Commentary on "The Unity of the Gospel"
Day 1: Sabbath Afternoon, October 8, 2011 - Introduction
The Adventist lesson opens the weekly study with a praise for maintaining the Church's unity, using Calvin and Luther as examples of insisting on unity among believers while simultaneously holding to the gospel's truth. It is certainly a balanced view of unity without compromise. The apostle Paul’s efforts toward keeping the apostolic circle unbroken in the face of challenges raised by some believers was also an example of firmly standing for unity on gospel principles, writes the Adventist commentator.
Paul's epistle to the Galatians excels in proclaiming the liberty found in Jesus Christ. Above anything else the cry "Christ is all" stirs echoes of unspeakable joy in believers’ souls that are free from the burden of their sins, resulting exclusively from their trust in Christ alone for salvation. As with anything precious, this treasure needs to be defended by those to whom it is entrusted. Astoundingly free of charge, the gift of redemption found in Christ sounds too good to be true for the majority of people. It looks so other-wordly that in order to appear credible, many feel that some adjustment of work must be added to it as a minimum requirement.
Christ-plus-nothing is hazardous material; Christ-plus-something feels less “dangerous”, safer for common people, trustworthy, adapted for man's natural religious instincts that sinfully fabricate idols shaped by the tastes and preferences of natural man’s inborn lack of trust in the Creator's goodness and generosity. No wonder Paul's epistle confronts a Jewish-Christian version of natural religion.
The lesson is not completely clear, however, about what should happen if the gospel needs to be defended. Despite the apostle Paul’s concern for believers' unity, church harmony should be disrupted if the defense of the gospel requires it. Even if an angel from heaven, to say nothing of a man like Paul or Peter, tampers with the content of the gospel, a curse will surely fall on him, creating sharp division and separation. Jesus and His complete, all-sufficient work is infinitely greater and more precious than unity if that unity tolerates another gospel.
Also, contrary to what the Adventist author perceives as Paul's activity directed toward maintaining the unity of the apostolic circle, Galatians 2:1-14 argues that the unity of the apostolic circle around the gospel is not under question for a second, and any deviation from from the established agreement to endorse the true gospel has no official endorsement or is a gross inconsistency. In any difficult situation, Paul counts on the agreement among the apostles, and even when this agreement seems threatened, Paul appeals to the already-established practice regarding liberty in Christ in order to defend the gospel. Even when Peter goes astray, the truth of the gospel is the central and single interest of Paul, not maintaining the unity of the apostolic circle.
Copyright 2011 BibleStudiesForAdventists.com. All rights reserved. Revised October 6, 2011. This website is published by Life Assurance Ministries, Glendale, Arizona, USA, the publisher of Proclamation! Magazine. Contact email: BibleStudiesForAdventists@gmail.com.
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