You don’t have to look hard to see how people have been divided along racial, ethnic, cultural, economic, and political lines. All of these have been used to foster disunity and isolate people from one another.
So, the question is, is it possible to get along with people who are different?
Can bridges be built so that others can be included in your social circle of life?
God’s Word Provides the Answer
No matter what our race or ethnicity is or what our economic status is, or what our political leanings are, we are all loved equally by God. The heart of God is unity. The good news and promise from God’s words are that when we are fully devoted followers of Christ, unity can be achieved.
Acts 8:26-39 says this:
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way, he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”).
This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation, he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again but went on his way rejoicing.
Have an Awareness of Others
This story opens a gateway for us so we can have an awareness of the other. There is no way you can include people in your life that are different from you unless you’re aware, and your awareness has to be on two levels.
The first level is internal. You’ve got to be aware of who you are.
The second level is being aware of who the other is.
So let’s go back and really understand the text. The eunuch pulled his chariot right up to Jerusalem. He came all the way from Ethiopia, North Africa, which is roughly 1,500 miles, that’s a LONG journey.
History teaches us that a man becomes a eunuch (a castrated male) in one of two ways:
- He was captured in war and brutalized.
- Some major government ruler emasculates him. This was done so he could then guard the harem, the queen, or oversee some major arm of government in an undivided way.
It was the second with this particular eunuch because the Scripture tells us he was the treasurer for the queen of the Ethiopians. He was the minister of finance, overseeing all the finance in Ethiopia in a single-minded, single-focused way, devotion.
Why Do I Exist? Do I Belong?
But there’s something about this eunuch that made him unique. He was a God-fearing eunuch and he wanted to have a question in his heart answered. He was looking for meaning in life.
And one of the questions that he was struggling with was, do I matter? Do I have value? As a eunuch, he had no family of his own. And in the first century, people looked for their descendants to carry on their name, to tell stories of their existence when they passed away. They looked for the perpetuation of their legacy, their value.
And even though this eunuch had success, he lacked significance. So he took the 1,500-mile journey to Jerusalem, that sacred city, that holy city, that city that was referred to as the city of God.
In fact, Jeremiah in the Book of Jeremiah 31, verse 6 tells us that if anybody wanted to hear from God, they went to Jerusalem. If somebody wanted to have answers to meaningful, deep-probing questions that they struggle with, they went to Jerusalem.
So this eunuch not only went to the city of Jerusalem but he went to the temple, the place to hear the voice of God.
Historians tell us the temple was placed on a mountain. This was the third construction of the temple, built by Herod for the Jews. Flavius Josephus, the great Jewish historian, recorded that there were 18,000 workers working on this temple that took 46 years to build. There were 17,000 craftsmen. There were a thousand Jewish priests trained to work with carpentry and various precious metals because the sanctuary could not be touched by Gentiles or non-Jews.
It is here that the eunuch makes his way into the assembly, and sees the signs posted that tell him no Gentiles beyond this point. And on top of that, as recorded in Deuteronomy 23, verse one, no one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off may enter the assembly of the Lord. The eunuch stops dead in his tracks. He couldn’t go into worship.
The only thing he could do was watch the worshipers that paraded past him. He was shut out by the wall, the barrier. The sound of the sermon couldn’t reach his ears because of the barrier. There was no way to enter—he was shut out.
When Someone Is Different
And as the worshipers walked by him, they knew he was different.
His clothing told them that he was different.
His skin color told them that he was different.
Everything about him spoke of difference.
And so he was not included rather he was excluded because of differences. This eunuch provides us with insight and understanding of the people that are in our lives today. They’re close to us, but yet they’re far from us. They’re far from us because somehow we’ve not seen them. We’ve not recognized them. We’ve not realized that we’ve put up barriers that make them feel excluded from who we are.
And it’s based on some of the markers of difference, maybe their race, maybe their ethnicity, maybe their color. And somehow we’ve ruled them out in our hearts for them to be in our social circle. I wonder how the eunuch must have felt excluded.
At this point, he summons his driver. He gets back in the chariot and off they go back to Ethiopia. As they’re on this road the eunuch is reading the Book of Isaiah. It tells us something about this eunuch that tells us that he’s very educated.
And it tells us he’s searching.
What Are You Searching For?
