There are times when small parts of the Bible really stick out to me. I often feel the urge to just marinate on part of a chapter or part of a verse. That’s what happened to me the other day when I read half of Galatians 2:12. I simply wanted to sit with the words.
In this post, then, I want to briefly draw your attention to how important the first part of verse 12 is in Galatians 2. This isn’t the main point of the passage, but I believe what Paul says here, if you stare at it for a moment, has something to say to our world today.
For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; (Galatians 2:12a).
Take some time and consider what half of a verse might say to our culture. Look around. What do we see at every turn? Division. Political division. Social division. Ethnic division. We do not see a lot of unity. And, sadly, that is true when it comes to the church, too. There are plenty of debates about our educational issues, political opinions, whether or not to defy the government, and the way ahead in terms of Sunday worship during COVID. And, of course, old debates about theology have not simply ceased to exist because a virus came calling.
In contrast to the division we see in the world (and will exist until Christ returns and puts away sin), what do you see in this partial verse? You see Peter, a Jew, eating with non-Jews. Paul notes the distinction between the two groups when he says to Peter, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners” (Gal 2:15). Yet, Peter dines with Gentiles. Why do I think that is significant? Because it points towards a unity created by the gospel of Jesus Christ. An ethnic Jew is now, because of the cross, sitting down for dinner with s0-called pagan people.
This is what the gospel does. The good news of Jesus saves us from sin, reconciles us to God, and reconciles men and women to one another. Paul paints this picture in Ephesians 2:11–22, where the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile is broken down. In the place of Jew and Gentile, the gospel has created a new people (Eph 2:15). Now, the people of God are not marked off by their ethnicity. Instead, their unity is found in the person of Jesus Christ. In him, “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11). In short, because of Jesus, people from worlds apart are found sitting at the same table with one another. Jews eat with Gentiles. Political, social, and ethnic differences are all submerged under a sea of blood flowing from a Cross.
So, let me encourage us today to labor hard to maintain the Spirit-wrought unity (cf. Eph 4:1) purchased by Jesus at Calvary. That does not mean we aim at uniformity. We still have our own opinions about the issues in our world. We should winsomely express our own views and share our own minds. But as we do so, we must remember this fundamental effect of the gospel: at the deepest levels of reality, our unity is found in Christ. Our union with him by faith runs deeper than anything in this world that would ever tempt us to divide.