For a long while I remember wondering what all the stuff about Jews and Gentiles was really in the Bible for. I’ll be honest, it never seemed all that relevant to me. There were a number of things that came into play in the whole “debate” : whether Gentiles had to be circumcised, whether Gentiles had to follow the Law, whether Gentiles could still eat meat sacrificed to idols, and even whether Gentiles were meant to be a part of the people of God. All these things seem far removed from the life I live on the other side of the world a couple thousand years later. Sure, there are certainly some principles that need to be gleaned from these controversies that help us to be discerning today. But the whole scenario seems so foreign and irrelevant. Or at least I thought.
Reflecting on these things in recent years has led me to see how important the Bible’s words on this challenge really are. What I came to see was that missions was at stake in this fight. And missions is central to the gospel and to the entirety of the biblical narrative. It begins with Genesis 12, when God promises to make Abraham a blessing to the nations. It continues as God calls Israel up out of Egypt. Exodus 9:13-16 tells us that God did this that He might show His power and that His name might be great in all the earth. Deuteronomy 28:9-10 reveals that Israel’s faithfulness to the covenant is for the benefit of all the peoples on the earth. Joshua 4:23-24, 1 Kings 8:41-43 and 8:60-61, Psalm 47:9, Psalm 67:1-2, Psalm 72:17, Psalm 86:9, Isaiah 19:24-25 (tremendous verse), Jeremiah 4:1-2, Zechariah 8:13, just to name a few, all point to God’s purpose and plan to redeem the nations. It wasn’t just about being a Jew even in the Old Testament, much less in the New Testament!
Paul understood all of this. He understood the gospel itself and the mission of the church hinged on this pivotal moment in salvation history. Sure, issues of meat and circumcision were a part of the whole struggle for the early church, but the core of the entire debate was really missions. Was the gospel for the Gentiles? And the answer was yes. God is moving history toward an end, and He is accomplishing His redemptive purpose in the world to draw people from every nation, tribe, tongue, and people to know, worship, and delight in Him for all eternity.
Every time I read about the Gentiles I remind myself that my salvation was at stake in that fight. I am a Gentile. And odds are, so are you. Paul was fighting for more than just the lives of those who lived in the first century. He was fighting for you and I two thousand years later. I f Gentiles weren’t going to be seen as equally valuable and contributing members of God’s kingdom, there would be no urgency to get the gospel to them. And so the mission of God, begun with Abraham and progressively revealed throughout the Old Testament (and later the New Testament) would not be fulfilled.
May we remember, as we read through the New Testament regarding the relationship of Jews to Gentiles as God’s people, that missions is at stake. And may we remember that there are still Gentiles in the world today, billions of them, that desperately need to hear the gospel, and that as they hear they might also believe.
(title quoted from Ephesians 3:8).