Inclusion in the Bible
God demonstrates inclusivity throughout scripture and requires it of His people.
Being inclusive does not come naturally to human beings. Our survival instincts urge us to be suspicious of difference, and only share resources with our tribe. We tend to compete rather than work together, and we struggle to empathise with people who are not like us.
The Bible offers us a very different perspective—God is One. Humans were created to be one with God, and with each other. When our relationship with God is damaged, this affects our relationships with each other. And when we squabble amongst ourselves and fight for dominance, we lose sight of God. 1 John 4:21 says, “Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister”. In John 17, Jesus prays to God that the disciples might “be one, as we are one”.
Humans were created to be one with God, and with each other.
Throughout scripture, God demonstrates inclusivity, and requires it of His people. He calls chosen individuals, but promises that their calling will benefit “all families” (Genesis 12:1-3).
In a time when tribes and nations looked after their own, the law of Moses required that Israelites love both neighbour AND foreigner. The poor and the defenceless were to be treated with respect, and any foreigner could choose to join the family of Israel (Leviticus 19). Stories of the inclusivity of God appear all through the Old Testament, such as the rescue of Rahab, the redemption of Ruth, and the saving of the people of Nineveh (in spite of Jonah’s best efforts to prevent it).
The lead-up to Jesus’ ministry hints that Jesus will demonstrate most completely God’s inclusivity. Matthew includes four women in Jesus’ genealogy that would not normally have been mentioned — Tamar, Bathsheba, Rahab and Ruth. Jesus the king is born, not in a palace in Jerusalem, but near a cattle trough in the small town of Bethlehem. The angels announce the birth of God’s son, not to the powerful or rich, but to humble shepherds, who were not even permitted as witnesses in a court of law.
The lead-up to Jesus’ ministry hints that Jesus will demonstrate most completely God’s inclusivity.
During his ministry, Jesus was indeed radically inclusive—so much so that he regularly shocked people.
What struck them was his compassion towards social outcasts. He noticed people that others ignored or rejected. He stopped to hear the cries of those excluded from Jewish society—the blind, the lame, the mentally ill, lepers… He also said that for people to be children of God they must love not only their neighbours but their enemies too (Matt 5:43-48).
And for his inner circle, Jesus chose people who were so diverse they would have struggled to be in the same room together under normal circumstances. For example, there was Simon from the Zealots—a group that fought against the rule of Rome—and Matthew who collected taxes on Rome’s behalf.
And Jesus didn’t just let people of all kinds tag along, he involved them and moved them from a place where they were of no value, to places of importance—he raised them up. He honoured the despised by eating at their table (Luke 19:5).
In a society where the witness of a woman was not admitted in court, Jesus first directly acknowledged his title of Messiah to a Samaritan woman of questionable reputation, who spread the news of this to her community (John 4:25-42). At his resurrection, he chose to appear to Mary Magdalene first, and asked her to carry the joyful news to the disciples (John 20:17-18).
This unlikely fellowship of men and women, who followed Jesus wherever he went, provided the model for the early church after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus had told this mixed bag of disciples that they would spread their nets wide and catch “all kinds of fish” (Matthew 13:47).
This unlikely fellowship of men and women, who followed Jesus wherever he went, provided the model for the early church
The Book of Acts clearly shows that they did precisely that. Yet, even having witnessed this radical inclusion, Peter still needed both a vision from God and the miraculous pouring out of the Holy Spirit to persuade him that Gentiles could be included in the family of God, without them needing to become Jews (Acts 10).
And later, the Apostle Paul had to publicly lecture Peter for eating separately from Gentiles, due to peer pressure from visiting Jews (Galatians 2:11-14). For many, the requirement to be more inclusive was asking them to change deeply-ingrained habits of a lifetime.
There were similar problems in Corinth—this time, divisions ran deep along many lines. The Apostle Paul took this very seriously. 1 Corinthians is packed with Paul’s arguments for a united body of believers. He tackles many issues, one-by-one, including the following of different leaders, divisions over meat offered to idols, and some members being seen as more important than others.
The church is “one body”, Paul says, and each member is important, “for whom Christ died” (1 Cor 8:11). He shows his anger in chapter 11 at the rich who would feast and get drunk at the Lord’s supper, leaving others hungry and sidelined. Paul concludes in verse 33, “When you gather to eat, you should all eat together”.
So then, humans often find inclusion an effort—it takes thought and practice. Do you find yourself struggling to be generous towards people who are different from you, or who aren’t part of your friendship group or family? Is your attention often attracted to popular people, rather than those who are alone or have problems? Or maybe you are more introverted, and struggle to relate to people who are usually part of a noisy group?
Think about how you can be more open to connection with others, and more closely follow Jesus’ example of radical inclusivity.
Becky Lewis, UK
As Published in, “The Word”, October 2020 Edition
Christadelphian Sunday School Union