If you have turned on your news this week, looked at your newsfeed or read a paper, chances are you have been exposed to conflicting opinions that create division.
It’s everywhere.Our nations, our workplaces, our families and our churches.
In this age of so much fracture and disunity in the world, the church needs more than ever to give proper attention to the emphasis the New Testament places on unity.
Paul had established the church at Galatia in the gospel of Christ, but now it was being undermined by false teachers who questioned his authority and claimed they themselves had higher authority.
Paul goes up to Jerusalem to settle once and for all that the gospel he preached was true and that the unity of the church in that gospel was vital.
1 – The Fear of Fruitless Work ( v1-2)
Paul goes to present his case for what he was proclaiming to the Gentiles to the apostles.
It seems as though he is seeking their approval, though he has already made it clear that the message he presents does not come from men and doesn’t need men’s approval, it comes from God, and that is all the authority it needs (1:10-11).
He feared his ‘having run in vain’, but not because he lacked any certainty about the Gospel he had been proclaiming.What he could not be certain of is if some of the apostles could be swayed by the false teachers.He feared that some of them might be distracted by prejudice towards the Gentiles (as happens with Peter in v11ff) and compromise on the truth of the gospel – that it’s freely available to all.
If the apostles were to abandon the true gospel, then all of what Paul had been doing would be in vain.
The apostles though, fully accept Paul and confirm his ministry in the strongest way possible.
2 – The Threat of Slavery and the Freedom of the Gospel (v 3-5)
If we are to summarise the gospel Paul and the apostles preached, it would be that salvation is freely available to all, whether Jew or Gentile.
A summary of what the Judaisers were teaching is that all could be saved, but any saved Gentile must become Jewish in order to be properly saved.
Its often said that legalism is anything that adds works to salvation, but legalism at it’s heart is deceptive, subtle, and sometimes even attractive to those who believe. Legalism is doing something or not doing something in order to fully accepted by God, even though He has never directly spoken to that specific thing. It usually elevates a ritual, tradition, or principle that was a good thing in and of itself for a specific people, at specific time in a specific place, and makes it something that must be applied to all people at all times in every place. It teaches the doctrines of men as commandments of God, whether in application to salvation issues or holiness issues.
“Externalities are to do with our doing; internals have to do with our being; and Christianity is about who I am in Christ, not what I do for Him.” – Timothy Keller.
Paul states that gospel freedom was under threat from those who sought to bring people into the bondage of works based salvation(v.4).
It becomes a crucial point that Titus is present with Paul (v3) as he provides the perfect case study in Gentile conversion and how the apostles will respond.
We thank God that the apostles certainly did not yield to the pressure that was being placed on them. Instead, they fellowshipped freely with Titus, accepted Paul and Barnabas, and in so doing, preserved the gospel we have today. (v5b).
Division and slavery are not things we should ever submit to, and they are very real threats we face even today from different avenues, whether outside the church or even inside.
The acceptance of Titus was public statement about the implications of the gospel. It is free to all, and an individual accepted by God by their faith in Christ, not by works.
In demanding that Titus, a Greek, should become Jewish to be properly saved, the false brethren showed a cultural prejudice. Also, they relied on fear to get their message across. It was intimidation, forceful, non-negotiable, ungracious. The clear implication was if you were not like them, you were not saved.
“If your salvation depends upon obeying the rules, then you want your rules to be very specific, do-able and clear. You don’t want: Love your neighbour as yourself, because that’s an impossibly high standard which has endless implications!
You want: Don’t go there or Don’t drink this, or Don’t eat that.” – Timothy Keller
The freedom of the gospel cancels this kind of thinking out.
“Anyone who believes that our relationship with God is based on keeping up moral behaviour is on an endless treadmill of guilt and insecurity…Christians are not free to sin. Though we are not free of the moral law as a way to live, Christians are free from it as a system of salvation. We obey not in the fear and insecurity of hoping to earn our salvation, but in the freedom and security of knowing we are already saved in Christ. We obey in the freedom of gratitude.” – Timothy Keller
3 – The Distinctive and Necessity of Gospel Unity ( v 4-10)
The main distinctive of gospel unity in the church of Jesus is freedom.
