We like to talk about the gospel as a unifying force, and this is certainly true in many respects. The gospel message unites Jew and Gentile, insiders and outsiders, showing us that all humanity can only be saved as we believe in the Lord Jesus, understanding our need for salvation because of our sin and rebellion against God, and accepting that His sacrificial death on the cross is the only way we can be reconciled to God. It’s the great leveller and the great unifier: ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ (Gal 3:28)
Before the gospel can unite and unify, however, it divides. Jesus Himself said, ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.’ (Matt 10:34) He spoke about even family loyalties being divided because of Him (Matt 10:35-39), reminding us that love for Him has to be our first priority, a love that comes before all others.
The gospel, when clearly proclaimed, draws a line in the sand; it demands a response. People cannot truly be neutral when they realise what is at stake. Everywhere Paul went, he stirred up controversy and divided people. Some believed and followed him (Acts 17:4, 12); others rejected the message and out of jealousy stirred up opposition. (Acts 17:5, 13) In fact, those in Thessalonica who opposed him were so vehement in their opposition that they followed him the 46 miles to Berea to stir up that city against him too!
Ultimately, Jesus said that ‘anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.’ (Matt 10:37-39) The gospel message forces us to decide where our allegiance lies and promises that there are great benefits and rewards to those who will believe and put God first. (Matt 6:33-34) Paul and his companions were greatly blessed as they saw churches founded in new places; they were also greatly persecuted as a result of their preaching! We can’t have the one without the other.