We can do a lot of damage when we talk about actual people as if they're theoretical people.
Think of the labels that get thrown about in our daily rhetoric and discourse: Illegal aliens, Gays, Republicans, This generation, Catholic priests, Miami, Canadians, Gentiles.
Okay ... "Gentiles" doesn't get tossed around too much. But perhaps we can learn something from an out-of-use label.
Labels, stereotypes and the various generalizations we use allow us to operate in the world efficiently. Psychologists discuss heuristics and marvel at the way we sort and categorize the world. These short cuts fail us from time to time but, 99 times out of 100, prove helpful.
That 1 in a 100 can hurt.
In the ancient world, the early Christians struggled with the "Gentiles." Jews knew God, had experience with him and the entire Christian community believed that Jews could be made right with God through Jesus. Jesus was a Jew. But most of the world wasn't Jewish.
The non-Jewish world ... the "Gentiles" ... had started to respond to Jesus. They believed in him, worshipped him and wanted to be included in his community, the church. But "Gentiles" as a group were the people who were "foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:11-22). The generalization that applied to them was decidedly ungenerous.
A huge part of the Apostle Paul's contribution to Christianity consisted in his articulation of the gospel of Jesus in a way that included everyone, even the "Gentiles." His theology created a huge circle. [For more on what I call "Circle Theology," check out this post: "Point Theology, Circle Theology."]
You see this openness especially clearly in his Epistle to the Romans. Over and over again in the first chapter, he talks about the inclusion of the Gentiles (see v. 5, 14-16, and on in later chapters). All need rescue, any will be welcomed, all can be included. The gospel of Jesus is big enough to include both Jew and Gentile.
This relates directly to the present day.
Although we don't talk about "Gentiles" very often, a lot of us have people we don't expect to be included in the church through the gospel of Jesus. I know Democrats who don't see how Republicans can be included (given their lack of concern for the poor). I know Presbyterians who don't see how Pentecostals can be included (given their lack of concern for theology). I know elderly folks who would be shocked if the young were included (given the wild rebelliousness of today's youngsters). But the gospel of Jesus is big enough for all of these.
Who else do Christians mistakenly exclude though ungenerous generalization?
How does the gospel of Jesus shape the way you include people?