How can different groups be unified in the church?

Jeremy Sarber

We’re all familiar with Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus. We read about it in Acts 9, but it’s not until Acts 26 that we get the full story. As Paul is speaking to King Agrippa, he tells Agrippa what happened, and he says:

I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

And I said, Who are you, Lord?’

And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” (Acts 26:12-18)

Paul’s calling was unusual. When Jesus first sent his apostles to preach, he told them, Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 10:5-6). Paul, on the other hand, was not to go to Israel. He was not to preach the gospel to the Jews. He was to open the eyes of the Gentiles. He was to turn the Gentiles from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God.

Notice what he says in Ephesians 3:

When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:4-6)

Why does he refer to the inclusion of the Gentiles as a mystery? It’s because their inclusion was a part of God’s plan which was veiled for many generations. Paul says, The mystery of Christ was not made known to the sons of men in other generations. It was prophesied. In the beginning, God told Abraham, In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Ge 12:3).

Even so, no one understood the full meaning of those prophecies. Old Testament saints could not comprehend the future church. They could not conceive of a united body formed with both Jews and Gentiles. How could people from every nation, culture, race, and background possibly come together in harmony? It’s unthinkable.

If you’re still unsure how such a thing could be possible, then I encourage you to read Ephesians 1 and 2 again. It’s possible because God makes it happen. It’s possible because God sovereignly chose his people for salvation. It’s possible because God changes us from the inside out. It’s possible because we are joined together not by superficial commonalities, but by Jesus Christ and his power.