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“One in Christ”
Lesson Text:Ephesians 2:11-22
Background Scripture:Ephesians 2:1 – 3:21
Devotional Reading: Ephesians 3:14-21
Ephesians 2:11-22 (KJV)
11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.
18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
To understand the spiritual dimension of the separation that existed between Jew and Gentile before Christ came.
To know that through Christ we must bring to peace all the differences with our fellow believers.
To encourage believers to share the grace that comes to us freely from the Father.
The Divided Church
A central agenda for the Christian faith is to unite all of humanity into a single entity, the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself prayed for the day when “all may be one” (John 17:21). Jesus was well aware of the barriers to this goal. Sin separates people from God; it also separates people from each other.
We still fall short of Jesus' desire for a united humanity, even within the church itself. By some estimates, there are over 30,000 distinct denominations of the church today. The divided state of Christianity has been and still is a heartfelt concern for many Christians. Most distressing is to see divisive tensions within local churches themselves. Conflict occurs over things like worship styles, leadership loyalties, and minor doctrines. Rather than submit to Christ and find unity in Him, some folks seem determined to create and perpetuate divisions. Those who have been through a church fight or split know that a divisive spirit can drain all the joy of the faith from the soul.
In Paul's day, there was tension (if not outright division) within the church between those who came from a Jewish background and those who did not (Gentiles). While this specific problem is rarely encountered today, the human reasons fueling it are still with us, as are Paul's instructions for overcoming this spirit of division.
In about A.D. 51, a dozen or so years before writing his letter to the Ephesians, Paul participated in a meeting we sometimes call “the Jerusalem Council.” This is described in Acts 15 and Galatians 2. The Jerusalem Council was convened to resolve a pressing question for the church of that day: Is it necessary for Gentile men to be circumcised in order for them to be considered Christian believers? Simply put, the question was whether a person had to become a Jew first before becoming a Christian. Was the gateway to the church only to be found in the synagogue?
The epic decision of the Jerusalem Council was that circumcision was not to be required of Gentiles. However, a dozen years later, was there friction between the Jews and Gentiles in the Ephesian church? Or was Paul’s focus on the Gentiles here, (in today’s lesson) simply answering questions that might have come up about the salvation of both groups? Nevertheless, Paul found the need to revisit this issue.
Once Excluded from the Community of Faith (Ephesians 2:11-12)
1. What was the purpose of circumcision (Ephesians 2:11)?
After Paul reminded the Ephesians about their former need for God to raise them from spiritual death to spiritual life by His grace (Ephesians 2: 1-10), the apostle went on to recount former disadvantages (specifically for the Gentiles) in contrast with the Jews (vs. 11-12).
We may struggle to understand the significance of the circumcision issue for the church of Paul's day. Circumcision was an important sign of the covenant for the Jewish people. The roots of circumcision date back to the patriarch Abraham, making the practice more ancient than the Law of Moses (Genesis 17:10-14).
Circumcision was also a source of pride for the Jews, for they considered the uncircumcised to be unclean and inferior (see 1 Samuel 17:26). From the Jewish perspective, there were only two kinds of people-groups in the world: the circumcised (the Jews) and the uncircumcised (the Gentiles). The circumcised were mainly Jews, although converts to Judaism can be included (Exodus 12:48). The Jews had even come to use the word uncircumcision as a term of derision to describe the person whose heart stubbornly opposed God's will (see Jeremiah 9:26; Acts 7:51). Before Jesus came, it was unthinkable for a Jew to consider an uncircumcised man as part of the people of God.
We have our own issues that divide us today, and circumcision is not one of them. Even so, Paul's instructions for overcoming this divisive issue of his day can be of great value for us in the twenty-first century.
2. What four points did Paul make in describing the Gentiles distance from God? (Ephesians 2:12)
To understand Paul's argument here, we should examine the four ways in which he describes Gentiles in contrast with the Jewish people. First, the fact that Gentiles are not part of the commonwealth of Israel means they were excluded historically from being part of the chosen people of God; thus Gentiles have no part in the covenants of promise (compare Romans 9:4). The Old Testament tells of several covenants God made with His people (see Exodus 2:24; 24:8; Psalm 89:3; etc.). All of these were terms of a special relationship offered by God.
The promises of each of these covenants were founded essentially on the same idea: that God would bless the world through His chosen people (example: Genesis 12:3). As Paul knows, this blessing is realized in Jesus Christ, the descendant of Abraham and David (Matthew 1:17). Jesus is the Savior of all people, not just the Jews.
Seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of the ancient promise helps us understand Paul's third and fourth descriptions of the Gentiles: having no hope and being without God (compare 1 Thessalonians 4:13). There is no true hope in any of the pagan religions since none of them worship the only true God, the God of Israel. Without Christ, the Gentiles are cut off from the blessings that God had directed toward and through the Jewish people.
What Do You Think?
In what ways does your church bring the hope of Christ to people around the world? How can it do more in this regard?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Budget priorities | Short-term mission opportunities | Long-term mission support
Church vision and strategic planning | Other
Now Included in the Community of Faith (Ephesians 2:13)
3. How was the distance between the Gentiles and God removed (v. 13)?
Paul next turned from the dismal picture of the Gentile’s former condition of once being far away from God. Now, by means of the Son’s shed blood, they had been brought near to the Father (v. 13). The Son was the meeting point with the Father for all who believed the Gospel. So then, the Father’s grace in the sacrifice of His Son was the reason for the Gentile’s change in status.
It is helpful for us to appreciate what an astonishing fact it was for Jewish believers in the church to accept and assimilate Gentile Christians. Early church leaders argued over this point. Peter received a vision from the Lord to convince him to preach to the Gentiles (see Acts 10). Then he had to defend his actions before leaders of the church in Jerusalem (see 11:1-18). Moreover, as previously stated, the Jerusalem Council debated the issue (see chap. 15). However, their decision to welcome Gentile believers into the church without requiring adherence to the laws of Moses was not well received by everyone in the church.
The barriers and hostilities between Jews and Gentiles were rooted in thousands of years of tradition. Admittedly, God had told His chosen people, Israel, to stay away from the gods and immoral practices of the surrounding Gentiles. The Lord also prohibited intermarriage. But at the same time, God instructed members of the covenant community to be hospitable to Gentile aliens. Furthermore, the prophets foresaw a time when God’s kingdom would include Gentile believers.
Regrettably, by the time of Jesus and Paul, the concept of Jewish separation had become so warped that it amounted to racial and religious prejudice. For instance, Jews were not permitted to enter Gentile homes, and strictly observant Jews erected an impregnable social wall around themselves. So, instead of bringing spiritual light to the Gentiles, the Jews ended up consigning them to outer darkness. Part of the Gospel’s power includes taking radically different people and making them one. (Cook)
Peace Between Saved Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14-15)
4. How did Paul describe the union of peace (vs. 14-15a)?
When Paul says that Christ is our peace, he has in mind the Jewish concept of shalom, a Hebrew word often translated “peace.” In the Old Testament, shalom is more than suspension of hostilities. Leviticus 26:6-9 uses this word to describe a state of physical and spiritual well-being for an individual who is at peace with God and neighbor.
Paul described this union as the Son tearing down the middle wall of partition, a barrier of hostility, which once separated Jews and Gentiles. He may draw this image from a wall in the Jerusalem temple that is the boundary for Gentiles, marking the inner courts that are forbidden to them. Such divisive barriers are now broken down. As a result, there is no more assumption of enmity, for all are equally loved in Christ and should be loving toward one another (compare John 13:34).
In this light, the law of the Jews (including circumcision requirements) has become moot as a divisive factor (compare Colossians 2:14). This does not mean there is no value in the law (Galatians 3:24), nor that Christianity is a lawless faith, an ethical free-for-all (Jude 4). It means, rather, that the specific requirements of the law that result in distinguishing Jew from Gentile are now powerless. Christianity is not a religion of rule-keeping, but a way of faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
Unity among Saved Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:15b-16)
5. What did Christ abolish through His flesh (vs. 15b-16)?
Paul personified Jewish and Gentile believers and said the Messiah had made one new body out of those two groups (v. 15). From a spiritual perspective there were no longer Jews and Gentiles. A new body had come into existence-the church-resulting in peace. Here we see that God’s grace has been poured out on all of us-no one has been left out. The Lord, in turn, wants us to imitate Him and to embrace all people with His love and acceptance. The apostle noted that the Son’s death reconciled Jews and Gentiles to the Father as well as to each other (v. 16). The Son brought an end to the hostility between sinners and the Father as well as to the hostility between Jews and Gentiles. Because the Son died on the cross, the enmity between people and the Father can die there too.
What Do You Think?
