Thicker Than Water

It says in Colossians 3:11-13:

11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Racial issues make the headlines: In 1991 it was the Rodney King arrest; in 1995 a jury acquitted O. J. Simpson; in 2002, Senator Trent Lott lost his Majority Leader post after affirming Strom Thurmond’s 1948 candidacy for president (Thurmond had supported racial segregation); in 2007, radio host Don Imus was fired when years of ill-conceived humor climaxed in a joke at the expense of the Rutgers women’s basketball team.

Racism, of course, is no laughing matter. This is true in a country with a history of slavery, but it is also true internationally: the Palestinian Islamist organization, Hamas, is fervently anti-Semitic (its official charter calls for Israel’s destruction) and it is dangerous to be dark-skinned in parts of Russia (one West African professional reported that he has to avoid public transportation, be home before 9:00 PM, and not be seen with his native Russian wife.)1

Of course, racism is nothing new. It was common for a first-century Jew to thank God he was not born a Gentile, a slave, or a woman. When Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians, both Greeks and Jews were part of that church. The false teaching of elitism among Christians threatened to wreck their harmony (2:6-23). Paul argued that rancor and racism no longer made any sense since believers were now one with Christ (3:1-4). So, above all, in the Church, God’s people must strive for purity and unity.

Christians do this by putting to death “what is earthly” (3:5). Paul urged them to cast aside those sins that particularly separated brothers and sisters, “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk” (3:8), and he called them to exercise those virtues that build the church, “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (v. 12). Little of this could take place in a community strained by racial tension, one which ignored the fact that, in Christ, “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised” (v. 11). Jews must not use their religious heritage to look down on Greek Christians, and Greeks must not denigrate their Jewish brothers and sisters. Even the Scythians and barbarians—ignorant “babblers,” unable to speak Greek—were on equal footing in the church. Since, in heaven, there would be no superiority based on race and heritage, such discrimination was utterly out of place in the church on earth.

Though today racism is almost universally condemned, the gospel does more than denounce it: indeed, in the Church, enemies are made friends. Hence, Jewish and Palestinian believers might unite in a relationship deeper, sweeter, and stronger than even the bond between a mother and her child. Blood may be thicker than water, but the gospel trumps both. And this good news of the Bible is more than just the hope of heaven; it is God’s revelation of a comprehensive, bountiful way of life, grounded in obedience, promising fruitfulness and joy, both here and in the hereafter. This is God’s wonderful provision to his children of all races as they abide together in love.


1 For a description of racism in Russia and Europe, see Obi Akwani, “Racism against Blacks Is a Growing Trend in Europe,” Global News Digest, June 10, 2006,

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