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A Common Focus
God’s children look at other races through the eyes of Christ (2 Cor. 5:16, 17). Unity is the result. And the power to maintain this unity flows from Christ Himself to His children (Eph. 4:15). The Christ-centered life helps us answer the what-do-we-do-with-the-difference question.
Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, instructs us by word and example on the appropriate use of racial and ethnic identity within and beyond the Christian community. Let’s focus on just one section of his writings that give us a window on Paul’s thinking, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:
“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (NIV).
This text is nestled in the stream of Paul’s discussion of freedom and responsibility. Paul is defending his apostleship against attack as well as bridling the freedom of the strong in chapter 8. By the time we get to verse 18 of chapter 9, Paul is in a full-blown discussion of his preaching ministry and why it is effective.
Paul had the difficult task of working between multiple cultures. He takes up his task because he is bound to Christ. Paul is free to serve the Corinthians, because he has not accepted any compensation from them (verse 15). Further, because he is free, he is able to enslave himself to people who are in need of the knowledge of Jesus Christ (verse 19). Primarily, Paul is free because of his encounter with Jesus Christ (verse 1); he is released from the old identity anchors that he once embraced. His freedom is grounded in a new experience: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17, NIV).
Thus Paul can no longer be Judeocentric. This is why he says, “I became as a Jew” (NIV). The word translated “as” or “like” in 1 Corinthians 9:20 comes from the Greek comparative particle hos. It introduces a simile into Paul’s discussion that compares one distinct idea, person, or object to another. By saying that he became “as” a Jew, Paul asserts that he is no longer defined as a Jew. He enjoys the freedom of a new self-understanding. He is finally free from the limiting prejudices, preconceptions, and presuppositions of ethnic Judaism.
When Paul says “to the Jews, I became as a Jew” (NKJV) he rattles the prison of identity idolatry. Paul is free in Christ. Boldly free!
Unlike Paul, Peter vacillated between freedom in Christ and political expediency (Gal. 2:11-15). Peter embodied racial and ethnic captivity. There is no question that the early church family was diversity-challenged. A quick reading of such texts as Luke 10:30-37, John 4:1-29, Acts 10:17-29, 15:5-10, Galatians 2:7-14, and Ephesians 2:11-19 reveals that the social situation between Jew and Gentile plagued the early church as it attempted to fulfill its mission.
As a Jew, Paul persecuted the church. But at Damascus Paul received an identity transplant (see Acts 9:1-6). The transforming encounter with the risen Christ deconstructed his inherited identity and replaced it with another primary identity. New perceptions of society and the world, new priorities, new ambitions, new criteria of perception—all these and more separated Paul from his former identity.
Taken from Adventist Review: What Do We Do With Differences?
(please note, I don't always agree with this view of Paul.)