Is there such a thing as “healthy distinctiveness” among churches? If so, how do we keep these from becoming unhealthy divisions of the one body?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Differences in doctrine vs. differences in practice | Differences based on cultural expectations | John 17:11; 1 Corinthians 1:13
Joint Access to the Father (Ephesians 2:17-18)
6. In other what way were the Jews and Gentiles united (vs. 17-18)?
While the Jews (them that were nigh) may have been closer to God than the Gentiles (you which were afar off) because of covenant relationship, neither was reconciled with their Creator. The gospel remains a necessary and welcome message for all people, Jew and Gentile (Isaiah 57:19).
A unifying factor in the church is the gift of the Holy Spirit. There is one Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:4), and the presence of God's Spirit in the church and in the heart of each believer is a great source of unity (see 4:3). Just as Paul sees no difference between the Holy Spirit in the life of a Jew and the Holy Spirit in the life of a Gentile, so we today should understand that each and every Christian has the same gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, 39; 10:44-47). He is the timeless, eternal Spirit of God who was present at creation (Genesis 1:2), is present in the life of Paul as he ministers (see Romans 5:5; 1 Corinthians 2:12), and is still active in the church today.
Members of God’s Family (Ephesians 2:19-20)
7. How did Paul describe the new status of both the Gentiles and Jews (vs. 19-20)?
Paul told the Ephesians that they were no longer outcasts. The Greek adjective rendered “foreigners” (v. 19) refers to transients who had no rights or privileges. Also, the adjective rendered aliens describes residents who, by the payment of a minor tax, received protection but not full citizenship. Both terms indicate an inferior status. This was the standing of Gentiles before coming to faith in the Messiah. Instead of being inferior, the Ephesians were now fellow citizens with the saints (that is, all of God’s holy people) and members of God’s household (that is, His spiritual family). In other words, like Jewish believers, saved Gentiles were now in a personal relationship with God. The Lord’s household of believers is like a building that is being erected on the foundation of the New Testament apostles and prophets (see 3:5). The Messiah is the cornerstone, or capstone, of the entire structure (2:20). This means that the church is based on the Son. And the work He performed through the leaders of the church.
A Holy Temple for the Lord (Ephesians 2:21-22)
8. “In whom” are we “fitly framed” (vs. 21-22)?
Like a cornerstone joining two walls together, Jesus is the one in whom the entire structure (namely, the community of the redeemed) is united. As an architectural metaphor, God places each one exactly where He wants him. We would be misfits anywhere else. The church is a growing temple in the process of construction.
In Old Testament times, God dwelt with His people. In New Testament times, God dwells in His people. He dwells among His people through the presence of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 3:16; compare 2 Corinthians 6:16). This echoes the teaching of Jesus that a time was coming when a physical temple in Jerusalem or elsewhere would no longer be necessary (John 4:21-23). The new temple of God is a spiritual edifice made up of Christians from all nations. They are the ones reconciled to God.
POINTS TO PONDER
1. Don’t alienate others. Jesus’ death on the cross has paid the price for the sins of everyone(Ephesians 2:11-13).
2.Through Christ, we all have access to the Father (Ephesians 2:14-18; John 14:6).
3. It’s all about relationships …with God, and with others. (Ephesians 2:19-22).
The United Church
Ephesians is the great book of Christian unity. In today's lesson text, Paul did more than argue against the necessity of circumcision. He went on to lay out the marvelous unity that Christians have in Christ and to explain why this unity is essential to the mission and purpose of the church.
The divided church of today is an unfortunate and scandalous reality. How may we overcome this? One way is to realize that God has given the church more unity than we sometimes realize. We have unity in a common Savior, Jesus Christ. We have unity in a common gift, the Holy Spirit. We have unity in a common state, being reconciled to God. In God's eyes, all Christians are united into a spiritual temple for His dwelling place among men and women. This is not an edifice of our own plan. It is God's work.
There is a saying of uncertain origin but repeated by John Wesley (1703–1791) that speaks to Paul's concerns: In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, love. Paul shows us the essentials of the faith: our common salvation through faith in Christ. Paul also points to the nonessential of circumcision (compare Romans 2:25-29). And in all of his discussion, Paul exhibits the loving grace of Jesus Christ. If we could lay down our swords of controversy and adopt the spirit of Paul, our divided churches would have more hope of unity.
Father God, You have been the Lord of the church for centuries. May we find unity through our shared relationship with You, for You have loved us and given Your Son as an offering in order to reconcile us to You. May we act with this spirit of reconciliation in all of our relationships, and especially within Your church. We pray these things in the name of Jesus, amen.
THOUGHTS TO REMEMBER
May our churches be places of peace and unity. May others witness the Spirit of God in us (1 Corinthians 3:16).