Relevant Verses: John 10:1-18; 1 Pet. 2:9; Exod. 19:5-6; 1 Cor. 3, 12
Leading Question: How does the New Testament build on an Old Testament foundation when it comes to illustrating the idea of unity?
Although our overall theme of “Oneness in Christ” could be taken to suggest that one doesn’t really find oneness and unity until the appearance of the Incarnate God in the New Testament, some remarkable images in the Old Testament provide a bridge between the Testaments.
1. Question: To what extent are the images give in 1 Peter 2:9 (“chosen race,” “royal priesthood,” “holy nation,” “God’s own people”) rooted in the Old Testament?
Comment: In Exodus 19:5-6 one finds a list that could have easily been a major source of the images which are mentioned in 1 Peter 2:9: “my treasured possession,” “a priestly kingdom,” and “a holy nation.”
Even though the New Testament provides of a capstone revelation, indeed the clearest revelation of God, it is well for us to remember that the Old Testament was Jesus’ Bible and the Bible of the first Christian believers. The New Testament canon as we have it today was not fully settled until well into the fourth Christian century. Indeed, the first list of New Testament books that contains no more and no less than the 27 books in our canon is found in an Easter Letter from Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, to the churches under his jurisdiction.
The idea of a “people of God” is solidly rooted in the Old Testament. The New Testament builds on that foundation, illustrating it with further images, the most important being “the body of Christ.”
2. Question: In John 10:1-10, Jesus tells a story about sheep that leads to the idea of one sheepfold and one shepherd. Indeed, the idea of only one door to the sheepfold is part of the narrative. To what extent is that image inclusive and unifying or exclusive and divisive?
Comment: While some biblical images are more inclusive than others – the “body of Christ,” for example – the idea of community suggests a certain exclusiveness. In our world, a community that includes everyone would seem to counteract the very idea of community. “Family” is both inclusive and exclusive. In the end, however, the New Testament points in the direction a great inclusive throng which cannot be numbered:
Revelation 5:13 (NRSV): Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
Revelation 7:9-10 (NRSV): 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. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
3. Question: Would it have been more persuasive for Paul to give us his “unity” metaphors in connection with a relatively trouble-free church like Philippians? Instead, his richest catalog of unity metaphors comes from correspondence with his most troubled church, the one at Corinth.
Comment: From Corinthians 3 and 12 come these four metaphors for unity, some of them overlapping with each other:
Agricultural metaphor: 3:6-9: 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Comment: Both Paul and Apollos were the favorite preachers of different factions at Corinth (see 1 Cor. 1). But Paul saw himself as the front-line evangelist (the one who sowed) while Apollos was the pastor/nurturer (the one who watered). But God worked with both of them to give the growth.
Building metaphor: 3:9-15: 9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. 14 If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.
Comment: Paul slips directly from his agricultural metaphor (“God’s field”) to the building metaphor (“God’s building”). Both metaphors involve the use of a variety of God’s “servants” who employ differing talents. He picks up this theme again in chapter 12.
Temple Metaphor: 3:16-17: 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Comment: This passage is not a health reform passage. The “you” here is plural, something that is not found in standard American English. In the American South, however, “Y’all” works quite well. But Paul slips from the building metaphor into one that envisions the ultimate building, God’s temple. And the community together is what makes God’s temple.
Body Metaphor: 12:4-30: 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
Comment: For Paul, diversity within the church is the essential element in establishing the unity of the church. Even the smallest member plays a key role.