I don’t know why my mind works this way, but when I’m studying a Bible verse, my attention is often drawn away from the ‘main topic’ (in this case ‘accepting one another’) to a part of the verse I hadn’t considered before. This time what drew my attention was the phrase “just as Christ accepted you.”
Usually when we talk about ‘accepting’ in church, we’re talking about how we accepted Christ. Have you ever given your testimony and said, ‘I accepted Jesus as a child,’ or ‘I accepted Christ aged 21’? By that language we mean that we’ve received Him into our hearts, in the sense that we’ve owned Him as our only hope of salvation.
But in this verse Paul says our conduct as believers should be controlled not so much by our accepting Christ, but by Christ accepting us! In fact, He sees Christ’s accepting us as key for how we get along with one another; of how life should look in the local church. We are to accept one another in light of the fact that Christ has already accepted us.
Paul knew that getting along with one another was going to be tough. It would mean working hard at being gracious, loving, forgiving. Yet still he wrote this great exhortation: ‘Accept one another!’ The Greek word he used is proslambanō which literally means ‘welcome, embrace and receive into your hearts.’ But he knows that acceptance, real acceptance is never easy. So he says, ‘Accept one another, and do it because you remember that Jesus accepted you.’
And he goes even further! He says we glorify God by accepting one another, because Christ glorified God by accepting us. That is phenomenal – that you are doing the work of glorifying God when you accept brothers and sisters in the Lord who are different from you!
Paul knew the church was made up of widely different individuals. It was diverse – people with varied ideas about life; from different countries, cultures and social/economic backgrounds. They were not the kind of people that would’ve just naturally drawn together. And it’s just the same today. The church isn’t a collection of people that are like one another naturally, politically or socially, but a complete mish-mash of all sorts of people, many of whom are really different.
Paul says it’s precisely our accepting of one another in spite of our diversity, that brings glory to God. When the world is looking in at the Church and saying, “How in the world do those people get along so well? They’re not like one another. Some are rich and some are poor. Some have tremendous family pedigrees, some don’t. Some have been following this Saviour since childhood, some since only yesterday. They all get along; they have some common bond, but it’s definitely not their background. It’s not that they’re socially or even politically alike!”
And it’s that wonderful acceptance, in the midst of our diversity, that brings great glory to God.