In a sincere attempt to be simply Christians, often our basic concept of unity betrays us. Commonly, American Christians consider unity to be a human achievement. Because our concept considers unity to be a human achievement, we misunderstand unity's relationship to Christ. Too often, we do not understand how God used Christ to create unity.
By now, hopefully you realize Christians who were Jews and Christians who were not Jews both were genuinely Christians. Both believed in Jesus Christ. Both believed God used Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection to produce salvation. Both realized Jesus Christ the Savior was essential to God's forgiveness. Both received and used spiritual gifts. Both were temples of the Holy Spirit. Both believed in the living God. Both were baptized into Christ. Both maintained living relationship with God through faith and repentance.
Yet, they were also different. Consider the devout Jew and the idol worshipper who became Christians. The Jew was circumcised; the former idol worshipper was not. The Jew continued to circumcise his children (Acts 21:20,21); the former idol worshipper did not circumcise his children. The Jew continued to observe Jewish holy days (Romans 14:5); the former idol worshipper did not observe those days. The Jew continued dietary restrictions as a matter of religious practice (Leviticus 11; Romans 14:6); the former idol worshipper had no dietary restrictions.
Romans 14:1-12 emphasized motivation behind each group's actions was the same: gratefully honoring God. Because motives were identical (honoring and expressing gratitude to God), God accepted the actions of each. Paul's directive: do not hold the other group in contempt; do not pass judgment on the other group. Why? The Lord can and will make both groups stand because each is the Lord's servants. Honor conscience in motivations and actions. Each person will explain his/her actions to God [not to the other group of Christians].
Because we regard unity to be a human achievement, Paul's Roman 14 directive to Christians [who were and were not Jews] can distress us. Why? Our emphasis: unity is demonstrated through human conformity. With God, unity exists even when Christians do not conform to identical practices and customs. Our perspective: that is impossible. God's perspective: that is reality.
Unity is God's gift to all Christians in this world. God produces unity by placing people in Christ Jesus. In Christ, in all our diversity, God accepts Christians as one (Galatians 3:26-29). From human reasoning, consider unity's reality. Christians know baptism into Christ did not eliminate first century distinctions between the Jew and the Greek, the slave and the free, or the male and female. The baptized slave still did not have the rights and opportunities of a free person. The baptized Greek did not have the Jew's view of history or knowledge. The baptized woman did not have a man's opportunities.
To the Colossian Christians, Paul stressed that anyone who was a new creature in Christ entered the "oneness" (Colossians 3:11). "Oneness in Christ" [spiritual renewal] destroyed spiritual distinctions: between Jew and Greek; circumcised and uncircumcised; barbarian (Scythian), slave, and the free. [The barbarian was the inarticulate person. The Scythian was the lowest form of barbarian.] Did baptism into Christ made the Christian Scythian articulate like the Roman Christian? Did baptism give the Scythian Christian a Jewish Christians' theological comprehension? In what sense were all these people one? Did they "conform" to identical spiritual customs and practices after baptism? They all were one for a single reason: Christ is all and in all.
This fact is seen in Ephesians 2:11-22. Read that text and consider the following questions.
Carefully consider the following. The problem separating Jewish Christians from Christians who were not Jewish [especially former idol worshippers] was enormous in the first century church. In the minds of both the wall of separation still stood. Both groups were what they were. Many in both groups likely resented Christians in the other group. Jewish Christians disliked the fact the other group "was basically different." Christians converted from idolatry disliked the fact that they were regarded as spiritually inferior.
Though neither group realized they were "one in Christ," they were. Being one was not dependent on human understanding. Being one was not dependent on conformity. Paul's point: they were (present condition) "one in Christ." God used Christ to destroy the dividing wall. Christ "is our peace." They were reconciled in one body by an act of God in Jesus Christ. They must trust what God did--already! The fact that God united them in one body by reconciling all of them to Himself was just that--fact. Even though they did not understand God's act, God did it. Being one did not depend on human comprehension. It depended on what God did in Christ.
Did they act like they were at peace? No. Did they act like the dividing wall was removed? No. Did they act like God reconciled all of them into one body? No. Did they act like God killed the enmity? No. Did they, collectively, act like fellow citizens in God's household? No. Did they act like God was using them, collectively, to build His holy temple? No.
Should their treatment of each other reflect what God did for them in Jesus Christ? Yes! Paul's directive accurately could be summarized in this statement: let your behavior reflect faith in what God did. Trust what God did for all of you in Christ Jesus.
If they all trusted what God did, what would change? Jewish Christians would not judge Christians converted from idolatry, and Christians who were not Jews would not hold Jewish Christians in contempt.
Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 1, Lesson 12
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