God’s Power Changes Relationships
Explore the Bible Series
September 26, 2010
Background Passage: Ephesians 2:11-22
Lesson Passage: Ephesians 2:11-22
The early church faced a critical concern as she sought to define the nature of Christianity. Was, Christianity, as some believed, a sectarian expression of Judaism, complete with a continued insistence on circumcision and other distinctively Jewish practices; or, did the Jesus Movement demand a radical break with the practices of the old covenant, like circumcision? This problem, at times, deeply divided and troubled the church. The Acts of the Apostles and several of the New Testament epistles indicate that Paul stood at the vortex of these divergent views of Christianity.
During his Second Missionary Journey, Paul spent a long time in Ephesus (See Acts 19:1-41). The apostle followed his familiar evangelistic pattern in Ephesus, initiating his work in the synagogue. For several months he reasoned with the Jewish attendees about the Scriptures. Eventually, the Jews grew impatient with Paul, and he withdrew to the nearby school of Tyrannus to instruct new converts. For two years, he continued to teach both Jews and Gentiles, in Ephesus. This church, from its very inception, boasted an ethnic diversity, including both Jews and Gentiles.
First-Century Gentiles sharply separated themselves from Jews. They tolerated Jews, but the culture allowed little social interaction between the two groups. Likewise, the Jews did not permit much social contact with Gentiles. Jerry Batson, author of the LifeWay Sunday School lessons, describes some archeological discoveries that reflect this social separation (See p. 34), a separation that must have created some difficulties for the infant church.
Our lesson text specifically addressed the spiritual concerns of the church in Ephesus. Paul gave no explicit indication of conflict between the two groups, but the passage makes a convincing appeal for unity among the believers in Ephesus. In Christ, there were no valid distinctions between Jewish and gentile converts. The Lord, through his redemptive work on the cross, broke down the wall that separated Jewish and Gentile believers.
This passage, above all, makes an articulate appeal for unity among God’s people. If First- Century Jews and Gentiles could find accord in Christ, then God’s people, in other circumstances, should find grounds to love each other and live in harmony. Like many of you, I have some reservations about aspects of the modern Ecumenical Movement. We must not “worship” unity, a unity that, in some cases, calls for catastrophic compromises on the very nature of the gospel. However, out lesson affirms all reasonable efforts to love and work with other Christians.
As usual, I have found invaluable Dr. Curtis Vaughan’s analysis of the text (See Ephesians: Founders Study Guide Commentary), and my outline leans heavily on Vaughan’s comments.
I. The Former Condition of the Gentiles (2:11-12): Paul summarized the previous life of the Gentile believers under two headings.
A. The Jews held Gentiles in contempt (v. 11): Paul’s former co-religionists regarded uncircumcised people as pagan barbarians.
B. Five evidences of Gentile spiritual bankruptcy (v. 12)
1. Gentiles were without Christ: This phrase, in all probability, means that, prior to their conversion, the Gentiles were “outside” of Christ, the opposite of being “in Christ”, a common theme in the New Testament.
2. Gentiles were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel: Their sin and idolatry cut them off from the people of God, outside the circle of fellowship that binds God’s people together.
3. Gentiles were strangers from the covenants of promise: The Lord struck covenants with the Hebrews, and the Gentiles had no saving interest in the promises woven into these covenants (think of the covenants God made with Noah, Moses, and David).
4. The Gentiles had no hope: “Hope”, in this context, refers to the believer’s anticipation of goodness from the hand of God. Vaughan concludes that the ancient Gentile world, immersed in hedonistic idolatry, settled into an unrelieved gloom of bleak despair.
5. The Gentiles were without God in the world: Not only did the Gentiles have no future hope, they also enjoyed no present fellowship with God. Vaughan thought “world” denotes an evil, hostile existence under the governance of Satan.
II. New Relationships for the Gentile Believers (13-22): Paul, in this paragraph, outlined three changes in the relational lives of gentile believers.
A. Gentile and Jewish believers enjoyed a new relationship, in Christ (vv. 13-16): Herod’s Temple contained a large wall that barred all gentiles, on pain of death, from entering the confines of the sacred place of worship. This wall, in Paul’s mind, became a symbol of the division (“the middle wall of partition”) between the races. This wall kept Gentiles for from the formal worship of God and the means of grace, but those who were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. The Lord’s death on the cross tore down the spiritual wall that separated Jews and Gentiles; thus, Christ has brought peace to all who call on his name. The old ceremonial laws that segregated people, have perished, in Christ; indeed, the two groups have, through Christ, become one, reconciled in peace. The hostility (enmity) that once separated the two, Christ has put to death.
B. Both Gentile and Jewish believers have been reconciled to God (vv. 17-18): The reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles gives way, in Paul’s argument, to the greater truth that all people, Jew and Gentile alike, may be reconciled to God, through Christ. Indeed, Jesus came to preach peace to those who are near (the Jews) and those who are far away (the Gentiles). Through the ministry of Christ and the mediation of the Holy Spirit, all believers have access to the Father.
C. The effects of Christ’s reconciliation (vv. 19-22): Three analogies of the unity between Jews and Gentiles
1. The analogy of a nation (v. 19a): At one time, circumstances had shut out the Gentiles from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers and aliens from the covenant people of God. Now, however, they had, by God’s grace, become citizens of the Kingdom, with all the rights and privileges of citizenship.
2. The analogy of a family (v. 19b): The new relationship enjoyed by these believing Gentiles ran deeper than citizenship in a new “kingdom.” It included a new family relationship in the household of God, a relationship that enjoyed the fatherhood of the Lord and brotherhood with all the saints.
3. The analogy of a temple (vv. 20-22): Please recall that Paul had already referred to the wall of separation in Herod’s Temple. Now, though, he observes that God’s people are part of a new, spiritual temple. Note the Trinitarian element to Paul’s expression. Christ is the chief cornerstone of the temple, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. The Holy Spirit builds this temple (v. 22), and indwells the people of God. Like the Temple in the Old Testament, the Father inhabits the temple of his people, filling them with his presence, power, and glory.