God’s plan has always been to bring all of humanity into one diverse and connected family. Jesus carried forward this mission in his teachings, calling God’s people to look past societal divisions and be unified in him. Join Tim and Jon in this week’s podcast episode as they look at the theme of unity in the New Testament.
Outside the community of Jesus, there’s all these boundary lines—Paul’s going to name some: gender, ethnicity, your national identity, your socioeconomic identity. And most communities are stratified and divided up along those lines, and for Paul it’s basic. It’s not just a consequence of the good news about Jesus that those boundary lines should be transcended—it’s basic to the message... And what is the Gospel? It’s that Jesus is the crucified, risen King of all nations. And if his people are as divided as everywhere else, then they’re not actually demonstrating their allegiance to a universal King.
In part one (0:00-9:20), Tim and Jon reflect on God’s plan for the nation of Israel to be a blessing to all people and Israel’s tendency to bring hardship upon others just as often as blessing.
Despite God’s commitment to the family of Israel, members of other non-Israelite families who choose to be faithful to Yahweh are scattered throughout the story of the Bible.
For the biblical authors, one of the defining characteristics of the nations is that they are divided, which is why the Gospel of Jesus isn’t the Gospel if it doesn’t unify all sorts of different people into one family. For this reason, Paul’s letters to the early churches stress unity again and again.
In part two (09:20-23:30), Tim and Jon examine Paul’s teaching on unity in the first half of his letter to the Galatians.
In Galatians, Paul is confronting non-Jewish Christians who he knows really well. These Christians have been told by Jewish-Christian leaders that they have to be circumcised to be genuine members of Abraham’s messianic family.
Paul retells the story of how he had to confront Peter on this very point because it was compromising the basic message of the Gospel.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned. For before, certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision group. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step toward the truth of the Gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile “sinners,” yet we know that a person is not declared right with God by works of the law, but through the trustworthiness of (or “trust in”) Jesus the Messiah. So we also have trust in Messiah Jesus, in order to be declared right by our trust in Messiah and not by works of the Torah. Because by works of the Torah, no one will be declared right.
In part three (23:30-34:00), Tim and Jon take a closer look at why Paul is so adamant that circumcision is no longer a prerequisite for joining the family of God.
If the Galatians and others were unable to see Jesus as the King of all nations and the entry point to his family as faith and trust (rather than a Jewish ethnic sign like circumcision), the Gospel would become a fundamentally different Gospel, Paul argues. Jesus is the truly human God who can put the human family back together.
For you are all children of God through faith in Messiah Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Messiah have clothed yourselves with Messiah. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Jesus. And if you belong to the Messiah, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.
In Galatians, Paul calls into question how we “mark” ourselves as believers. Is it with various social and ethnic identifiers or by the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5)?
In part four (34:00-39:00), Tim and Jon turn their attention to the theme of unity in Ephesians. Paul’s main thesis of the letter in Ephesians 1:3-14 opens with a Jewish hymn:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Messiah, who has blessed us with every blessing of the Spirit in the skies, in the Messiah.
The hymn centers on how God “made known the mystery of his will,” “that all things would be unified together in the Messiah, things in the heavens and things on the earth” (Ephesians 1:9-10). The Greek word for “unify” (ἀνακεφαλαιόω) means “to bring into unity and harmony.”
Paul uses this same verb in Romans 13:9.
You shall not commit adultery. You shall not murder. You shall not steal. You shall not covet. And if there is any other commandment, it is summed up (brought together) in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.
Paul is saying that Israel’s Messiah, Jesus, has unified everything on earth and in the heavens because he is both the Creator and King of all.
In part five (39:00-59:00), the team explores Ephesians 2-6, where Paul describes how a community ruled by a King who unifies all things and all peoples in himself ought to behave.
And [the Messiah] is our peace [Jew and Gentile], the one who made the two into one, and took down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility, in his own flesh, having set aside the Torah that consisted of commands with decrees, so that he could create in himself the two into one new humanity, making peace, and so that he could reconcile the two through one body to God, through the cross, destroying the enmity in himself.
Through [the Messiah] we the two of us have access by one Spirit to the Father.
Ephesians 3:4, 6
The open secret (lit. “mystery”), now revealed by the Spirit to his set apart apostles and prophets...that the nations are co-heirs, and co-body members, and co-participants in the promise in the Messiah Jesus through the good news.
Bringing to light the strategic plan of the open secret which was hidden in past times in God the creator of all things, that now, through the Church, the multi-diverse wisdom of God would be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.
The unified diverse people of God reveals God’s wisdom to the sons of the elohim (Genesis 6). This mention of spiritual beings feels random if we’re missing Paul’s emphasis on unity here. The many nations that don’t want to give allegiance to Yahweh are giving allegiance to idols, which either have no power or represent dark spiritual powers that masquerade and exercise authority through social structures. Every deity has a way of defining human identity that results in tribalism and division. Only Jesus offers people identity in himself and unity with one another, manifesting in a brand new humanity that fosters equity and love.
In part six (59:00-end), Tim and Jon discuss the last mentions of “nations” in the Bible (Revelation 21:24, 26; 22:2).
And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.
Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
To keep in step with the good news, communities of Jesus followers must pursue and promote unity and the proactive healing of division in their midst. This is one of the primary identifiers of Jesus’ disciples.
Show produced by Dan Gummel. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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