In our last post, we looked at the first 10 verses of Ephesians chapter 2. We saw that all mankind is dead in sin, enslaved to the devil, the world, and our own lusts. Paul says that we were children of wrath. There is nothing that man can do to save himself.
And then those two tremendous words come in verse 4: “But God . . .” “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
And why did he save us? The next verse says, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Our salvation is to show the immeasurable riches of God’s grace for all eternity. As Paul says in chapter 1, it’s for “the praise of his glorious grace.”
So, the first part of chapter 2 was “Reconciled to God.” The rest of chapter 2 (and chapter 3) I’ve entitled “Reconciled to One Another.” Paul shows how our relationships with one another are dramatically altered by our identity in Christ. He shows how the gospel can bridge even the deepest divides between people. These are great truths that God not only wants us to understand, but he wants us to live out. If we really understand what Paul is saying here, it will dramatically change our personal relationships and how we view and treat one another.
Ephesians 2:11–12 11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Paul begins by addressing the Gentile believers in the Ephesian church. You Gentiles, he says, were in bad shape. You Gentiles—the ones the Jews, the so-called “circumcision,” call the “uncircumcision”—you Gentiles were separated from Christ, from the Messiah; you were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel; you were strangers to the covenants that God made with his people; and you were without hope and without God.
For 2,000 years, since God had called Abraham, the Israelites—the Jews—had been God’s special, chosen people. Paul says, “Look, before Christ came, the Jews were God’s people; they were the ones that had God’s promises; they had God’s law; they had God’s presence; they had hope; they were the ones through whom the Messiah would come. But you Gentiles had none of that.”
In the Old Testament God said that he chose the Jewish people not because of anything worthy in them, but because of his grace alone. Yes, he set them apart from all the peoples on earth, but he called them to be a light to the Gentiles. God’s plan was that through his people Israel, his glory, his fame, would go out among the nations.
But Israel became proud, like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable who prayed, “Thank you, God, that I’m not like that sinner over there.” They developed an intense hatred for the Gentiles. They viewed them as no better than dogs. They would shake the dust off their feet after traveling in Gentile territory before coming back to the Holy Land, so as not to defile their land. They would never eat with a Gentile. It was not even lawful for a Jew to help a Gentile woman in childbirth because that would be to bring another Gentile into the world. If a Jew married a Gentile, the Jewish family would have a funeral for their relative who now was dead to them. And the Gentiles had no love for the Jews either.
Without some understanding of this centuries-long hostility that had existed between the Jews and the Gentiles, we cannot begin to grasp the radical nature of what Paul proclaims in this passage.
And now, through Paul’s preaching, the gospel had come to Ephesus. And both Jews and Gentiles believed his message. But try to imagine how hard it must have been in that early church for Jew and Gentile to get along, to fellowship, to be unified, to love and respect and serve and honor one another.
We get glimpses into this struggle early in the church.
Acts 6:1 Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.
In Acts 6, we see favoritism going on against the widows of Greek-speaking Jews. They were considered outsiders by native-born Jews and so were not getting their share of the food distribution.
And then remember when Paul called out Peter in front of everyone?
Galatians 2:11–13 But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel . . .
Paul says in Galatians 2, “I opposed him to his face.” So what was Paul so worked up about? Peter had stopped eating with the Gentile believers in order to preserve his image among the Jews, the “circumcision party”—probably Jewish Christians who said it was necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised and to follow the Old Testament law. And many in the Antioch church had followed Peter’s example, even Barnabas, Paul said—the man who had been with Paul on his first missionary journey, the man who had told the elders in Jerusalem about how Gentiles were coming to faith.
But was it really that big of a deal? Did Paul blow a head gasket for no good reason? No. Paul saw that Peter’s actions “were not in step with the truth of the gospel;” they denied the world-changing, unifying work of Christ. Through the gospel, God was doing something unique and beautiful by not only reconciling people to himself, but also bringing them together in love across every imaginable social and ethnic barrier.
Paul’s teaching here in Ephesians 2 and in Galatians is radical. His message is that in Christ, in the church, there is no longer Jew or Gentile, but one new man under one new covenant worshipping one Lord, united in one Spirit. Let’s keep reading.
Ephesians 2:13–18 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 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.
Paul says, you Gentiles who once were far away from God, alienated and separated, have now been brought near to God. Where there was separation and hostility, now there is peace.
