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How diverse are we?

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus… (Romans 3:22-23, ESV)

These days, everyone’s into diversity.  The term is slippery, and sometimes used for particular political aims, but at its best it recognises something important.  For we humans really are quite a diverse lot.  Different nationalities have different customs, traditions, eating habits and societal structures.  Even aspects of our sense of humour differ: I remember watching the same movie in both the UK and the USA, and the American audience laughed at different bits!  Recognising this is wise: you’ll have seen the ads for HSBC, which make much of that bank’s knowledge of local cultures.  This – it is hoped – will stop us putting our foot in it.

We’re also diverse as individuals.  We have different personalities and gifts.  Anyone who’s involved in any kind of leadership will be wise to recognise that, as will all parents.  In the Bible we find that in a local church, different people have different gifts – to use for each other.  Sensitivity to diversity is vital in our dealings with each other.

And yet the Bible is surprisingly insistent on the unity of humanity.  We aren’t as diverse as all that.  We are all made by the same God.  We are all in His image.  All of us have sinned and fall short of His glory.  There is only one Saviour, Jesus Christ, and all need to come to Him to be saved.

When the Apostle Paul spoke to the Areopagus in Athens in the mid first century, he was speaking to people from a culture very different from his own conservative Jewish background.  Yet it wasn’t the diversity, but the unity of humanity that he chose to stress: From one man he made all the nations, he said (Acts 17:26).  In his letter to the Romans, quoted above, he likewise explained how, whoever we are, we have the same basic problems, to which there is only one solution.  This emphasis on unity as opposed to diversity was, I suspect, rather counter-cultural in a world which had different deities for different nations.

This unity of humanity is also a vital truth for us all to remember.  For it shows us how the Bible can speak in terms understood by people of every culture.  Deep down, the biggest issues of life are the same for all of us.  We are driven by hopes and fears, joys and sorrows that cross all cultural barriers.  We are all by nature rebels who desperately need the Saviour.

As we work for others to hear about Christ, we’ll do as Paul did, and respect the diversity of different cultures by adapting aspects of our practice so as not to cause offence: To the Jews I became like a Jew to win the Jews.  To those under the law I became like one under the law, he said (1 Corinthians 9:19-20).  We’ll pay attention to the way our culture expresses our shared hopes and fears.  But we will also have the confidence that the Bible speaks to all people.  The person you’re talking to about Jesus, whoever they are, isn’t as different from you as you might think.

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