Considering the size of Paul’s entourage and his plan to visit his home church of Antioch before he continued on to Jerusalem makes it clear Paul was now readying to deliver the Greek churches’ love gift to the beleaguered believers in Jerusalem.
Paul’s great desire, one he spoke of often, was to bring reconciliation and unity to the full body of Christ.
“For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free,” Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
He told the Colossian believers, “In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”
“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek,” Paul exhorted the church in Rome, “the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.”
And to the Galatian believers, Paul enjoined, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
In his circular letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote,
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
There is one body
and one Spirit,
just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,
one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.Ephesians 4:1-6 (NRSV)
The whole Bible is the story of God’s relationship to His creation, to people. Humans started out in perfect relationship with God. Then, through sin, we initiated the estrangement that now exists between God and His beloved world, between us and our beautiful earth, between God and people, and between people with each other.
Reconciliation happens when people who are at odds with each other are made one with each other again. As applied to salvation, reconciliation teaches that your sins and mine have separated us from God and from each other, and have placed us under His wrath, that cleansing force designed to utterly rid the universe of all that is corrupt.
Paul’s home church in Antioch was a thriving example of this oneness in reconciliation between cultural and ethnic backgrounds, economic strata, genders, and social standing. The leadership represented among how diverse the various assemblies in Antioch really were:
Notice how integrated this church was with Africans, Jews, Romans, and Greeks.
1) Barnabas was a Levite and a Jewish priest, who was born on Cyprus, a Hellenistic Jew. A rich man, he gave his wealth away to the church, and gave his whole life to the Lord. Being listed first, we can think of him as the official representative of Jerusalem Headquarters.
2) Simeon the Niger, “Niger” means “black,” so Simon was probably of African origin. He is most likely the Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus carry His cross to Golgotha. Based on the gospel John Mark wrote, it’s possible Paul lived with Simon while he taught in Antioch, and became close with Simon’s sons, Alexander, and Rufus who later became a leader in the church
3) Lucius the Cyrene, like Simeon, was of African origin. It was men from Cyprus and Cyrene who had first brought the gospel to the Greeks in Antioch, so possibly he was among them. Lucius is a Latin name, so he was probably brought up in a Roman culture. There is some speculation that Lucius might be the Luke who wrote the gospel of Luke and Acts.
4) Manaen, a Greek form of a Hebrew name, it has been suggested, was Jewish by birth, whose grandfather, Menahem, had been commended by the Herod the Great for prophesying his rise to power. Herod the Great may have invited Menahem’s grandson to be one of a few select boys to be brought up with the young Herod Antipas (who had John the Baptist killed) as a playmate, schoolmate and sometimes whipping boy. Manean was of noble birth and a Hellenistic Jew.
5) And finally Saul, the former fanatical Pharisee, Roman citizen, born and raised in Tarsus, a Hebrew of Hebrews from a wealthy and influential family, who would become known as Paul.
Paul’s traveling teams reflected this same diversity, with Greeks, Africans, Jews, the enslaved, those who had gained their freedom, Roman citizens, nobility, young and old, men and women (Prisca, and those he named in his letters).
There is no question all the apostles were of one mind in this, for the very last book written and added to the New Testament portrays the vast family of God having been born into a new ethnic identity in Christ,
When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scrollRevelation 5:8-10 (NRSV)
and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints fromevery tribe and language and people and nation;
you have made them to be a kingdom and priests servingour God,
and they will reign on earth.”
Paul wrote prophetically to the church in Rome, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The apostle John later received a prophetic vision of what Paul had been describing, and recorded what he had been given by the Spirit of Christ to see, “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
God’s intent is to restore the earth and its inhabitants, and to reconcile everything to Himself. In keeping with that great mission, Paul sought to bring shalom—peace, wholeness, communion—to the body of Christ by initiating reconciliation between Jewish and Gentile believers.
The more spiritually mature person usually is the one to initiate reconciliation. We estranged ourselves from God and found no effective way to heal the breach. It took God sending His own Son to bear the penalty for our sins, to remove the cause of estrangement, and thus win us back to Himself.
Now reconciled to God, you and I have been called to be ambassadors of reconciliation to others, and to the earth.
[Pure Diversity | Mirta Toledo / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]