Exclusion is a part of life. It is unavoidable. Not only that, it is good.
Isn’t it good that the whole school doesn’t get to have a say in your child’s education? That only those who are trained doctors can make decisions about your health care?
Exclusion is a good thing. It is a protection.
But to many, exclusion is a great evil. The LGBT movement sees exclusion as evil. How can we exclude individuals from the benefits of marriage simply because they are of the same gender? Many hate Christianity because it is exclusive: “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the light. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6). How could it be possible that God could exclude some from heaven simply because they don’t believe in Jesus? If God is good, how could he ever be exclusive, so goes the reasoning.
It can be easy for us as Christians to absorb this attitude and apply it to our own contexts of church and ministry. Being left out is usually seen as a great evil, one in which we should avoid at all costs. Isn’t the Church the place where we all feel included all the time?
I don’t think it’s that black and white. Jesus himself makes this a troublesome issue for us by being decisively exclusive on several occasions:
- Jesus chose 12 disciples from the larger group. There were many he didn’t choose to invite into that circle. “He called his disciples to him and chose 12 of them, whom he also named as apostles.” (Matt. 4:18-22, Luke 6:13-16)
- On many occasions, he invited the same three from the 12 to join him for special occasions. Here we see not just an inner circle, but an inner circle within the circle. (Matt. 17:1-9, Mark 14:32-35, Luke 8:49-51)
- He told others that he didn’t come for them. To the Canaanite woman he said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt. 15:22-28)
- He upset seemingly good inner circles, like blood family. He denied the request of his own family, using it as an opportunity to say his real family are those who do the will of God. (Mark 3:31-35)
Knowing Jesus is without sin and is the embodiment of love, going as far as the cross for unworthy sinners, forces us to create a new category: exclusion motivated by love. Though we can’t know all of God’s purposes in exclusion, one benefit it carries is what it exposes.
Exclusion exposes pride
Being left out will always be a litmus test for pride. As soon as you realize you didn’t get the invite, you aren’t in the inner circle, or you are on the outside, one of two responses happen.
The first is the most common: hurt, disappointment and/or anger. Under those surface feelings are deep roots of entitlement (a.k.a. pride). A feeling that you deserve to be included, that you have merited inclusion, or that you are owed the opportunity to be included, assuming that it’s the fair thing to do. But our God isn’t fair, mercifully so. We live under grace, and that changes the game.
To boil it down, being included is about being honored. Like the kids picked first for the kickball team, being chosen for any group is position of honor. No one wants to be last on the team, or worst of all, not picked at all. We want the places of honor.
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples in Matthew 23:1, 6-8, 11-12, saying,
Do not do according to the scribes and Pharisees. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
We love to be made much of, just like the Pharisees. And being left out takes a stab at that. It reminds us that someone else has been chosen.
The moment you are excluded is a great opportunity for growth. When our longing to be recognized and honored is exposed we have the opportunity to repent and walk in humility. “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). We are given the chance to take up the attitude of a servant, as was Jesus’s prescription for his disciples in place of honor-chasing.
An opportunity for faith
But there is a second response to exclusion that is rarely seen. And like most rare things, it is beautiful.
In Matthew 15:22-28, a woman comes to Jesus with a demon-possessed daughter and begs for her healing. Three times Jesus says, “No, I did not come to help you.”
- But he did not answer her a word.
- He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
- And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
Jesus calls her a dog and says he will not help her because he was not sent for her but for the Jews. Jesus excludes her from his benefits because she isn’t from the right group.
And to this she said: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” To Jesus’s exclusive statements she said, “Yes, Lord.” She agreed with His decision and submitted to it, calling him Lord. If you aren’t shocked by her response, you should be.
This is a woman with little to no pride. She doesn’t feel it is owed to her to be included. Yet she called upon the mercy of Jesus, hoping he might share just the crumbs left over from those privileged Jews with little old her, the unimportant, sinful, unnamed Canaanite woman she was.
And there it is: great faith.
“Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”
Let exclusion expose your pride and activate great faith. Let it remind you that you are entitled to nothing more than hell and have been graced with every blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. (Rom. 3:23, 6:23, Eph. 1:3)
You are already included
If you are in Christ, then you have already been included in the most important and most undeserved of all inner circles in existence: the family of God! You handpicked by God and purchased with the precious blood of Jesus so that you could be called son or daughter. What a rich honor that is. You have full access to the throne room of God, and he is the highest ranking person in the universe.
Is that not enough? Will you be as those invited to the wedding banquet by the King himself and say no thanks (Matt. 22:1-14)? Is a place of honor among your peers so important that when excluded from a mere human establishment, you feel devalued? The King of Heaven has offered you a seat at his table.
Let us learn from the Canaanite woman. When we are excluded, may we remember we did not deserve to be included. When we are not honored as we thought was appropriate, may we remember that we have not earned honor but wrath. Let us not despise (or treat lightly) the family of God by giving greater value to human inner circles. Is it not enough to be his child?
Oh that it might be enough today for those of us who call him Father. That we would be content to be his and content to serve him and our spiritual family in whatever small and menial way he allows us the privilege of doing. For the greatest in his Kingdom will be servant and slave to all.