to see a vision three times and had to hear the Lord say three times, “Rise up, Peter; slay and eat!” Without this, Peter would never have dared go to the Gentiles. This was the first time the gospel was preached to the Gentiles, and it shows how reluctant the Jews were to preach to the Gentiles.
In Acts 15 a problem arose in the matter of circumcision and the keeping of the law. Some advocated that the Gentile believers needed to be circumcised and keep the law. They were, in effect, saying that in order for a Gentile to be a Christian, he had to be a Jew first. How strong was this nationalistic barrier! The Gentiles had to wait until Acts 15 before they were exempted from circumcision and from keeping the law. Peter and the others told Paul and Barnabas to go freely to the Gentiles and assured them that they would all remain in the same fellowship. Galatians 2 tells us that Peter went to Antioch and ate with the Gentiles. But when certain people came from James, he shrank back and separated himself, fearing those of the circumcision. Paul openly rebuked Peter for not walking according to the truth of the gospel. The cross had already broken down the middle wall of partition, and there should be neither Jews nor Gentiles. We may be a Jew or a Gentile. But may the Lord bless us to see that in Christ we all have been made one. Our nationality has been abolished and our national distinctions no longer exist. Whether one is a Chinese believer, an English believer, an Indian believer, or a Japanese believer, he has become a brother or sister in Christ. We cannot separate God’s children by nationality. We cannot have Chinese Christianity. If it is Chinese then it is no longer Christ. It is either “Chinese-ity” or “Christian-ity”; there is no such thing as Chinese Christianity. These two terms contradict one another. We are all brothers and sisters in the Lord. There cannot be any national distinctions. This is quite obvious. In the Body of Christ, in the new man, we are fully one; there are no national distinctions of any kind. Even nationalism as strong as that of the Jews has been annulled by the Lord.
B. The Cross Breaking Down the Middle Wall of Partition: Ephesians tells us about a wall between the Jews and the Gentiles. The two are separated. But the cross has broken down the middle wall of partition. There is no longer any distinction or separation. If we meet someone who is in Christ, we should not say that he is Chinese; he is a person in Christ. We should not say that someone is an Englishman; we should say that he is in Christ. We have all become one in Christ. Never think of having a Chinese church or a Chinese testimony. This is a great mistake, and the idea should not even cross our mind. Please remember that in Christ, there is no distinction between Greeks and Jews. There is no such thing. If a brother or a sister introduces such a thing among us, it means that he or she is bringing in a foreign element. The result will be corruption within. We do not have any distinction between Jews and Greeks. In Christ we are all joined together. We have to eradicate all nationalistic notions from our heart. The moment we bring such a thing into the church, the church becomes an organization of the flesh and no longer the Body of Christ. Some people are so strong in their nationalistic feelings that they cannot be Christians in a proper way. Though we are Chinese and under the jurisdiction of our country, this relationship ceases when we are in Christ. Whenever we come before the Lord, we do not come as a Chinese person. Such a consciousness should be kept outside the door. We hope new believers will see from the very beginning that we are linked together in the life of Christ. I have received the life of Christ, and a brother in England or a brother in India or Japan has also received the same life of Christ. We are united according to the life of Christ, not according to our nationalities. We must have a very clear vision about this. In the Body, in Christ, and in the new man, nationality does not exist. That distinction has been totally abolished. After the First World War, a few brothers from England went to Germany for a conference. During the conference, a brother stood up and introduced the British brothers with the words, “The war is over, and some English brothers are here to visit us. We warmly welcome them.” After this introduction, a brother from England stood up and said, “We are not English brothers; we are brothers from England.” This is a marvelous word. There are no English brothers; there are only brothers from England. How can there be an English brother, an American brother, a French sister, or an Italian sister in the house of God? Thank God, there are no national distinctions in Christ. Brothers and sisters, we are all part of the church. We have received the laying on of hands already. Now we must see that all distinctions between Greeks and Jews have been abolished. There are no longer any such distinctions in Christ. This is a glorious fact, a truly glorious truth. In the church there is only Christ. Christ is all and in all. There is nothing besides Christ.
III. The annulling of class distinctions: Another intransigent relationship in human society is class distinctions. We do not experience national distinctions too much unless we meet foreigners. However, we come across the problem of class distinctions daily. The apostle tells us that there is no class distinction between the free man and the slave. In Christ, there is no free man or slave. Such distinctions no longer exist. Our generation has probably never experienced the sharp class separation which exists between the free man and the slave. However, Paul wrote his Epistles during Roman rule when the practice of slavery was at its zenith. At the time of the Roman Empire, there was a cattle market, a sheep market, and a human market. This can be compared to the textile exchange, the commodity exchange, the stock exchange, and the gold exchange in Shanghai. At that time in Rome, there was a human exchange. The Romans fought many wars and captured many people. They put these captives in the market for sale. If a master felt that the children of a slave were eating too much, he could bring the children to the market and sell them. Such a practice was very common in Rome. Human beings were bought and sold like goods. Profitability was measured by the number of children one produced; those who produced more were sold for a better price. At that time there was a great distinction between the free man and the slave. Although the idea of democracy came from Rome, and although civil rights, suffrage, and voting began from Rome, these rights belonged to free men only; the slaves had nothing. If one killed a slave, he merely needed to negotiate the monetary worth of the slave with the master and pay accordingly. The slave had no civil rights; he was not considered a human being. Killing a slave was like killing a cow. The most one had to do was pay for the cow; there was no need to pay for the life. Children of slaves were slaves automatically, and they belonged to their master. For their whole life, they had no freedom of their own unless their master chose to release them. If they ran away, they would be crucified.