Christian unity takes no account of cultural, racial or ethnic differences. It takes no account of various people’s standing or influence. Even if that influence is a good one. Paul shows this clearly in that while the apostles were influential, it made no difference to him who they were – he was far more concerned with the gospel that they preached (v6).If God shows no partiality between Jew and Greek, male and female, slave or free, neither should we. ( 2:7, 3:28).
We too often place our traditions in the same authoritative place as the gospel. We make them non-negotiable, and when we do, we say to the ‘Tituses’ among us who love and follow Jesus, ‘You are not welcome here until you become like us.’
“ Many types of Christians add to their distinctions, such as belief in predestination, abstinence from certain practices, or speaking in tongues, to the gospel as ways we can be sure we are Christians. In other words, many churches will say that we are saved by faith alone, but we can only be sure we are real Christians if we have these distinctions.” – Timothy Keller
Our commission is to make disciples of Jesus. Not clones of ourselves.
Christian unity means we must acknowledge we all have different callings.
Verse 7 shows us that Paul and Peter shared the same gospel, and were obeying the same commission, but both had different mission fields, so they had different ways of sharing with vastly different audiences.
Our outreach can quickly become very dry, methodical and even legalistic if we can only share the gospel in one way with one audience in mind.
It is the same message for all, and in a way, yes, the audience will always be the same, as all have sinned. But without a personal burden for a particular person or people that drives us to reach them personally with the gospel, shared from a perspective that they can understand and relate to, we might instead just be imposing a system on them.
When our preferences and traditions get in the way of how we engage with people around us, we not only fail to share the gospel effectively, we’ve created stagnation. We’ll never move out of Jerusalem if church everywhere else in the world has to be done the way we do it. We will just become an exclusive community club.
Another mark of Christian unity, and perhaps the most challenging, is that poor are to be remembered by Christians everywhere.
Peter and Paul may have had different mission fields, but they were both constrained to look after the poor.
Those who are tight with their money will be tight with the gospel. If you think your money is yours and you’ve earned it, and that others should go and do the same, you’ll be the same with salvation. If you don’t see all of God’s provision as his grace, you probably won’t practically apply the free grace of salvation either.
There is also the irony that the strictest, most legalistic of all the law enforcers, don’t adhere to ones that God has laid out.
We’ll tell people to adhere to certain guidelines, regulations and bylaws that we have created in order to provide a safe, holy, sanctified environment where God can be pleased with our efforts. All the while we have neglected the greatest commandment we have been given, to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Ensuring on extreme, extra-biblical separation from various aspects of culture so we are not ‘spotted by the world’ will ensure never will be spotted by anyone in the world.
There are of course limits on unity. The whole reason Paul shares this account is to point out there are some professing believers we cannot unite with.False brethren had infiltrated the church and Paul was not willing to fellowship with them.
If you add to the gospel, you are not contributing to gospel unity.
The gospel is already exclusive enough.
It’s only through Jesus.
Anyone who comes to God through Jesus is included, for us to place restrictions on God’s blessing of fellowship and membership into his church where he has not, is not just prideful, it’s deadly bondage.
We must never exclude from Christian unity and fellowship someone whom God has included.
Instead of seeking out what differences we have with others who are in Jesus, we could instead find ways we can partner together in the gospel, extending that right hand of fellowship (v9).
Do you know anyone from outside Jerusalem?
The best way to expand your application of the gospel is to meet someone outside our sphere of influence. Both Christian and not.
How many unsaved people do you know? What can you do to get to know some?
Bake a cake?
Offer a lift to co-worker?
Change your job?
Share a meal?
How are you studying the gospel in ways that will help you reach those who haven’t heard it?
The best way towards unity with other believers is of course to worship with them, and to share in the Lord’s Table together.
There’s not greater blessing than in sharing a simple meal.
Fellowship happens when we acknowledge a common bond. In Christ we have the strongest bond available.