In verse 14, Paul speaks of “the dividing wall of hostility” that separated Jew and Gentile. I think he may have had two things in mind in using this phrase. First, he may have been referring to an actual wall that existed at the Jewish temple. Here is a picture of a model of the first century temple. The temple consisted of a series of courts, each one a little closer to God than the one before. First there was this outer court, the Court of the Gentiles. This is all the farther that a non-Jew could go. Next was the Court of the Women, both Jewish men and women gathered in this area, but a woman could go no farther. Then came the Court of the Priests, right near God’s presence in the Holy Place itself. Only priests could enter this court.
Between the Court of the Gentiles and the Court of the Women was a 4-foot stone barrier or railing. No Gentile or foreigner was allowed to go past this barrier. A 2,000-year-old stone sign was found that had been attached to this wall. Here’s what it said: “No foreigner may enter within the balustrade around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught, he himself shall be responsible for the death which will ensue.”
Interestingly, Paul was writing this letter from his imprisonment in Rome. And he was in prison in Rome because he had been arrested at Jerusalem after he had been wrongly accused of bringing an Ephesian Gentile into the temple beyond this barrier. The Jews dragged Paul out of the temple and wanted to kill him. This barrier in the temple symbolized the deep hostilities between the Jews and the Gentiles.
But besides this physical wall, there was another wall that Paul was referring to. He mentions it in verse 15—”the law of commandments expressed in ordinances.” Here he is referring to the Old Testament laws.
Certain portions of the Mosaic Law automatically divided Jew and Gentile, and made relationships nearly impossible. The ceremonial food laws made it impossible for a devout Jew to eat a meal with a Gentile. Laws regarding clean and unclean things kept Jews distanced from Gentiles. The Law raised a barrier between Jew and Gentile.
Paul is saying here that the Old Covenant came to an end with the death of Christ. The Old Covenant, with its laws and rules and regulations and ordinances, had defined and separated Jew and Gentile, creating a division. But Jesus, by his death, brought the two people groups together into one new body by destroying that divider. Jesus abolished the Old Covenant with its regulations and commandments. The people of God are no longer defined by observing Old Covenant laws, but by life in the Spirit under the New Covenant. As a result, Paul can say . . .
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Colossians 3:11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Paul is proclaiming the radical good news that Christ has erased centuries of ethnic hatred. Here in the church, in Christ, there is not Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, rich or poor, black or white, young or old, or any other way the world might try to divide us. Christ has abolished all such divisions through his death—we all have equal access to God. Amen?
Christ’s purpose, Paul says in verses 15 and 16, was “that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” Paul says that both Jew and Gentile needed to be reconciled to God, and this is what Christ did on the cross. And at the same time, they were reconciled to one another. The result is a new people—”one new man,” as Paul puts it. What’s the result?
Ephesians 2:19–22 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
The result is that Gentiles are no longer strangers and aliens, but are now part of God’s household. And God’s house, his church, is built on the firm foundation of the apostles with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone, giving the building stability and direction. This structure, this building of saints, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord. Yes, Jew and Gentile are being built together into a holy temple where God himself by his Spirit dwells. That is the church—the new temple where there is no dividing wall, no barrier, but all are welcome.
Once we were separated from Christ, now Christ himself has drawn near to us. Once we were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, now we are fellow citizens in the true Israel. Once we were strangers to the covenants of promise, now we are fellow partakers of God’s promises. Once we were without hope, now we are fellow heirs of all God has to give. Once we were without God in the world, now we are members of God’s household.
So, that’s the history of what Jesus did. But what does it mean for us, and how are we to live this out? Aye, there’s the rub, as they say.
When I think of the centuries of division that existed between Jew and Gentile, the animosity and hatred, and then Christ bringing them together in the church, I can appreciate that much more the apostles’ commands toward love and forgiveness and harmony and humility and unity. Here are just a couple passages:
Colossians 3:8–14 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Romans 12:9–20 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
God says, be compassionate, be kind, be humble, be meek, be patient, bear with one another, forgive one other, love one other, honor one another, meet one another’s needs, show hospitality to one another, rejoice together, weep together, live at peace with everyone.
That is what the church is supposed to be like. The body of Christ, the church of Jesus Christ, is a place where peace should reign, where harmony should rule, where unity should be the order of the day. The world is divided by race and class and gender and intelligence and politics. It must not be so in the church.
