Diversity among people is an undeniable reality, but unfortunately diversity has become divisive. As I mentioned in the sermon on August 11, diversity doesn’t have to be divisive. In fact, it seems that not only has God created diversity among humans, he expects it within his kingdom. In Revelation 7:9 we read a beautiful description of the diversity we can expect in heaven:
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (NIV 1984)
John’s description tells us who we will find there with us: multitudes of people “from every nation, tribe, people and language.” Simply stated, we should anticipate the diversity of heaven to reflect the diversity of humanity on earth.
One of the obstacles that the church faces because of diversity is the fact that there are many people of diverse religious and philosophical backgrounds who insist that “heaven,” however they might define it, will be inhabited by people from many religious backgrounds (better still, any and all, even if they claim none). However, the Scriptures show that salvation is by God’s grace to all who put their faith in him (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; and more), specifically because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
While that simple biblical fact is restrictive, it does not negate the fact that God’s kingdom – in the here-and-now and through eternity – is diverse. John tells us that Jesus’ sacrifice was made for a diverse multitude of people as well:
And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9; NIV 1984)
Clearly, the God who created us in diversity has planned his kingdom to be diverse as well. So, diversity within the church is not only to be expected but to be embraced.
Certainly, this creates a serious tension within the church. Whereas John’s vision of the eternal kingdom of God reflects the diversity of humanity, Paul’s description of the church reveals a unity that transcends human diversity: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28; NIV 1984). While we cannot deny that we’re all different – in many obvious and even not-so-obvious ways – we cannot deny that God has made us “one in Christ Jesus.”
The struggle, then, is for the church not only to reflect diversity but to live in unity in our diversity. Paul shows us how God leverages diversity to build unity within the church:
If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. (1 Corinthians 12:17, 18; NIV 1984)
That is, unity in diversity is a necessary characteristic of the church. It is not merely a simple fact that we’re all different; it is a purpose of God that he has made us different and called us together to be unified in our differences to be the body of Christ, the church.
As we grow up together as the church, we will likely continue to experience the struggles, tension, and conflict that arise because of our diversity. Through those struggles, we must trust God to unify us in Christ, using our differences to bring other diverse people into his kingdom.