By Garnett Reid
Face it, we’re part of a world divided. Just name the issue and opinions differ. As I write today, war seems imminent. By the time you read this piece, the conflict may rage full-scale. Our nation parts ways over whether or not to go to war. Congress splits down the middle over legislative issues. Ethicists debate opposing sides of critical topics.
Divisions filter down even to what we eat, drink and wear. Which is it for you, Campbell’s or Progresso soup? Sprite or Sierra Mist? Here lately, I prefer suspenders to belts, thank you.
In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul applies the great truth of individual salvation he’s just explained (2:1-10) to the most divisive issue in the early church. Did Gentiles in Christ have an equal place with believing Jews? This question tore at the unity of Christ’s body in the first century.
The apostle explains that God has created an entirely new entity, one body to which all – Jew or Gentile – belong who are in Christ.
A House Divided (2:11-12)
Paul insists that his readers “remember” their past (“in time past,” v. 11; “at that time,” v. 12). “Remembrance” is a vital concept in scripture. In the Old Testament, Israel built memorials to remind them of important events they dared not forget. Memory gives a sense of “roots” and origins; it conveys knowledge gained from the past to influence behavior today and tomorrow.
Yesterday, Paul says, Jews derided these Gentiles as “uncircumcised,” out-of-the-loop in terms of their ancestry. The Old Testament detailed God’s plan to bring Christ into the world, and that plan focused on the line of Abraham in Israel. Non-Jews were on the outside looking in. They were “aliens,” not citizens. The Old Testament covenants God made involved Israel exclusively at the outset.
No wonder Paul describes Gentiles as having “no hope.” God’s only plan of salvation led through Israel to the Messiah. Even though Gentiles in the Old Testament could come to faith (remember Job, Melchizedek, Rahab and others), by their very nature they were depraved and separated from God through sin (“without God,” v. 12). Of course, so were the Jews, but they didn’t like to admit it.
As Hendriksen summarizes, “Paul portrays Gentiles as ‘Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless, and Godless’ in verses 11-12.”
A House United (2:13-18)
“But now,” Paul insists, things are different. Through Christ’s blood those “far away” Gentiles are “near” (v. 13). He stresses “peace” (vv. 14, 15, 17) because of the Savior who is Himself our peace. That “middle wall” dividing Jew from Gentile crumbled beneath the weight of the cross (vv. 14-15).
This “wall” is a metaphor illustrating the role of the Mosaic law in the Old Covenant, according to v. 15. The law served to remind the Gentiles of Israel’s favored status as God’s covenant people. Yet the Jews also took offense to Gentile disregard for the law, and the predictable result was “enmity.”
Yet Jesus “abolished” that enmity. Note that Paul does not dispute the continued relevance of the law since it expresses God’s moral character for all times and people. What is different, however, is that the Old Covenant in the Mosaic law no longer defines the people of God.
“One new man,” Christ’s body, the church, has emerged from the two. All who are reconciled to God through Christ, Jew or not, “have access by one Spirit” to the Father (v. 18). Don’t miss the emphasis here on “one” (vv. 14, 15, 16, 18). Even as Jesus died on the cross, so, too, did the enmity separating all people willing to die with Him (v. 16b)
A House Inhabited (2:19-22)
A great theme running throughout scripture emerges in these final verses of Ephesians 2. God lives with and in His people! We see it in Eden, in the tabernacle and temple, in Christ’s incarnation, in the believer’s indwelling by the Spirit, in the church, and, finally, in Heaven itself.
No “strangers” live in God’s house. Instead, the church is a family (“household,” v. 19). Families are not uniform in their makeup; individuals differ at my house, as I’m sure they do at yours. Unanimity seldom shows up at our place, either. That is, family members sometimes disagree. But the family unity we enjoy in God’s household finds its support in the deep, durable foundation whose cornerstone is Christ Himself (v. 20).
The structure growing out of this firm footing is “fitly framed together.” No part is less significant than any other part. Even though the church is a work in progress, it stands as a “temple” for the Lord’s glory. His Spirit lives there (vv. 21-22; see I Cor. 3:16-17), and it’s your address, too, if you know Christ’s reconciling love.
In a day when the gospel is changing multitudes of people in China, Russia, Korea, Africa, Southeast Asia and across the world (just check out the International Fellowship of Free Will Baptists!), we must avoid a great pitfall. Our cultural, ethnic and linguistic differences must not impede our recognition that we are “one new man” in Christ. Despite our diversity, He calls us to celebrate the unity of His church.