Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Study in Ephesians: Part 13, Ephesians 2:11-21

11 So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. 12 At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah.

The connecting word translated "So then" tells us that Paul is continuing his line of reasoning here, and as we will see, expanding it further. In understanding how glorious God is and how awful we once were, and in recognition of the reconciliation we have in Jesus, Paul turns his attention to what was likely a source of contention in many of the early churches: the relationship between new Gentile converts and the Jewish believers. Were they really one family in Jesus Christ now? What about the Law?

Paul first addresses what was likely a common attitude among Gentile believers: that the Jewish faith up to that point was of no value and pointless. The Gentiles had the grace of God, and they likely looked at the Law with disdain. Paul counters this attitude with a three-fold demonstration that prior to Jesus Christ, the Gentiles were completely "without hope and without God in the world." They were once:
  • Without the Messiah
  • Excluded from the citizenship of Israel
  • Foreigners to the covenants of the promise
The Gentiles had no notion of who God was before Jesus Christ, and they had no benefit from being under covenant with God. Even more, they were "without the Messiah." This is not saying that they did not have Jesus before they had Jesus. This is saying they had no hope of Jesus before they had Jesus. The Jewish converts understood that Jesus was the fulfillment of thousands of years of God's promises. They too were without the Messiah in the sense that He had not come yet, but they had the hope of Messiah in the promises of God. The Gentiles did not even have this, and as such were once "far away" from God.

14 For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, 15 He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace.

Paul is stressing unity here, stating that Jesus is "our" peace, and that by His blood He made "both groups one." What is interesting here is that Paul identifies the very thing that brought the Jews near to God as the source of the hostility between Jews and Gentiles: the Law. The Jews saw the Law as Israel's avenue of attaining peace between themselves and God, and Paul tells us here and elsewhere (v. 17, Romans 7:1-12) that Law cannot produce peace with God, but only knowledge of sin. By the blood of Messiah, God united in peace a singular people for Himself from the two groups, Jews and Gentiles.

16 He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it. 17 When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

God's plan was always to save both Jews and Gentiles into "one body". Messiah, then, was a message of peace both to the Gentiles who were "far away" and to the Jews who were "near" in the sense that they had previous knowledge of God through His commands and covenants. But Christ did what the Law could not do, granting us "both", Jew and Gentile, access to the Father by the Holy Spirit.

19 So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. 22 You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.

Rather than being pointless, but certainly not still in effect, the Law, along with the teachings of the Apostles, is the part of the foundation of the household of God. Jesus is what aligns the two as the cornerstone of the building. Both Jew and Gentile are "being put together by" Jesus as a "holy sanctuary in the Lord." Unity is the goal, to the glory of God.

Coming into this section, Paul was stressing how believers were destined to be trophies of God's grace. In this section, Paul tells the churches in and around Ephesus that this grace is not meant to divide us but unite us as believers. It's a constant battle as followers of Jesus Christ, what Alistair Begg refers to as legalism vs. license. We must not impose restrictions where God grants freedom, and we cannot claim liberty where God sets limitations. We, along with our brothers and sisters in Christ, are "being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit." Every day you have an opportunity to live in unity with one another. 

Colossians 3:12-14 Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. 14 Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity.