Jim Duggan, Pastor
Bellevue Baptist Church, Macon
Today’s passage comes after one of the richest theological passages in all of the Bible. Ephesians 2:1-10 clearly explains the great grace that provides salvation for all who will believe in Jesus Christ. In the following verses, Paul states the case for inclusion of Gentiles in God’s redemptive plan.
Circumcision can be traced back to Abraham (Genesis 17:10-14) and was the identifying characteristic of the Jewish male. It was so important to the Jewish faith that they viewed all human males as being in one of two categories: circumcised or uncircumcised. Often Jews were also known as those “of the circumcision.”
The church in Ephesus was established by Paul on the return leg of his second missionary journey. The Ephesians were culturally Greek and, therefore, uncircumcised. Paul reminded them that before Christ they were considered outsiders.
In verse 12, Paul lists five exclusions brought about by their being outside of “the circumcision.” They were without Christ. God chose the Jews to be the line through which He would send His Son, the Redeemer. Second, they were excluded from the benefits the Jews enjoyed as the people of God.
Third, they were not covered under the promises of the covenants God had made with His people. Paul probably has the covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David in view. Fourth, they were without hope. And fifth, since God had chosen to work through Israel, the Gentiles were without God.
The conjunction “but” signals a turn to a much more positive outlook. All of the dividing walls have been broken down “in Christ.” The theme of these verses is the oneness Christ has established for all who believe in Him.
It is important to note Paul’s statement in verse 14, “for he (Jesus) is our peace.” We remain divided when we focus on anything or anyone other than Christ. Politics, economics, social standing, and other man-made walls of division create the very disunity that Jesus came to destroy. When we focus on Jesus first, we live in the unity He desires of His redeemed.
The word translated “hostility” is echthra and refers to being in a state of opposition, two sides, so to speak. The word also carries the connotation of ill-feelings between the two sides for one another. In these verses, Paul indicates that in Christ, there are no longer two or more sides, but one new man.
In the earliest days of Christianity, Jewish followers of Jesus required Gentiles to submit first to Jewish customs. This became the topic of great discussion at the first Church Council in Jerusalem around AD 50 (Acts 15). That meeting of church leaders recognized that male Gentiles did not have to be circumcised to become a follower of Jesus.
Here, in Ephesians 2, Paul refers to the union of Jew and Gentile in Christ as producing a “new man.” In Christ, Gentiles do not have to join Judaism to follow Christ. Christianity is not a division of Judaism, but rather a new creation by Christ. To divide ourselves over our differences would be like our arms severing our legs from our body because they didn’t like the shoes the leg wore on their feet.
In verse 18, Paul refers to the access that this new man has to the Heavenly Father. In the previous Judaic system, only the priests had access to God. Only the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, thought to represent the physical presence of God. Furthermore, he could only enter that chamber once a year and only after very meticulous ritual purification.
So to say the least, in Judaism, direct access to God was incredibly limited. But now, Gentiles and Jews alike have open, direct access to the Father through the Spirit that indwells every believer. Jew and Gentile alike share this access, further reinforcing the oneness brought by Christ.
Now in Christ, those who in verse 12 were without Christ enjoy a relationship with Him. Those who were non-citizens and foreigners have become citizens and members. Paul refers to them as blocks in a building. The foundation is Biblical teaching and Jesus is the cornerstone that holds it all together. When we ignore the cornerstone and make issues other than Jesus our focus, the unity of the building is compromised.
Regardless of background, race, socio-economic standing, or personal preferences, we live in unity and grow only when we recognize our oneness in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
What are some issues that divide Christians?
What would Jesus say about these issues?
In what ways can we put aside our prejudices and preferences and focus on Jesus?