This kind of class distinction is many times harsher than that between masters and servants, employers and employees, and bosses and subordinates of today. Such distinctions no longer exist anywhere on earth. But long before the world abolished this practice, God’s Word already had abolished such class distinctions. In the three Epistles to the Corinthians, Galatians, and Colossians, Paul stated that there was no distinction between the free man and the slave. Such a distinction is abolished in Christ. In the New Testament the book of Philemon speaks of a slave of Philemon by the name of Onesimus. Philemon was a co-worker of Paul. When Onesimus believed in the Lord, he too became a brother. When they were at home, Onesimus was the slave and Philemon was the master. But if Philemon brought Onesimus to the meeting of the church, one would call Onesimus Philemon’s brother, not his slave. In the church, relationships between masters and servants cease. When they knelt down to pray together, Onesimus was Philemon’s brother. But when they rose up to do their work, Onesimus was Philemon’s slave. In the Lord they were one, in the new man they were one, and in the Body they were one. Please pay attention to this: In Christ the master-slave relationship does not exist, in the new man this relationship does not exist, and in the church this relationship does not not exist. In Christ all class distinctions are totally abolished. There is no more class consciousness or class struggle. Before God we must see that today we may be a servant, a subordinate, or an employee. We should take our stand in the workplace and learn to submit to our superior or master. However, when we come before God, we should not yield to someone just because he is our master or boss. In our discussion over spiritual matters, we should not consider our master or our superior to be always right or his reasoning to be always correct. There is no such thing. Whenever we kneel down to pray or discuss spiritual matters, our status is changed, and there is no class distinction between us. We cannot introduce any class relationship into the church, because such a relationship does not exist in the church.
This fact is especially important when we come to the church meetings. Recall how James condemned such a sin. He said when a rich man comes, he is given a better seat, and when a poor man comes, he is told to stand or be seated at the footstool. James condemned such an act as a sin. Whenever we come to the meeting to fellowship with God’s children, we must be clear that our standing is in Christ, in the new man, and in the Body. Our standing is not based on any class distinction. Only Christians can break down all class distinctions, and only they can do it thoroughly. Only Christians can hold hands together and greet each other as brothers because only they have love. Only Christians — those who are in Christ — can remove all class distinctions. A young person must realize that as long as he is a believer in Christ, his Christian boss is his brother and his Christian subordinate is also his brother. His Christian master is his brother, and his Christian slave is also his brother. The distinction between the free man and the slave is annulled entirely; this distinction no longer exists. We can only fellowship with our brothers and sisters based on the little that the Lord has given us. We are all brothers and sisters. If we do this, we will be greatly blessed by the Lord, and the church will be filled with the Lord’s love. Several Christians in Chungking once wanted to build a church for the government officials. They came and asked me for my opinion. I said, “What name are you going to give to this church? I think you should name it ‘The Church of the Civil Officers.'” If it is a church of officers, surely it is not something in Christ, because there is no such thing in Christ. There is neither free man nor slave in Christ. If a free man wants to be saved, he has to receive the Lord’s life. If a slave wants to be saved, he also must receive the Lord’s life. There is no difference between the two. We cannot add anything to Christ or subtract anything from Christ. Man cannot build a church for officers, because there is no such thing in Christ. Everyone has to learn to be a brother or a sister.
IV. The Annulling of Distinctions between Male And Female: The fourth distinction that has been abolished in Christ is that of gender, that is, the distinction between male and female. In this world the male occupies one role and the female occupies another role. In church administration the male also has his place and the female her place. Within the family the husband has his place and the wife has her place. However, in Christ and in the new man, both the man and the woman have the same stand; there is no distinction between them. In Christ, the man does not occupy a special place, nor does the woman, because Christ is all and in all. In this respect a man is no different from a woman. Please remember that in spiritual matters there is no distinction between male and female. We have mentioned that the sisters’ place in some areas of service is different from that of the brothers. But this pertains only to the matter of authority. Today, in Christ, there is no difference between the two. A brother is saved through the life of Christ, the life of God’s Son. In the same way, a sister is saved through the life of Christ, the life of God’s Son. Every case in the Bible where the Chinese version translates “sons and daughters,” the original word is children. This word does not differentiate between male or female (even though its usage is masculine). I am born a child of God and grow up to be a son of God. A son is male. Yet this description fits both the brothers as well as the sisters.
In the whole New Testament, only 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 speaks of sons and daughters. “Therefore ‘come out from their midst … and I will welcome you’; ‘and I will be a Father to you, and you will be sons and daughters to Me.'” After we have believed in God and are delivered and separated from the world and its polluted and unclean influence, God will receive us like a Father, and we will be His sons and His daughters. This is a matter between God and an individual; it is not a matter of what a person is in Christ. This is why it says sons and daughters. When a person suffers for God, incurs loss for His sake, and experiences hardship because of Him, God will become a Father to such a one as an individual. If you are male, God will receive you as a son. If you are female, God will receive you as a daughter. God will receive you as His sons and daughters. He is the all-sufficient Lord. He has everything. This is a matter of what a person is before God. It has nothing to do with what he or she is in Christ. In Christ we are all God’s children, and there is no distinction between male and female. This distinction does not exist at all. Once I asked a certain craftsman in Shanghai, who was a brother in the Lord, “Brother, how are the brothers in you place doing?” He replied, “Are you asking about the male brothers or the female brothers?” This answer could not have been put better. It is one of the truest words ever spoken. Male brothers and female brothers are also brothers; there is no distinction in Christ. What this brother said was absolutely correct; he was simply stating the biblical truth. When we come to the Lord and touch Him, we transcend all male and female distinctions. We are beyond gender. Before the Lord and in Christ, there is no distinction between male and female. Not done read next issue part 4.
Dr. Lewis Akpogena