by David C. Grabbe
CGG Weekly, May 21, 2021
"My opinion on who's wrong or who's right has nothing to do with the fact that we have to bring together people who are against each other, to transform antagonism into cooperation."
In terms of differences that affect service and labor, the New Testament mentions numerous pairs of diverse types of people. In his epistles, the apostle Paul addresses barbarians and Scythians, slaves and freemen, male and female, husbands and wives, masters and servants, parents and children, young and old, rich and poor (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). These are examples of disparate groups laboring in service and trying to produce out of God's abundance while still retaining corruption within that affects their love toward others.
In terms of the effect it had on the early church, the most significant pair is that of Jews and Gentiles—physically circumcised and physically uncircumcised. The Father accepted both on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ, but some of the church's works were further leavened because not all of its members accepted both. This theme arises frequently throughout Acts and the epistles of Paul in particular. In addressing the Jew/Gentile divide, notice how Paul echoes the themes of the Pentecost offering:
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both [Jew and Gentile] one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:14-18; emphasis ours)
Like the two leavened loaves, even converted Jews and Gentiles had significant differences. However, from the beginning, God's intent was to bless all the families of the earth through Abraham (and his Seed), even though not all human families physically descend from him. God justifies those who belong to Christ through their professing the same faith as Abraham rather than through Abraham's blood (Galatians 3:8). In this way, as those so blessed started to orient their lives toward a common, greater purpose, God could begin to overcome the significant national and cultural differences.
The Pentecost offering contains yet another lesson for us. Right now in the church of God, doctrinal differences divide us, including when to start the count to Pentecost when Passover falls on a weekly Sabbath. When is Wavesheaf day—and the beginning of the count—in those years? On this and other matters, ministers and members have blown the dust off their Bibles, earnestly sought God, and humbly fasted but arrived at differing conclusions. Assuming all have objectively and earnestly sought the truth, the differences in understanding that remain cannot be overcome by the leavened efforts of men. On our own, we cannot even open our own eyes, let alone somebody else's. Jesus Christ must do that, and He will do it in His own time.
This does not suggest at all that we should neglect doctrinal clarity or that doctrine is less important than just getting along—far from it. We each have the responsibility to "test [or prove, KJV] all things; hold fast what is good" (I Thessalonians 5:21), to follow the example of those in Berea who "searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11), and to judge what the speakers teach in Sabbath services (I Corinthians 14:29). We must continually orient ourselves toward "the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God" (Ephesians 4:13).
But while we labor under differences in understanding, the Pentecost offerings that accompany the leavened loaves show us what we can focus on. The burnt offering of devotion to God, involving ten animals, is a substantial and costly part of the Pentecost offering. In this vein, it seems that Christ's every thought was about what would please the Father. It drove Him and constrained Him. If we strive to emulate Christ in this and let His drive to please the Father move us, we will focus more on what God wants than on what we want. Such devotion fosters unity with others who are likewise motivated, even where understanding is not uniform.
Similarly, Pentecost's sin offering reminds us that, if not for Christ's sacrifice, we would all be under the same condemnation. Each of us approaches the Father with nothing to stand on but His acceptance of Christ's blood in our stead. If we remember that, we will temper our evaluation of others because we know we need forgiveness, just as those who differ from us do. There is no room for arrogance or high-mindedness—only gratitude that God has made atonement available to us.
The peace offering on Pentecost further reminds us of the fellowship with the Father that Christ makes available and the abundance and contentment that result. In Him, we have peace (John 16:33). If we highly value that rare peace, we will do all we can to preserve it and ensure that we are not separating from Him. This includes wholeheartedly, individually seeking the truth of doctrinal matters (so we can be of the same mind as God), and also eagerly repenting if there is even a chance that we are wrong because peace with God means so much more to us than defending our ideas, our positions, or our pride.
Thus, the same living parable that shows us how our leavened works are acceptable to God also teaches us how to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Pentecost, like the other feasts, is a memorial of God and His many gracious works. The two leavened loaves remind us of the corruption—the law of sin and death—that remains in us even after baptism and which affects all of our works. Even so, God's acceptance of our imperfect works highlights the greater, perfect work of Jesus Christ.