Do you find it hard to trust a bully? Maybe you’re holding on to a memory from childhood of someone who mistreated you, called you names, etc. Then, years later you see them at the mall, and they seem friendly and welcoming. People can change, yet we hold our old memories close before trust will come.
You can imagine how Paul felt going before the apostles of Jesus. They would surely recognize him as the bully to Christians. But God had intervened. Paul was no longer against Christ, but for Christ, now on a mission from Jesus himself to reach the Gentiles. His job was not to convert Gentiles to Judaism, but to introduce them to salvation through Jesus Christ.
God had the unity piece all worked out long before Paul’s conversion. Think of it. Jesus commissioned his own disciples to seek the lost sheep of Israel. Recall Matthew 10:5-6, “Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions: “Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only to the people of Israel—God’s lost sheep.” God wanted them to be laser focused on the Jews. God knew that he would raise up another leader to reach the Gentiles.
Paul shares with the Galatians his encounter with Peter, James, and John to give further credibility to his mission. Paul never said he was doing this because of his own power or his own intention. On the contrary, Paul always gave God the glory for the gospel and for trusting him (Paul) to share it with others.
You can imagine how delighted Paul must have been when he got the “blessing” of the apostles. They had nothing bad to say about what he was doing. We are witnessing true unity in diversity. “In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews.” They were unified in the gospel of Christ. That truth never changes and can set us free.
In the Christian church today, we see a lot of diversity. There are many denominations, and we sometimes look to this verse to help bridge the gap to bring unity. Why do denominations exist? I’m not sure I have a good answer, other than to say the church is made up of people. And, depending on interpretations of the Bible and traditions of how “church” should be done, denominations continue to pop up to appease the diversity.
As Paul and the early church leaders model for us, what is central to everything is the gospel. There is only one true gospel. Care should be taken to be sure that any denomination you may be part of is not distorting the gospel and making it something it’s not. The same God can work through many leaders for the good of the kingdom of God. After all, “God has no favorites!”
We are seeing a lot of brutality and injustice in our world right now. It’s really nothing new, but it is in the spotlight as tensions are high and people are being cruel to one another. If only every living soul on the planet would remember that God has not favorites, perhaps we would not see such violence run rampant. God desires for us to live in harmony with each other and with him.
We can be different, yet when we focus on the one gospel and the one God who loves us unconditionally, we can put ourselves in a much healthier place. We can learn to celebrate our diversity and thank God for how we are each made unique. Take some time to celebrate your uniqueness and ask God how you can be more focused on unity in the body of Christ, and then the world.
Let’s pray … Lord, I am so thankful for how you have made me, flaws and all! You love me just the same. Help me to remember you love every single one of your creations equally. Help me to rely on you and live out my calling, using the gifts you’ve given me. Show me how you want to inspire unity in this broken world so we can lead lost people back to you. I need you, Lord. In Jesus’ name.