Stephen V. Allen, senior pastor
Tabernacle Baptist Church, Carrollton
In the church, both local and universal, we are inextricably bound to others who may not always see things just as we see them. Paul knew that within a diverse body of believers there exists the propensity to focus on differences rather than commonalities. That is the problem towards which Paul desires to offer a solution in this passage.
Paul foresees that the dividing walls of hostility can be torn down through oneness in Christ. Through the cross, Christ reconciled you to God and to one another in the church so that you may be a unified vision of His Kingdom’s purpose.
Draw near to each other, draw near to God
Paul has asked this congregation to reflect on their former condition in order to appreciate all the more their present privileges. The Gentiles of the church in Ephesus had been separate from Christ.
That word “separate” ought to catch your attention. At one time Israel had real advantages that the Gentiles did not share – namely the availability of God’s blessing. In a way, these two groups were divided by an insurmountable barrier. Paul emphasizes that their commonality in Christ has supplanted the divisions that once existed. A dramatic reversal has taken place where Jew and Gentile alike have “come near.”
Paul exhorts them to be unified in the spirit of God: “13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” The phrase “But now” opens the floodgates of hope not just individually but collectively. Together they are reconciled in a newly created community rooted in a shared salvation.
Grafted together as a peace-filled people
Shared salvation naturally leads to a shared peace. There are two key ideas in these verses: enmity and peace. Enmity means hostility, and necessarily implies both separation and distance. There was enmity between the Jews and Gentiles and between both groups and God.
Visualize, if you will, a T-shaped barrier with God on the top, and Jews and Gentiles on each side of the vertical line. The cross of Christ nullified those barriers and brought reconciliation that made the two into one. Miraculously, Jesus created a pathway for both personal peace and communal cooperation.
Jesus’ work is evident in the Ephesian church: 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” In other words, all distinctions that separate us are gone in the spiritual arena.
When God looks at us he sees us as one. There is no class system. There is no hierarchy. There is only in Christ. Positionally, there is absolute equality in position, gender, race, age, ethnicity, language, and ability.
A shared citizenship in the Kingdom of God
In light of what has been said about Christ’s achievement, the contrast between past and present is restated describing the new community of the Church. “So then you are no longer strangers but fellow citizens joined as the household of God, built on the foundation of Christ, and indwelt as a place for God by the Spirit.” Paul reaches his conclusion that individual salvation has a more robust implication than merely personal-blessed assurance. Unity and peace are the watchwords for the church as we embody the gospel.
Salvation, in the larger sense, is the dynamic in-breaking of God’s rule in our lives and in this world. Paul calls them to find allegiance in something higher than themselves as they are swept up in the salvation story of God.
How does such unity happen? Paul certainly gives his theory on how this harmony takes place. It is unity – not uniformity. It is a shared love that seeks to visualize the divine possibilities of what can happen when a diverse group of people come together for a common cause. When you are swept up in a common vision of the work of the Holy Spirit then a community of faith can become a representation of the ministry of Christ’s Kingdom in the world.
We live in a divided and hostile world. Our fallen world is bent towards self-destruction, factionalism, partisan politics, and polarizing power. Jesus came to offer an alternative to all of that through His Kingdom of peace that allows us to do life together with grace in common.