Eph2v11to22: ONE IN CHRIST

Introduction. (Read the reference)

This is an easier passage for me to handle although it is not without its problems. What is truly horrific is the way the church through the ages has ignored and continues to ignore its main thrust. What Paul has written is a terrible judgment on the divided church of today. The sad fact is that as the centuries pass the divisions in the church multiply.

Most commentators divide this passage up into three sections and that is a strategy I shall follow.

A forlorn condition. See verses 11 and 12.

In verses 11 and 12 Paul describes the condition of the Gentiles at the time of Jesus. They were collectively:

(1) Disparaged by many Jews. Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men) .... .

"The uncircumcised" was a term of abuse used especially by Palestinian Jews in the time of Paul. The Jews believed circumcision made them God's elect people in line with the promise made to Abraham and as such immeasurably superior to the uncircumcised Gentiles. William Barclay gives several examples of the racial and religious prejudice of many Jews. They said things like, "Gentiles were created by God to fuel the fires of hell." Even the apostle Peter needed a vision before he was willing to visit and enter the house of Cornelius a Roman centurion.

Circumcision was a sign of the covenant God made with Abraham. See Gen17v1to4. So everyone born of Jewish parents and in the case of males, circumcised, had a share in the solemn promise made to Abraham and became one of God's chosen people. This certainly gave the Jews a reason for thinking that they were special. However many conveniently forgot God's promise to Abraham: "And through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed." Gen22v18.

Something else forgotten was that included among the people Moses led out of Egypt was a mixed multitude. Ex12v38. AV. It was not just Jews that sheltered beneath the blood! Large numbers of non-Jewish slaves took the opportunity to leave Egypt with the Israelites and were doubtless later assimilated.

It always seems to me a miracle that the little book of Jonah was ever written and included among the Jewish sacred writings. Its message is clear. God cared about Gentiles - even those who were enemies of the Jews - AND he disapproved of fanatical nationalism.

Nevertheless there is not much in the Old Testament to encourage the Jews to make converts of Gentiles and thereby initiate them into the people of God. In some respects it is remarkable that liberal Jews - for the greater part those living outside Palestine - were making God known to the Gentiles among whom they lived. In some respects these liberal Jews were preparing the ground for the gospel. Groups of Jewish immigrants existed throughout the Roman Empire and even further afield. For example, Paul and Silas found what was probably a mixed group of Jewish and Gentile women at prayer by the river outside the city walls of Philippi. Lydia, a worshipper of God, was one of them. She quickly responded to Paul's message and became a believer.

Taking the Jews as a whole they could have done more to make converts. They were not interested in removing some of the barriers to belief like circumcision or the dietary laws.

(2) Ignorant of the promised Messiah. Remember at that time you were separate from Christ. v12.

The promise of a Messiah was not made to the Gentiles. This had certain implications. It meant that the Gentiles:

    (a) Did not belong to the people of God. They were excluded from citizenship in Israel.

    (b) Were strangers to the solemn pacts God made with his people. They were foreigners to the covenants of the promise. The Gentiles were unaware of and consequently uninvolved with the binding agreements God made with the Israelites. See Gen17v1to14 and Ex24v1to11.

    (c) Were without hope. By the time of Jesus many Jews had a belief in the resurrection of the righteous. Gentiles like the Greeks shared the pessimism of the writer of Ecclesiastes. See exposition on Ecclesiastes9.

    (d) Were without God in the sense that they did not really know him. This was to a certain extent their own fault. Paul in Romans1v18to23 indicates that the Gentiles could have known God far better from the evidence of what has been created.

    But there is no doubt that the Jews had an advantage over the Gentiles. Paul made this clear when he wrote to the Romans: What advantage, then is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way. First of all they have been entrusted with the very words of God. Rom3v1.

(3) Lessons.

All of this might seem rather arid and remote from our day and age. But nothing could be futher from the truth.

    (a) It is wrong to be contemptuous of and prejudiced against any group of people. Many Jews shared Jonah's abhorrence of the Gentiles. They were not interested in witnessing to them about God. Many Jews just considered that Gentiles were rejected by God and under condemnation.

    Some elements in the church have been guilty of appalling prejudice through the centuries. Here are just a few examples known to me:

  • Many Boers who attended the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa in the apartheid era believed that they were God's elect and the black population were not.

  • As late as the 1950's there were separate churches in the Southern States of the U.S.A. for white and black people.

  • In the early 20th century European missionaries to China lived in compounds away from the indigenous population. There was more than a hint that the Chinese had to adopt Western culture to be truly Christian.

  • Some years ago I preached in a church attended by two fanatical supporters of the British Israelite movement. They believed white Anglo Saxons were special because they were descended from the 10 lost tribes of Israel. The two men, both of whom were very keen Christians, were undoubtedly prejudiced against black people who they did not consider children of promise. I tried to explain that it didn't matter who they were descended from - we were all one in Christ Jesus. It was water off a duck's back.

    (b) It is vital to tell men and women of different cultures and religions to us about Jesus whether they be Inuit, American Indians, gypsies, Australian aborigines, Japanese or Arabs. So long as groups remain ignorant of Jesus then like the Gentiles they will remain outside God's family, unaware of God's great and many promises, without hope of eternal life and sadly in error about the nature of God.

    Let us take as an example the Inuit. Traditionally they believed that all things including humans had a spirit form. They were preoccupied by observing rituals and practices that showed respect for the spirits of their ancestors, of the animals they hunted, of the weather and a host of other unseen spirits. If the Inuit failed to show proper respect for their surroundings, they would provoke the spirits and give them reason for revenge. Their survival depended on killing and eating animals but these animals were believed to be very similar to people so they lived in perpetual fear of the animal spirits. Transgressions in the human world had repercussions in the spirit world. Countless taboos governed all ways of life. For example, the possessions of those who died could not be used by the living because they could attract the spirits of the departed to return.

    In many respects the Inuit religion was one of fear and appeasing far from friendly spirits. They were in bondage to the taboos that affected all aspects of their lives. The Inuit needed to hear the gospel, whatever Anthropologists might say, because it set them free. It is liberating to know about a God of creation, providence and grace - a God not evident in the animistic religions.

(C) The transforming gospel. See verses 13 to 19.

(1) What is the gospel?

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. v11.

Paul preached Christ and him crucified. See exposition on 1Corv18to25.

The good news is that Jesus is God's very special one, his sent one - his Son. He came to offer himself as the ultimate sacrifice for sin on the cross. If we believe Jesus to be the one God sent and trust in his sacrificial work God will forgive us our sins and give us new life by his Spirit.

(2) What the gospel achieves for those that believe.

    (a) It brings believers near to God. Jesus makes peace between God and sinners whether they be Gentile or Jew. The traditional beliefs of the Inuit did not make for peace and nor did the legalism of the Jews. He (Jesus) came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. v17. Jew and Gentile alike needed Jesus to give them peace with God.

    Jesus is the one who reconciles everyone who believes regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, class, sex or creed. Paul writes of Jesus: And in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross. v16.

    (b) Jesus makes just one sort of Christian. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace. v15.

    Jesus did not come to create two sorts of Christian: Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. There are several instances in the New Testament where this erroneous and pernicious belief seems to be taking root. Christians came from Jerusalem to Antioch and persuaded the Jewish believers to take communion separately from the uncircumcised Gentile Christians. Even Peter and Barnabas fell from grace on this issue. It took robust action by Paul and a council at Jerusalem to nip this ungodly tendency in the bud. See exposition on Acts15v1to5. Yet suspicion of Paul remained in the Jerusalem church and when the little apostle arrived many years later with a monetary gift from the Gentile fellowships he was asked to pacify Jewish Christians still obsessed with the Law. It led to his arrest and long imprisonment. See exposition on Acts21v17to36.

    (c) Jesus should remove barriers between Christians. For he himself is our peace, who has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with the commandments and regulations. v15.

    Much is made by preachers of the dividing wall that separated the outer court of Gentiles from the rest of the courts that made up the Jewish Temple. Any Gentile who trespassed beyond the dividing wall was put to death.

    Although the wall in the Temple was symbolic of the separation of Jew and Gentile I do not believe it is the wall Paul is thinking about. (In some ways I consider it remarkable that there was a court for Gentiles in the Temple at all!!) The real barrier, and one of abiding hostility, was created by the laws observed by the Jews that emphasised their Jewishness. The ordinances regarding circumcision, diet, Sabbath rest, uncleanness, the festivals and ceremonial washings that were so important to Jews because they highlighted their separateness were disliked by righteous Gentiles who could not see the point of them even though they were attracted by other aspects of Judaism.

    In the early church Jewish Christians who insisted that these laws should still be strictly adhered to erected a barrier to fellowship with Gentile Christians.

    Paul dramatically, boldly and at the risk of being misunderstood states that Jesus came to put an end to the rules and regulations that maintained Jewish identity and fostered separateness rather than togetherness. Jesus' death on the cross highlighted the extent of man's sins - whether Jew or Gentile - whether black or white - whether male or female - whether old or young - whether slave or free and all men's common need to depend absolutely upon his sacrificial death for salvation. Nothing else matters but faith in Jesus.

    (d) It is the cross that unites Christians. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

    We are all one in our need of a Saviour and in our absolute reliance upon what Jesus did for us on the cross. Nothing else can save us - neither race, culture, doctrine, good works nor church affiliation. Jesus and Jesus alone can save - nor does he need any help from anything else - rituals, rules, saints, clergy, theologians, doctrines, dogma or the writer of this website. Jesus saves and this one great, central fact should unite all Christians.

