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Lesson 3: The Unity of the Gospel *

Introduction: What kind of unity does Paul represent? So far, he seems most interested in saying that his gospel comes straight from God, and not from church leaders. That seems an odd approach to unity! Perhaps we are not as sly as Paul. Perhaps Paul knew that he should continue on his own path teaching the Gentiles as God instructed him. Only when he had established his work would he come to church leadership for its approval. Let's read what Paul writes and see if that is his approach!

  1. Years Apart

    1. Read Galatians 2:1. Compare Galatians 1:18-19. Paul reports that three years after his conversion he visits Jerusalem and has very limited contact with church leadership. Then fourteen years later, he shows up to meet with church leadership again. If you were counseling Peter to be in unity with church leadership, would you suggest this course of action? (I would not. This seems just the opposite of what should be done to promote unity.)

    2. Read Galatians 2:2. Why did Paul show up fourteen years later? ("In response to a revelation." God told him to visit the leaders. That suggests that God did not previously tell him to return to Jerusalem to consult with the leadership.)

      1. Do you think that Paul would have traveled to Jerusalem at all if God had not directed him to visit the leaders? (I don't think so. If you have been gone for fourteen years, and you don't think you need to consult with leadership, why consult at all?)

      2. Why do you think God had Paul wait so long?

  2. Consistency?

    1. Read 1 Corinthians 1:10-12. How can Paul credibly argue for unity among the leadership, when he personally is running his own "show" among the Gentiles for at least fourteen years?

    2. Re-read Galatians 2:2. Why does Paul say that he decided to meet privately with church leadership? (He feared that he had been working in vain.)

      1. What do you think that means?

      2. Read Galatians 1:6-8. Paul has no doubt about the way he is presenting the gospel, so what could Paul possibly be talking about when he says he feared that he had been running in vain?

    3. These are difficult questions! How can Paul be promoting unity by staying away, and how can Paul think he might have been running in vain? Is it possible that we are looking at this in the wrong way?

    4. Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-19. Does God always work in a way that makes sense to us?

      1. If Paul is right that he is preaching the true gospel, how would that correct teaching appear to those who rejected grace? ("Foolishness.")

      2. Think about this for a moment. The center for support for the law of Moses was Jerusalem. Had Paul immediately presented his gospel of grace to the crowds at Jerusalem, how would that have been received? (Read Acts 9:23-25 and Acts 22:17-21. After his conversion, Paul thought that he would be especially well qualified to present the gospel to the Jews who had worked with him. We see that God not only disagreed and sent him to the Gentiles, but that the Jews tried to kill him. The last thing Paul should have done to promote "unity" was to present his gospel to the Jews in Jerusalem.)

        1. Once Paul had been rejected by the church members in Jerusalem, how would that have adversely affected his work? (If Paul had not worked separately for all of those years, he would (it seems) have presented the issue to the crowds in Jerusalem, been rejected (or killed) and that would have prematurely ended his work.)

    5. Read Galatians 2:3-5. What is the point in controversy? (Circumcision is mentioned.)

      1. How does Paul approach promoting his point of view? (Verse 5 confirms that Paul does not think his gospel message is wrong. Instead, we see that by meeting privately with some of the leaders, he was able to describe what God was doing through his approach. This explains what seems to be Paul's odd approach. He stays away long enough to for the timing to be right, he strategically approaches the leaders and not the crowds with his message.)

  3. Separate Roles

    1. Read Galatians 2:6. Imagine that this is your pastor writing about the leadership of his denomination? Would you think he is a champion of unity?

      1. What is Paul's reason for writing such a rebellious sounding statement? (Again, he has a message taught to him by Jesus, not a message taught to him by other humans.)

    2. Read Galatians 2:7. Can you find a unity message in this statement? (If you look at the big picture, you can see unity. Paul says that he has part of the outreach message (to the Gentiles) and Peter has another part of the outreach message (to the Jews).)

    3. Read Galatians 2:8. Who is responsible for this division of duties within the church? (God. Just as Paul's message is from God, so is the assignment of roles from God.)

      1. How would you apply this approach to unity issues today? For example, in my church denomination there is a current dispute over the ordination of women. What if the pro-ordination supporters said that God had directed their position, and that God arranged that in some parts of the world women would be ordained pastors and in some areas of the world they would not? Is that comparable?

        1. Recall that when we discussed how the early church was faced with division, the decision turned on observing the work of the Holy Spirit? (See Acts 15:12-13.)

    4. Read Galatians 2:9. Who does Paul say confirmed his approach and on what basis did they confirm it? (In the end, Paul tells us that the "pillars" of the early church confirmed his work. Notice, though, that the basis for the confirmation is "the grace given" to Paul. What we see is that the church leaders acknowledge the direction in which God is leading.)

    5. Read Galatians 2:10. Recall that the immediate issue is circumcision. Do the church leaders ask for any modification in Paul's teachings? (No.)

      1. Do you remember that from the beginning of his letter to the Galatian church, Paul has been making an argument about the authority for his teachings? Now he reports that God is the source of his teachings and the pillars of the church agree! What if the pillars of your church do not agree with your side of a doctrinal dispute?

      2. Why do you think the church leaders asked Paul to "remember the poor?" Of all the things they could have asked of Paul, does this seem to be an unusual request? (What is the typical criticism of righteousness by faith? It allows people to continue to feed their selfish desires. Helping others demonstrates a heart concerned about others. Plus, the poor being discussed are the Jewish Christians. By having the Gentiles help the Jews, this would help unity.)

  4. Showdown

    1. Read Galatians 2:11-12. What caused Peter to waiver in his decision to support Paul's views? (Peer pressure!)

      1. Think about the doctrinal disputes that concern you. How much of your decision is based on what those around you think? How much of your decision is based on what the Bible teaches?

    2. Read Galatians 2:13. How powerful is peer pressure? (It seems that only Paul is able to resist it.)

    3. Read Galatians 2:14. Analyze Paul's argument. Is it based on the Bible? How would you categorize it?(Paul argues that Peter is a hypocrite! He reveals that Peter has not been following Jewish practices. Thus, it would be hypocritical for Peter to force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs.)

      1. In doctrinal disputes, should we make arguments like that to promote unity? (We are going to stop here with Paul's argument, but in the next verse he makes a Bible-based argument.)

    4. Friend, what do you think about Paul's approach to unity in the church? Why not pray that God will help you to see the principled approach to bringing unity to the church?

  5. Next week: Justification by Faith Alone.
* Copr. 2017, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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