One morning over coffee, my pastor suggested that I reconsider a particular phrase that I often use in writing and speaking: “my Jewish people.” He was concerned that this phrase produced an unnecessary feeling of separation. This surprised me, but as we talked, he helped me to recognize a few things about myself, and encouraged me about who we are together in Christ.
Since then, I have caught myself saying “my Jewish people” all the time. I say it in the pulpit. I say it in casual conversation. I even think it to myself. I am a creature of habit! But I am so grateful to have godly relationships that challenge and encourage me to think differently, break habits and grow in grace. That is one of the great things about being in the family of God.
I first began using the phrase “my Jewish people” as a conscious choice. It reflected my commitment to identify with the Jewish community, despite the fact that my faith in Jesus has made me to be a pariah there. The phrase was, to me, a gentle way of insisting on what others denied.
Words mean something. We use them in certain ways to express our convictions and commitments, and we know exactly what we intend for them to communicate. But unless we are content to talk only to ourselves, we also need to be aware of their impact on others. Our words can draw people together or drive them apart. Though I chose the phrase “my Jewish people” to identify with the Jewish community, when I think about it, I doubt that it has made much of an impression on my fellow Jews (see, I said it again). It’s not that my choice of words was meant to persuade, but if my words are unheeded by the Jewish community while possibly causing brothers and sisters in Christ to feel a separation, then I ought to reconsider my phrasing.
Reflecting on my pastor’s words, I recalled how, in 1997, our senior staff gathered for a Council Meeting. We debated the wording of the mission statement: “We exist to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide.” One council member, Dave Garrett (who is not Jewish), suggested we change “our Jewish people” to “the Jewish people” so that he, too, could identify with the statement. I told him that he had the right to say “our Jewish people” just like the rest of us, because he had chosen to identify with and commit himself to the salvation of Jewish people as those who are dear to him. Dave accepted that rationale, but maybe I forgot that conversation too quickly. Otherwise I might have made a habit of saying “our” Jewish people, to be more inclusive, rather than “my Jewish people,” which seems to set Jewish people (myself included) apart from those who may not be Jewish but can care for and identify with Jewish people all the same.
The Scriptures say, “For He Himself [Jesus] is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation” (Ephesians 2:14, emphasis ours). Messiah, in His death and resurrection, created an explosively powerful and miraculous new reality. In Christ, the sins that once separated us from a holy and righteous God have been forgiven, completely washed away and we have received a new nature, granting us access into His wonderful presence.
That same peace that reconciled us to God has also pulverized “the middle wall of separation,” that perilous obstacle to unity and fellowship that once stood between Jews and Gentiles. Because of Jesus, believers are powerfully united. Our unity is not just theological talk. It is a spiritual, emotional and social reality with far-reaching consequences. God has made us “one new man” in the Messiah. Our peace and unity in Messiah must not merely be believed; it must be seen, appreciated and demonstrated practically.
I will continue to care for and identify with the Jewish community but not, if I can help it, in a way that creates a sense of distance or separation from my brothers and sisters in Christ. That is not to say that our differences necessarily put distance between us. God apparently enjoys diversity, because He created a wonderful mosaic of people. We live in a generation that celebrates diversity and many churches and missions groups do what they can to celebrate and encourage diversity as well. But diversity, as great as it is, should not be our goal. The hope of heaven is that every tribe and nation will one day bend the knee and bow in worship to the King of Kings. Our goal is unity in the midst of diversity—unity in the Messiah Jesus. That is what the family of God is all about. People today long to connect, to find their place, to fit in. That longing is only truly fulfilled through this great peace established in the person of Jesus.
The profound, supernatural unity we are called to in the body of Messiah should serve as a tremendous attraction to those seeking meaningful and satisfying connections. Connectedness within the Body of Christ is not based on similar backgrounds or even similar interests, but on a supernatural birthing into the family of God. The King James version calls those of us in God’s family “a peculiar people” (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9) and I suppose that we may indeed seem peculiar to many people who are not yet part of the family of God. But “peculiar” in this case doesn’t mean strange, it means special, truly special—not special in the overused, insipid sense we typically hear the word used today—and that same sentiment is used in the Hebrew Bible to describe the Jewish people (Deuteronomy 14:2; 26:18).
Because God refers to both the Jewish people and those in the Body of Christ as special, it seems fitting that there be a special connection between the two. Those who love God will also love those who are special to Him and feel a connection to them. I believe those in the Church, regardless of physical descent, have every right to identify with Jewish people and refer to them as our Jewish people. Perhaps the more that Christians can see the Jewish people as “ours” the greater the Church’s burden and passion will grow to see them find peace in the person of Jesus.
That is one of the reasons I am so grateful to God for you, our dear Jews for Jesus family. Your love and care, your prayers and support for Jews for Jesus is a most tangible and practical way for you to express your identity in Him, our unity in Him and your love for our Jewish people. He is your Messiah, He is my Messiah, He is our Messiah. He is your peace, He is my peace, He is our peace. In Him that “middle wall of separation” has been broken down. Hallelujah! May our Jewish people soon come to know Him and the peace that only He can bring.