Unreconciled relationships are so at odds with the reality of what Christ has done. When I see people in the church who cannot live at peace with others, who refuse to forgive others, who are unable to overlook little offenses for the sake of unity, it makes me wonder about their true spiritual state.
And when in the church we have divisions and schisms and unforgiveness and hostility and grudges, it is a terrible witness to the world. Jesus said that it’s by our love for one another that people will know that God sent him. Not only that, but when we fail to live out these things, it casts doubt on the wisdom of God’s. What do I mean by that? Let’s jump ahead to chapter 3.
Ephesians 3:1–6 1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
In these first verses, Paul talks about the ministry that God gave him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. He says that this message of unity and inclusion—”that Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel”—was a mystery made known to him by revelation.
Ephesians 3:7–11 7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And then Paul says that it was God’s grace that called him and empowered him to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of the Messiah. It was God’s eternal plan and purpose to unite Jew and Gentile in one body in the church through the death of his Son.
But I want you to look at verse 10, because it is the purpose statement for all of this: “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
Through the church—through you and me—God’s purpose is to demonstrate to the angelic heavenly hosts, both good and evil, both holy and fallen, his manifold wisdom. What wisdom? His wisdom in sending his Son, the Jewish Messiah, to die in order to create a church not just of Jews, but a church composed of people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.
But how do these rulers and authorities see the wisdom of God? Jesus said something about wisdom in Matthew 11. He said, “Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Or another translation says, “Wisdom is proved right by her children.” In other words, the outcome of some act or decision will show if it was wise or not. Right?
I’m sure we’ve all seen YouTube videos of people trying different stunts and failing miserably. When we see things like that, we might wince and say, “That wasn’t a very wise thing to do.”
So, how are these rulers and authorities going to determine if God’s plan was wise or not? By the outcome. They watch and see how this church, from every people, tribe, tongue, and nation turns out.
What the church is to do is to demonstrate the wisdom of God’s plan. We show that God is wise by demonstrating that God’s plan for the church is working. The death of Christ was not in vain! It has reconciled us to God! It has broken down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile and other races! It has produced one new body! We are united in one Spirit! We show the wisdom of God to the cosmic powers by being the church that Christ died to create.
Doesn’t that raise the stakes about what goes on on Sunday morning? Doesn’t that make our relationships even that more important? If my goal is to demonstrate God’s wisdom by how I relate to others, shouldn’t that cause me to more quickly forgive? To more easily overlook an offense? To speak the truth in love? To do my best to live at peace with everyone? When we do those things, God’s wisdom is vindicated.
But the opposite is true as well. When we fail to live in harmony, when we fail to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, when we fail to love and honor and forgive one another, we proclaim to the cosmic powers that God’s purpose is failing; he was not wise, he was foolish.
This is one of the great practical challenges of being the body of Christ . We must be a reconciling people because we are a reconciled people. Not a people who do not offend and get offended—that will always happen because we are sinners saved by grace. But when those offenses come, may we be a people who are soon on the road to reconciliation.
You might say, “Fine. But that person offended me, so I’m waiting for them to come to me and apologize.” God gives you no such right. In fact, Jesus said whether you the one who was offended by someone, or you are the one who offended—either way, you have the responsibility to go and make it right.
Matthew 5:23–24 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has any grievance against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Matthew 18:15 If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
If you have offended your brother or sister, or if they have offended you, you MUST go to them and be reconciled; you have no other option. To not do so is to live in disobedience to your Lord.
Let me conclude by leaving you with a picture. In Ephesians 3:10, Paul speaks of us demonstrating to the heavenly powers the “manifold wisdom of God.” That word “manifold” in the Greek literally means “multi-colored”—God’s multi-colored wisdom. God is creating a work of art in his church—his workmanship. And he wants all of the cosmos to marvel at it. And God’s work of art is made up of thousands, millions of brush strokes and colors, all coming together to make a masterpiece on the canvas of the universe. You and I are part of that masterpiece. You are one of those brush strokes, one of those colors.
Or think of a stained-glass window stretched across the heavens made up of millions of colors that shines brightly when the sun shines through it. You are a pane. You might be a big panes! No, seriously. You are each a pane of colored glass, built together with thousands of other pieces of colored glass to make a beautiful stained-glass mosaic that God’s light shines through as you demonstrate God’s multi-colored wisdom to the universe. Don’t be a dirty pane; don’t be a broken pane. Do your part in displaying God’s wisdom by how you relate to those who are in the body with you.