Tuesday, August 15, 2023
Folks alive today have great difficulty understanding the challenge the early followers of Jesus faced in welcoming new Christians from different races. Jewish people were widely hated in the Gentile world of the first century. Jewish people had trained their whole lives to keep kosher and avoid unclean foods, utensils, and non-Jews around the table or any form of eating.  The early church shared table fellowship at least each Sunday as they shared the Lord's Supper.  They also shared table fellowship at other times in their homes,  where most of their worship occurred once the church moved beyond Jerusalem.  This regular table fellowship further complicated their multi-racial and multi-ethnic fellowship as cultural values collided with the fellowship ethic of Christ Jesus.  No matter how honestly these new believers saw each other as brothers and sisters in Christ in their heads, their race, food practices, and conditioning over many generations made fellowship very difficult. Much of the New Testament directly addresses ways to overcome these challenges. 
Praise God, they did. The conference in Jerusalem forged an understanding of ways for Jews and Gentiles to fellowship as Christians.  The Holy Spirit led them to understand how to bridge these differences with the words of James, the half-brother of Jesus, furnishing the powerful principle for the followers of Jesus to use as they moved into their new future as God's family:
"And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God."
To be clear, James was not compromising the message about Jesus or what was required to become a Christian. However, he taught us to drop all the human ways we draw lines of distinction between each other to make distinctions and separate ourselves from each other. Instead, James stressed that God wants us to use this universal principle: How can we lower the barriers that make it hard for people to turn to God and live in fellowship with His children?
Now, dear brother or sister in Christ, let's put this principle into practice. Look among those people you know who are new believers. Go and show your love for them by including them in your circles of fellowship. Protect them from those who want to burden them with human-made rules about food, dress, tattoos, hairstyles, places to eat, and other external things. Help make their first steps of pursuing Jesus less burdensome of human rules so they can focus on falling deeply in love with Jesus. Jesus wants new disciples to re-orient their lives around Him. Our efforts must center on helping them obey what Jesus taught and live as Jesus demonstrated. We want new believers to see that the Lord sent us into the world to bless and redeem others. So, let's be advocates for new believers, so they don't get caught in the church gunk that often discourages and drives away new believers who are excited to love and live for Jesus!
O, dear Father, please use me to welcome, include, and encourage new believers to grow in their walk with Jesus. Use me to advocate for them and to protect them from those who want to place their traditions and externally based rules on their lives. Use me to make their following Jesus with their heart, soul, mind, and strength easier and less burdensome. I ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Together in Christ is a daily devotional that focuses on what Scripture teaches about godly living in relationships.
'Together in Christ' is written by Phil Ware.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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