The Unity of the Gospel
SABBATH SCHOOL INSIGHT #3
“The Unity of the Gospel"
July 15, 2017
“Till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;” Eph. 4:13, NKJV.
Our primary passage of consideration this week, found in Galatians 2:1-14, brings out several principles that are essential for unity. Each of these principles derive from the gospel itself - from the good news of God’s revelation in Christ, and the practical experience (i.e., commandment keeping) of the Faith of Jesus. The unity of the gospel is truly unity of the Faith of Jesus. It is what unites the remnant, following the perfect example of the Lamb, in patient endurance in the final conflict. This conflict results from the confused Babylonian denial of a loving Creator which overtly and covertly promotes “me first” theology, threatening all humanity with division and destruction. (Rev. 14:1-12)
Divine Direction (vs 1, 2)
Paul exercised the Faith of Jesus by waiting for God to direct him as to time and place for his work. He went up to Jerusalem because he was paying close attention to God’s voice in the Scriptures and through the Spirit. The same was true of Christ, who believed and acted on the prophetic word (Mark 1:14, 15), and was directed in word and action by the Father through the Spirit (John 14:10-12; Luke 4:1).
Humility (vs 2)
Prior to becoming a power proponent of his understanding of the gospel, Paul submitted to the scrutiny of those who had the reputation of personal connection with Christ and the direction of the Spirit. He had a strong desire to “run with it,” but wanted to make sure he was not running in vain. Christ also had a will to win in His conflict, but humbly submitted His will to that of the Father all the way to the cross (Luke 22:42; Phil. 2:5-8)
Freedom (vs 3-5)
Paul understood the freedom that comes in Christ - freedom from submitting to mere human tradition or expectation. This freedom gave him understanding of the sneaky methods used to spy out and disrupt the power of this freedom. Only Christ brings freedom from sin: “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:36. Jesus was under the same scrutiny by spies, but used the Scriptures under the direction of the Spirit to confound their efforts (Luke 20).
Confidence (vs 6)
Although Paul was willing to submit his understanding and experience to others of like mind, in no way did he derive his confidence or assurance from those in authority. His confidence arose from the understanding that God has no favorites - that in salvation His love and forgiveness are generated and expressed freely, and that our acceptance and experience of that love is by free will, and not by coercion or fear. (Titus 3:3-7; Rom. 3:23, 24; 4:24, 25)
Affirmation (vs 7-9)
Paul’s desire to serve in the body of Christ was strengthened and affirmed by the church leaders of his day, who gave him “the right hand of fellowship.” True unity is based on the recognition and appreciation of where God is working, even if it is in ways and in people that stretch our comfort zones. We should affirm and strengthen those who are thus blessed by the grace of God, regardless of peer pressure or our own biases. Christ encouraged his disciples in this vein. (Mark 9:40; Luke 9:50)
Service (vs 10)
The desired result of unity is service, which all who like Paul truly appreciate the gospel are most eager to do. We love, because we were first loved. We want what is best for others, as God does for us: “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Rom. 13:10) “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
Integrity (vs 11-14)
Paul was not afraid to confront even those who had previously affirmed his calling and mission, when he saw that self-interest was undermining the gospel. The integrity of the gospel was paramount. Of course, Jesus also directly confronted hypocrisy. (Matt. 23:13-29; Mark 7:6) Talk is cheap, if our gospel does not show love in action. Do we really believe the universal scope of the sacrifice of Christ? Are we willing to call others to account for a distorted gospel?
“For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know [Him thus] no longer.” (2 Cor. 5:14-16)
Why Paul Went Up to Jerusalem. - The record in Acts says that it was determined at Antioch that Paul and Barnabas and some others should go up to Jerusalem about this matter. But Paul declares that he went up ‘by revelation.’ Gal. 2:2. Paul did not go up simply on their recommendation, but the same Spirit moved both him and them. He did not go up to learn the truth of the Gospel, but to maintain it. He went, not to find out what the Gospel really is, but to communicate the Gospel which he had preached among the heathen. Those who were chief in the conference imparted nothing to him. He had not been preaching for seventeen years that of which he stood in doubt. He knew whom he believed. He had not received the Gospel from any man, and he did not need to have any man's testimony that it was genuine. When God has spoken, an endorsement by man is an impertinence.
The Gospel Not Magic. - The great lesson taught by this experience, to which Paul referred the Galatians, is that there is nothing in this world that can confer grace and righteousness upon men, and that there is nothing in the world that any man can do, that will bring salvation. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and not the power of man. Any teaching that leads men to trust in any object, whether it be an image, a picture, or anything else, or to trust for salvation in any work or effort of their own, even though that effort be directed toward the most praiseworthy object, is a perversion of the truth of the Gospel, - a false gospel. There are in the church of Christ no ‘sacraments’ that by some sort of magical working confer special grace on the receiver; but there are things that a man who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, and who is thereby justified and saved, may do as an expression of his faith. The only thing in the world that has any efficacy in the way of salvation, is the life of God in Christ. ‘By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before prepared that we should walk in them.’ Eph. 2:8-10.” E. J. WAGGONER. (December 15, 1898 EJW, SITI 788)