A Jewish joke runs as so: A Jew was stranded alone on an island. When rescuers finally arrived, they discovered he had built two synagogues. Curious why two synagogues were necessary, the stranded man said, “This is the synagogue I go to. That is the synagogue I do not go to!”
We laugh because we all relate to this joke. Our fallen natures encourage us to create the “us” vs. “them” tribalism.
Jesus Christ came to destroy tribalism.
Instead of a covenant based on birth and tribe, as the covenant with Abraham was sometimes seen, Jesus taught that the children of Abraham must not only accept, embrace, live, love, and teach God’s covenants, but also reject any tribal or group affiliation to solely identify as children of God.
For there is neither rich nor poor, black or white, Republican or Democrat, US citizen or non-citizen in the tribe (kingdom) of God (Colossians 3:11).
Though we aspire to be a member of one of the tribes of Israel, when all is said and done, the only tribe that will matter is the tribe of God.
Salvation Is Available to All: Theme of the Epistle to the Romans
One of the major purposes for the Epistle to the Romans was to convince readers that salvation is available to all and found in and only through the Jesus Christ.
That salvation is available to all was a theme Paul dwelt on for some length. For example, in Romans 9 Paul had to help his gentile readers make sense of what seemed like a contradiction. In the Old Testament God covenanted exclusively with Abraham and his posterity.
As members of the tribe of Abraham, the Jews believed their role was to bless all the nations of the earth. Yet only blood relations to Abraham were allowed into the covenant. Paul taught that through Jesus, God had opened the way for anyone to become a child of Abraham, inheriting all the promises, rights, and privileges of the covenant.
Using a variety of rhetorical flourishes and scriptural quotations from Hosea, Isaiah, Psalms and other passages from the Old Testament, Paul sought to convince readers to trust God.
Trust that God has a plan.
Trust that God can enact His mercy.
Trust that God can choose His children thereby saving them through grace.
Grace: What Is It and Why Is It?
The word grace means “free.” What we receive from God through Jesus is freely given. Yes, there are demands for our faithfulness. But the freedom of the gift is not dependent upon our faith.
That is the beauty of the Abrahamic covenant. God made a solemn and binding promise to Abraham that He would bless all the families of the earth (everyone!) through Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). That is grace. God freely entered into this covenant. God is now bound to that covenant.
We can either accept or reject what is freely offered. We are under no commitment to accept the gift. If we reject what is freely given we cannot partake of what is graciously offered. If we demonstrate our faith by accepting of the free gift of God’s blessings, as promised to and through Abraham, we can ultimately inherit all things.
What is needed?
The dichotomy is that we must first join with the tribe of Abraham. But eventually, that tribalism will fall away and all that will remain is that we are part of the tribe of God, His children.
The Blessings and Curses of Tribalism
Are we the children of God or should we allow ourselves to be defined by man-made labels and groupings?
The world is full of artificial labels, groups, and divisions. But God is not to be divided.
We join these groups seeking safety, friendship, meaning, and peace. But in so doing, we may create conditions for division instead of the unity God calls us to.
Throughout scripture, God has called us to aspire to His tribe. But without care for the covenant, we may find that we create tribes that blind us from seeing God’s other children, dividing us from brothers and sisters.
Our world is currently full of strife, often driven by division into “us” vs. “them.” The tribe of “the in group” and the tribe of “everyone else.” This is not God’s way.
The only tribe that God has is His own children. He chose Abraham to exemplify Godly tribalism that intends to embrace and bless the lives of all people.
When we create and promote tribes, we act on and spread pride and enmity, the destructive seeds of the adversary who dominates and ruins us through the strategy of divide (tribalism) and conquer.
The Tribe of God: Secured through Covenants
God asks us to break down the tribes of difference, to remove the barriers and walls that keep us from embracing each other as His children in covenantal community. The only way to break down divisive tribes is to create larger, more encompassing and welcoming tribes. Ultimately, the only tribe God asks us to join is His tribe: the covenanting sons and daughters who promise to love God and to love their neighbor as themselves.
Paul wrote to the Romans to pull down tribalism, division, difference, separation. Like Captain Moroni (Alma 51:7), Paul sought to pull down pride and privilege. He sought to unify the church, a word in Greek that means “those who are called together.” Paul wrote to the Romans, and ultimately to the world, to believe, and to trust, and to accept the free gift of God’s covenant to bring salvation to the world.
As Joshua declares, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve” (Joshua 24:15).
Which tribe will we choose to embrace? Our fallen nature tribes that the world demands we conform to?
Or do we embrace the tribe of God through the Abrahamic covenant that leads to salvation in Jesus?
The gospel invites us to leave our man-made tribes to join the tribe of God.
More Content and Connections
Want to see the locations mentioned in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans? This free tool I created will show you where: https://scriptures.byu.edu/mapscrip. For example, see all the locations Paul mentions in Romans 15 here.
Looking for more great insights on the New Testament? Check out my new book available at Deseret Book Scriptural Insights and Commentary: The New Testament.
Would you like a free humorous eBook? Click here to request. Memoirs of the Ward Rumor Control Coordinator, a light-hearted look at our beloved
Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints culture.