Searching for meaning, searching for a sense of belonging, searching for family. And, he’s looking into Scripture to see if he can belong to God’s family. Does God have room for me? Do the people of God, can they make room for me?
And so, as he’s reading, God is stirring the heart of one of his servants, Philip, the evangelist. Philip, this messianic believer, Philip, the one who goes about looking for people to talk to about Jesus. And as Philip is minding his own business an angel visits him. And then the Holy Spirit affirms the visitation by telling Philip to join himself next to that chariot.
Philip has to run to catch the chariot. And as he’s running by the chariot he hears the eunuch reading from the Book of Isaiah, the 53rd chapter. The eunuch is searching for meaning and searching for answers and searching for a sense of belonging and searching for a family to be a part of.
Just like this eunuch, there are people in your life that are searching.
Do You Hold the Key for Others?
And God wants you to be a reconciler, He wants you to be able to give them access to who you are, to your heart, so that you can be able to answer not only their deep-searching questions, but so you can build a relationship, a bridge across difference into their lives.
When I say included, it’s about including the other in your life. Philip then says while he’s running next to the chariot, do you understand what you’re reading?
Here’s why that question is so important and why we need to let it sink in.
They knew the difference that each other had, the difference in skin color, the difference in attire, the difference in language, the difference in the fact that even though Philip was a Christ-follower, the eunuch was searching to become a follower of someone.
And so when they looked at each other, they could visibly see the markers of difference, but they both had an awareness. I call that intercultural competence, their level of knowledge about what it means to have intercultural interactions was at a high point so they made room for difference.
Philip’s question was not condemning. It was not accusatory. It was not negative. It didn’t have bias. It wasn’t tainted with assumptions that made the eunuch feel bad. Neither did the eunuch look at Philip that way, they looked at each other with respect. And that’s what needs to take place when you build a lifestyle of bridges.
Even Though We Are Different We Can Get Along
They are different from each other yet they’re sitting next to each other so they can both learn from one another. Philip understood the longing within the eunuch’s heart. He longed for belonging. He longed to be a part of a family. The eunuch mattered to Philip.
If you’re going to be someone that is cross-cultural and effective, when it comes to developing intercultural competence, the ability to build healthy relationships with others, you must be able to be respectful towards people who are different from you. And they must see that respect. They must feel that respect. There must be an awareness that you convey to them that says I see you. You matter to me, and the eunuch demonstrated this when he said to Philip, please sit next to me.
At this point, the eunuch asked, how can I understand? And there, Philip begins to speak about Jesus to the eunuch. Scholars affirm that Philip must have scrolled down in the scroll to Isaiah 56 and landed on verse three and read this part to the eunuch:
“No foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord should say, the Lord will exclude me from his people. And the eunuch should not say, look, I’m a dried-up tree. For the Lord says this: ‘For the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths and choose what pleases me, and hold firmly to my covenant, I will give them, in my house and within my walls, a memorial, and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give each of them an everlasting name that will never be cut off.’ “
The eunuch must have wondered if he was hearing properly. Does God have a bridge that gives me access to him and access to his people? Can I be on the inside of the wall, not on the outside any longer?
What do I need to do?
And Philip says, you must believe in your heart, the Lord Jesus. And then as a confirmation, you must be baptized. It’s an outward sign of an inward change. After hearing that the eunuch immediately ordered his driver, stop the chariot. And he says to Philip, here’s water.
They both stepped out of the chariot. They walked across the road, walked into the water and there Philip baptized the eunuch in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And he brought them up out of the water. And the Scripture says the eunuch went home rejoicing.
Why? Because he was included.
What Can You Do?
One of the greatest things you can do is to include people in your life who are different from you.
This requires having an awareness of who you are and who they are. When I have self-awareness, it means that I know how I’m walking through the world. What role do my race, my ethnicity, my culture, and even my faith plays in how I’m being interpreted by others.
Sometimes those markers are compounded and create a negative interpretation from others towards me. Sometimes those markers are compounded and create a positive interpretation. But I have to be aware of who I am. The eunuch was aware. Philip was aware. And when these two men met each other, both having an exemplary level of self-awareness, their personal awareness as to who they are and their markers of difference did not make their rebuff.
In fact, they welcomed each other. And as a result, the eunuch was transformed and he became one of the first Gentile believers of Jesus from north Africa. And he went on his way.
Are you ready and willing to do what it takes to be a reconciler? To build bridges? To include others?