This year, the world will be watching the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. My family and friends will be watching in America, and of course we’ll be rooting for the Americans. And why wouldn’t we? They’re a part of us. They represent us. As the games unfold, we’ll get to know their stories and we’ll track their accomplishments. We’ll hope to be near the top of the medal count leaderboard, and we’ll take pride in our athletics.
The United States has won 2,401 Olympic medals. With a population of 313 million, that translates into one medal for every 130,000 people. That medal per population number puts the US 37th on the list! Did you think that rank would be higher? We’re winning a lot of medals, but we have a ton of people to choose from; so our numbers are high, and our efficiency is actually pretty low.
Topping the charts is Finland at number one. They’ve won 302 medals with a population of 5.4 million for an index number of one medal for every 18,000 people. Then comes Sweden, Hungary, Denmark and the Bahamas (only 11 medals but only a population of 353,000 people, so that’s one medal for every 32,000 people). It will take the US winning a lot of medals to gain ground on Finland, but I’ll still root for that to happen.
Is it right that we root for our own country? Every person competing in the Olympics has a story, regardless of the flag they represent. Each person has to fight some battle to get to this point. Our athletes are not automatically better—better people with better stories.
Still, we all have a bias toward some people over other people. Rooting for what we know makes sense to us. And though we don’t often see it this bias, we inherit it. We sustain it. We buy into it. We promote it.
These inherent biases are at the forefront of what was happening in Acts 11. In Peter’s world, there was a dividing line between Jews and Gentiles. The two groups were separate. But when salvation came to Cornelius’s house, and when he, a Gentile, received the Holy Spirit, it broke through a cultural barrier that had stood in many people’s minds for centuries. The barrier was the idea that the God of Israel belonged to the people of Israel. Even Peter himself needed some convincing of the reach of the gospel (Acts 11:8-9).
Cornelius’s salvation was not only cause for God’s people to open their minds to the idea that the gospel could reach beyond what they imagined, but it was also cause to celebrate. Jews were not just called to accept the conversion of Gentiles, but to root for it.
Having biases is natural, but God calls us to what is supernatural. He calls us to a different way. He calls us not to see everyone as the same and without any distinction, but to love people as they are—in, with, and through the love of Christ. He calls us to see ourselves as people in need of the grace and mercy and Christ, and to extend that same mercy and grace to everyone.
We may all nod our heads to that, but Acts 11 pushes us to do something about it. It shows us that life in the good news of the gospel is not business as usual. The gospel transforms us.
What might this look like? We might root for someone else besides those in our own tribe. Or appreciate what others contribute. The gospel calls us to set aside our own rights, privileges, and prejudices for something even better—God’s glory in His church.
Let’s look for ways to do that.
Written By Doug Serven