    (e) All Christians have access to the Father. For through him (Jesus) we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. v18. The way to God is not through priest or preacher, altar or pulpit, friend or family but through Jesus and by the Spirit. All Christians are equally privileged. No groups have special or superior access and so no Christian faction should look down on any other. Instead we should rejoice in what Jesus has done for ALL that believe.

(3) A terrible indictment.

This passage is a terrible indictment of Christians who:

    (a) Want to worship separately from believers of a different race or ethnic group. The separation of congregations on racial lines in the United States and South Africa was an insult to Jesus. Today in the Philippines there is a tendency for Chinese and Philippine Christians to worship in separate churches. Pastor McAdam's Baptist Church in Manila consisted almost entirely of Chinese Christians. Gradually Philippines began to attend as well. This made the Chinese uneasy and restless. Fortunately Pastor McAdam showed wisdom and arranged meetings with the Christians of both races. He was able to convince both groups that they were one in Christ Jesus and the tension has been dissipated.

    (b) Go by so many different labels: Anglican, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Brethren, Pentecostal - to name but a few. What a mess the Christian church has got itself into. The prevailing disunity and disharmony makes a mockery of Christ's intent to create one new man.

    (c) Are actively hostile towards those they disagree with. A dividing wall of hostility remains between liberals and conservatives, radicals and traditionalists, Baptists and infant sprinklers, Calvinists and Arminians, Anglicans and Nonconformists, charismatics and non-charismatics. I read an article in the Daily Telegraph this morning where the Pope was reported as praising Martin Luther and urging greater unity between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. But he was not complimentary about the Pentecostalists who were growing at a phenomenal rate in countries like Brazil at the expense of the Roman Catholic Church. He saw them as a threat!

    (d) Will not celebrate the Lord's Supper with believers who hold different doctrinal beliefs. This is appalling and a denial of all Jesus sought to do. It is at the Communion Service that we remember the Lord's death and our common dependence upon his work at Calvary. An unwillingness to admit all believers to the service is the ultimate divisive act. In this the Church of England sets a good example to Strict Baptists and Roman Catholics alike. Anglicans welcome members of all other Christian churches to take Communion with them. Until the Roman Catholic Church permits interdenominational Communion it cannot be taken seriously when it advocates Christian unity. If you debar professing Christians from the Lord's Supper you are denying the authenticity of their faith.

    (e) Belittle fellow believers whose doctrine and practice differs from their own. It is a sin to cast doubt on the faith and genuineness of the religious experience of other believers. Christians who differ from us may be wrong on certain matters but this does not mean they are not true followers of Jesus. We need to always remember the words of Paul to the Gentile Christians at Ephesus: Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God's people and members of God's household. v19. The important thing is not our membership of a denomination but our inclusion in the household of God.

(D) A work in progress. See verses 19 to 22.

The church - in the sense of ALL Christians collectively - is like a huge but unfinished temple or cathedral. Paul describes four features of this great building:

(1) The cornerstone is Jesus. With Christ himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together.

I think it probable that the cornerstone was a perfect cube or cuboid (rectangular box). If it was set level to mark a corner of the building it would serve as a point of reference for all work in the vertical and horizontal planes. It would keep walls at right angles in the horizontal plane and perpendicular in the vertical plane. In this way every part of the building is fixed in position with reference to the cornerstone. In the same way all believers find their true place and function in relation to Christ and are built in him.

(2) The foundation was laid by the apostles and prophets. Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. v20.

The whole grand edifice that is the church is built on the work of the apostles and prophets. It was they who both preserved the teaching of Jesus and established the early church from which the whole church developed and continues to develop. The very first church in Jerusalem, founded and nurtured by the apostles, is the base from which the universal church grew.

(3) Every new generation of Christians provides a fresh extension of the church. And in him you too are being built together. v22.

Every individual Christian is built into the church and contributes in some measure to its glory.

(4) The church is a fitting dwelling for God. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. v22.

I love the way dear old William Barclay concludes his commentary on this passage. He really captures the Spirit of what Paul writes. I am sure if he were still alive he would forgive me for quoting him at some length.

Think of what a great Cathedral is often like. Down among the foundations there will be a Saxon crypt; on some of the doorways or the windows there may be a Norman arch; one part of it may be early English and another Decorated and another Gothic; some of it may have been added in our own lifetime and in our own day. There are all kinds of architecture; all kinds of men built it; but the building is a unity because through it all and in it all it has been used for the worship of God and for meeting with Jesus Christ.

That is what the Church should be like. Its unity comes not from organization, or ritual, or liturgy, or worship. Its unity comes from Christ. Where Christ is, there is the Church. The Church will only realize its unity when she realizes that she does not exist to propagate the point of view of any body of men, but to give a home and a dwelling place where the Spirit of Christ can dwell, and where all men who love Christ can meet in that Spirit.

I say AMEN to that!

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