Devotional # 99. 8/26/14. Ephesians 2:11-22.
Intro. Last week we talked about the difference between grace and mercy but how God has both for us. And how a Christian’s salvation is only because of the gift Jesus gave us by dying on the cross, not by anything we have done. But having realized that we are saved by faith we also recognize that we will bear fruit since Jesus is working through us. He always desires to share His hope of eternal life in heaven and most of the time He uses us to do it (when we’re not stubborn about it). This week’s Devotional focuses on our unity and fellowship with other believers and our responsibility to not forsake meeting together (Hebrews 10:25).
vv. 11-13. Paul starts with “therefore” which reminds us of what he’s just said, chiefly that God prepared the good things we do for the kingdom before we were even born. This shows God’s plan but then Paul continues with the natural thought: what about God’s chosen people, Israel? And what about Gentiles?
Remember in other Devotionals we’ve learned “Gentiles” is anyone that is not Hebrew. Gentiles weren’t circumcised. Circumcision was traditionally a Hebrew thing. God gave it to them as a reminder that He had done a miracle when He gave Abram the promise of Isaac (see Genesis 17:10-14). It was also a testimony that they were God’s chosen people to be set apart from the Gentiles. So Paul is saying that since the Ephesians were Gentiles (and therefore uncircumcised) they were looked down on by Israelis (i.e. “the Circumcision”). Why? Well, by the time of Jesus some of it was just racism but there were reasons why it developed and Paul gives us some of those reasons here. MacArthur explains, “Gentiles were cut off from God in 5 different ways:
1) They were without Christ, the Messiah, having no Savior…
2) They were ‘aliens from the commonwealth of Israel.’ [they didn’t have the] unique blessing and protection [like God’s chosen people did],
3) Gentiles were ‘strangers from the covenants of promise,’ not able to partake of God’s divine covenants in which He promised to give His people a land, a priesthood, a people, a nation, a kingdom, and a King – and to those who believe in Him, eternal life and heaven.
4) They had ‘no hope’ because they had been given no divine promise.
5) They were ‘without God in the world.’ While Gentiles had many gods, they did not recognize the true God because they did not want Him (see Romans 1:18-26)” (Source 1, p. 1805).
Paul uses the rest of this chapter to explain how Jesus made this right. (Also if you want to know more about why God gives us reminders like circumcision, see this website: http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVanswers/2005/07-16.htm .)
Notice in verse 13, “Christ” is mentioned twice. At the beginning and end. Why? Because Christ is the beginning and the end of our reconciliation to the Father. We have just heard how we were far from God in 5 ways but it only took 1 thing to bring us to God: the blood. Not just any blood, but Jesus’ perfect blood, given for our life. It gives an extended meaning to “the life is in the blood” from Leviticus 17:11, doesn’t it?!
vv. 14-18. A great example of this comes from the true story with Paul and Timothy, although sometimes I think Paul gets a bad rap for circumcising Timothy. In Acts 16:3 (see Devotional 56) we learned that Paul circumcised Timothy who was half Israeli and half Gentile. He did this because their ministry was going to take them to Israeli’s who wouldn’t be able to get over the fact that Timothy wasn’t circumcised. Paul (with Timothy’s agreement) was merely putting into practice what Jesus had done by dying on the cross. Unity was the key!
I love that Paul says Jesus broke down the wall between Israeli and Gentile in His “flesh.” I believe this serves a dual purpose of showing that Jesus is our Brother, having been born into the same flesh as us, but also alludes to circumcision which is cutting away flesh. In the same way He cut away the need to follow “the law of commandments” and “ordinances” (literally like circumcision) and instead made a way for all people to come to Him! Early on God desired that circumcision represent the heart (read Deuteronomy 10:16 & 30:6 where God wants people to cut away the black sin of their heart.) Paul told the Colossians that they were circumcised with Christ (Colossians 2:11) showing that God’s desire had been fulfilled there and that it is possible for Jesus to do it to us today.
vv. 19-22. Do you know what it’s like to be in a strange place? Having just been in Hungary I know the doubt that you feel if you have to get your family from one place to another on multiple lines of transportation – all in a foreign language! But what’s it like to get home? Back to what you know and where you’re comfortable. The Holy Spirit, speaking through Paul here, knows that people universally understand this concept. The challenge is that earth is the “foreign” land where we’re “strangers” and Heaven is our home, we’re just not there yet. Because we lack spiritual sight we forget this and need the reminder. We must constantly remember back to our spiritual forefathers. What did they stand on? They stood on faith that God would keep His promises because He had in the past. This became a “foundation” with Jesus holding it all together. And we are the bricks built on that foundation!
Other than filling us in on how we fit into history and a practical reference for what to consider in times of doubt, how does this help us? I think it solves racism. I think it builds unity. I think it will drive Christians to church…and that they will stay! Although individually we are a temple to the Lord (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) here we also see that we are bricks in a collective temple which has been put together for God to “dwell” in! We know that the earth is the believers training ground prior to Heaven so it follows that one of the things that we learn here is how to dwell in unity with our brothers and sisters. If you don’t believe me here are a few verses: Psalm 133:1; John 13:35; John 17:23; Acts 4:32; Romans 12:10; Galatians 3:28; Philippians 2:1-3; Colossians 3:14; 1 John 4:12; 1 Peter 3:8. So do we get to pick which brothers and sisters God puts in our path to love? No, and the mature Christian thanks God for that! Have you ever been annoyed by another believer and prayed that God would make them mature or go away? But then as time goes by and you get to know them you start realizing that although different from you God has worked gifts into them and then you value them. This is hard but just like God’s faithfulness when we actually do what He commands on getting over ourselves and loving our Christian family, we see the benefit and then we continue the cycle. I’ve mentioned it before but it bears repeating: when we have an excuse not to go to church (i.e. “So-and-so hurt my feelings”, “the pews are too hard”, “it starts too early”, “I had a hard week”, “we just can’t find a good church”, etc.) it’s not just us that suffer but it’s the other Christians at the church that suffer also. You may have been given a verse or experience to comfort another believer but since you’re not there you just stole from that person. What if someone was given a verse to comfort you but you’re not there to receive it and then what do they do with it? Burst because they just want to share it? If your first response to this is that God won’t keep comfort from a person (therefore it’s OK if you miss church) then you’re only partially correct. God will comfort that person with or without you but if God has worked you into His plan for that person doesn’t it seem stupid to refuse God’s will on that? We must keep in mind that we “are being built together”, this isn’t future tense like Heaven, this means NOW! There are many other reasons that we are to go to church but I think the lack of willingness to overcome our petty differences in an effort to build unity will have major consequences.
Conclusion. Paul’s purpose in these first three chapters is to show what God has done for us and Paul authoritatively establishes that by mentioning every person in the Trinity in this section. Jesus brought us together, whether Hebrew or Gentile, there is no longer separation but salvation! Because of His sacrifice we have “access to the Father” (remember the temple veil being torn top to bottom?). We also aren’t strangers or foreigners but we have been given a home and a family. Finally we are being worked together into a figurative temple which the Holy Spirit will dwell in. This encourages in many things, one of which is a commitment to obey God by persisting through annoyances and self-righteous judgment towards a love for our fellow believers.
Source 1: John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, 1997.