By Grant Hawley
Introduction to This Series
Not many people have ever mastered the alchemy of transforming their heart into ink the way the Apostle Paul did. I'm not sure anyone ever has, God Himself excepted. Paul walked this earth nearly 2000 years ago, yet at times I have felt as if our relationship is as intimate as a friendship can be. I love him deeply, and I know that is the case for many.
But for various reasons, people often miss Paul's heart, his passions. And when that happens, it is easy to miss the core content of his writings. That's the purpose of this series, to communicate the passions I see in Paul's life and writings. My hope is that you can then take this understanding to Paul's letters themselves and fall in love with him and all the things he loves all over again.
This series won't be exhaustive. Paul was a man of many passions, so this series will be about some that are most often overlooked.
Paul's Passion for Unity
When it comes to practical application of God's truth, perhaps the one thing that Paul cared about the most was unity among believers. He spent as much time writing about it as he did anything else, yet this is also perhaps the most-missed lesson from his teaching.
Scholars read Romans as if it is a systematic theology with four distinct sections that are only loosely related. They often miss the fact that the climax of the book, and the one thing that everything else is building up to is chapter 14, where he teaches us how to accept and love one another despite differences of opinion.
When Peter did not apply the truth of Romans 14 (which were not yet written, but he should have known) to his relationship with the Gentile brothers in Antioch, Paul called him out publicly calling him a "hypocrite," who was not being "straightforward about the truth of the gospel" (Gal 2:11-21).
In Ephesians 1?3, Paul lays out in detail the great purpose of God in the world, that "He might gather together in one all things in Christ" (1:10). In it he speaks of the abolition of the law, the enmity, the wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles, and the creation of "one new man from the two" (2:14-15). He speaks of the Church as a building "being fitted together...a holy temple in the Lord" (Eph 2:21). Altogether, he uses the Greek prefix sun and the word sun, which mean "together" eleven times in these three short chapters.
Paul then gives his first command in the book, the basis for all of the "practical" section in Ephesians (chapters 4?6):
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph 4:1-3)
To walk worthy of the calling with which we were called is to humble ourselves in search of unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, if we are living divisively, we aren't walking worthy of our calling.
Why is this such a high priority to Paul? Because it goes to the very heart of both the gospel and Paul's calling as the apostle to the Gentiles.
The Gospel Unifies
Because Christ died for the whole world, taking the law and sins out of the way (Col 2:14; John 1:29), anyone can have a right relationship with God through faith. This puts us all on the same level.
This is why when Paul talks about Christ's death in relationship to our freedom from the law, he then also talks about our unity in Christ. Galatians 3:26-28 look back on 3:13-25. So, when Paul says:
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ [note: this is spiritual baptism, not water baptism] have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:26-28)
It is because:
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us...the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor (3:13, 24-25)
See also Eph 2:13-16, Col 2:11-23 and 3:11, and many other places in Paul's writings. Love for the Gospel is love for the unity of brothers. Because he loved the Gospel, he loved and practiced unity.
Unity and Paul's Calling
Paul was a "Hebrew of Hebrews" (Phil 3:5). He had been a Pharisee full of pride about his birth and attainment (Gal 1:13-14). It was difficult for Jews to accept God's inclusion of and love for the Gentiles (non-Jewish folks), partly because of national pride, but partly also because they had so often caused Israel harm.
Jonah is a good example of this common attitude. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh with a message of coming judgment and Jonah ran away, fearing that the people of Nineveh would repent and escape destruction. The Ninevites were infamously cruel and had their sights set on conquering Israel, so Jonah wanted them destroyed even though God wanted them delivered.
Yet Paul was called as the apostle to the Gentiles. It was his job to go to the ends of the earth and bring Gentiles into the Body of Christ and he gave himself fully to this mission, enduring great hardship for love of the Gentiles. He wrote:
From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness?besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. (2 Cor 11:24-28)
Given all that he endured for the Gentiles, it makes sense that he would react strongly to those who treated the Gentile believers as lesser members of the Body of Christ (See Acts 15:1-12). And it bothered him just as much when the Gentile believers divided from and tore down each other (1 Cor 3:1-5) because he loved these people dearly.
When people would tear down brothers and sisters in Christ for whom Paul had labored, understandably he felt like a mother feels when her children are being harmed. He said as much in Gal 4:12-19.
Love for the Gospel, love for Christ and therefore love of His Body, the Church, and a mission for which he endured great hardship led Paul to love unity among the brethren. We cannot really understand Paul's writings until we understand this. And we cannot really apply his writings until we share his love for all brothers and sisters in Christ.
Lord, teach us to love unity the way Paul did so that we too can walk worthy of our calling.