LIVE IN GOD’S PEACE

 

Week of October 16, 2005

 

Bible Passage:  Ephesians 2:11-22.

 

Biblical Truth: Paul wrote that all believers are reconciled to God and to one another through Jesus Christ.

 

Remember your Past (2:11-13)

 

[11] Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands [12] remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. [13] But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. [NASU]

 

Paul deals with a double alienation in Ephesians 2. In verses 1-10, human beings are depicted as alienated from God. The verb is not actually used there but this is without doubt what is meant when they are portrayed as ‘dead through trespasses and sins’ and ‘by nature children of wrath’ [1,3]. In verses 11-22, human beings are depicted as alienated also from each other. In particular, Gentiles are described as ‘alienated from the commonwealth of Israel’ [12]. The verb translated ‘alienated’ means to estrange, exclude or alienate. In the NT it only occurs in Eph. 2:12; 4:18; Col. 1:20,21. Of this double Gentile alienation – from God and from God’s people Israel – the so-called ‘middle wall of partition’ [14] or ‘dividing wall of hostility’ was the standing symbol. The grand theme of Ephesians 2 is that Jesus Christ has destroyed both enmities. Both are mentioned in the second half of the chapter, although in the opposite order, in verses 14 and 16. Alongside his destruction of these two enmities Jesus has succeeded in creating a new society, in fact a new humanity, in which alienation has given way to reconciliation, and hostility to peace. And this new human unity in Christ is the pledge and foretaste of that final unity under Christ's headship to which Paul has already looked forward in 1:10. The parallel between the two halves of Ephesians 2 is obvious. First comes in both cases a description of life without Christ: ‘dead’ [1-3] and ‘alienated’ [11-12]. Then follows, again in both cases, the great adversative: ‘But God’ [4] and ‘But now’ [13]. The main distinction is that in the second half Paul is stressing the Gentile experience where in the first half he is stressing the human experience.

 

[11-12] Paul says therefore remember [11] and again remember [12]. There are some things which Scripture tells us to forget (like the injuries which others do to us). But there is one thing in particular which we are commanded to remember and never to forget. This is what we were before God’s love reached down and found us. For only if we remember our former alienation, shall we be able to remember the greatness of the grace which forgave and is transforming us. Their complete separation from Christ, without whom there is no salvation, was the foundation of all the other miseries described in the four following clauses. As alien Gentiles they were without the privileges of citizenship within the chosen community to whom God had made himself known. Consequently at that time they were ignorant of the one promise of salvation which God had confirmed to Abraham and his seed in several covenants. They were engulfed by despair because they had no hope beyond the fragile tenure of their house of clay. Without God was the deepest stage of their misery.

 

[13] Another but [see 2:4] marks the amazing contrast between their former lost condition and their present privileges in Christ Jesus. Before they were separate from Christ, suffering all the consequences of that condition. But now they are in Christ Jesus, they are brought near, Do you see the absolute difference, the complete contrast between a non-Christian and a Christian? This verse contains two important references to Christ. It states that our new nearness to God is both in Christ Jesus and by the blood of Christ. It is essential to hold these two expressions together, and not to emphasize one at the expense of the other. For the blood of Christ [as in 1:7] signifies his sacrificial death for our sins on the cross, by which he reconciled us to God and to each other. Whereas in Christ Jesus signifies the personal union with Christ today through which the reconciliation he achieved is received and enjoyed. Thus the two expressions witness to the two stages by which those far off are brought near. The first is the historical event of the cross, and the second is the Christian’s contemporary experience of union with Christ. You cannot have one without having the other.

 

Understand God’s Peace (2:14-18)

 

[14] For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, [15] by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, [16] and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. [17] And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; [18] for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. [NASU]

 

[14] For shows that the implications of the previous verse are about to be explained. He is strongly emphatic meaning that Christ, and him alone, is our peace. He alone has broke down the barrier and established reconciliation. The dividing wall probably alludes to the wall in Herod’s temple beyond which no Gentile might pass. Made refers back to the cross as the place where Christ made both groups into one. What did Christ do when he died on the cross to get rid of the divisive enmity between Jew and Gentile, between man and God? The answer is given in verses 15-16.

 

[15-16] These verses are packed with theology. Perhaps the best way to understand them is by focusing on the three successive main verbs that Paul uses: abolishing, might make and might reconcile. 1. The abolition of the law of commandments [15a]. Christ broke down the wall, the hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the enmity, which is the law of commandments contained in ordinances. How can Paul declare that Christ abolished the law when, in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ specifically declared the opposite, that he had not come to abolish it but to fulfill it [Mt. 5:17]? In the Sermon on the Mount the context shows that Jesus was referring to the moral law. He was teaching the difference between Pharisaic righteousness and Christian righteousness, and urging that Christian righteousness involves a deep and radical obedience to the law. Paul’s primary reference here, however, seems to be the ceremonial law and its rules and regulations, that is, to circumcision, the material sacrifices, the dietary regulations and the rules about ritual cleanness and uncleanness which governed social relationships  [see Col. 2.11, 16-21]. They erected a serious barrier between Jews and Gentiles, but Jesus set this whole ceremonial law aside. And he did it in his flesh because in the cross he fulfilled all the types and shadows of the OT ceremonial system. Jesus certainly did not abolish the moral law as a standard of behavior (it is still in force and binding on his followers); but he did abolish it as a way of salvation. Whenever the law is viewed in this light it is divisive. For we cannot obey it. Therefore it separates us from God and from each other. But Jesus himself perfectly obeyed the law in his life, and in his death bore the consequences of our disobedience. Acceptance with God is now through faith in Christ crucified alone, whether for Jews or for Gentiles. The law was a barrier between us, but faith unites us, since all of us have to come to God through Christ in the same way. To sum up, Jesus abolished both the regulations of the ceremonial law and the condemnation of the moral law. Both were divisive. Both were put aside by the cross. 2. The creation of a single new humanity [15b]. It is impossible to miss the way in which Paul moves on from the negative to the positive, from the abolition of something old (the divisiveness of the law) to the creation of something new (a single, undivided humanity). Christ brought the two together by a sovereign act of creation. Literally, he ‘created the two into one new man, so making peace’. The new man here, like the full-grown man of Ephesians 4:13, is the Christian community viewed corporately. What Paul is referring to, in fact, is not a new man but a new human race united by Jesus Christ in himself. For although potentially the single new humanity was created when Jesus abolished the divisive law on the cross, actually it comes into existence and grows only by personal union with himself. 3. The reconciliation of Jew and Gentile to God [16]. From the consequences that Christ’s death has for humanity Paul turns to the fundamental change it effected in their relation to God. It is only because God is reconciled to mankind through the propitiation of the cross that they can be at peace with one another. For it was on the cross that Christ slew the divine enmity against sin which had resulted in their estrangement from God. His death satisfied justice, it propitiated God by removing His wrath of His enmity toward sinners. The completeness of this reconciliation is indicated by the phrase in one body, which does not refer to Christ’s crucified body but to the church as his body. This continued emphasis upon the corporate significance of Christ’s objective achievement is important in showing that the church has an ideal existence, which is progressively realized as Jews and Gentiles are reconciled to God and to one another by the joyful discovery of their joint-membership within the one body of Christ.

 

In summary, this was the achievement of Christ’s cross. First, he abolished the law (its ceremonial regulations and moral condemnation) as a divisive instrument separating men from God and Jews from Gentiles. Secondly he created a single new humanity out of its two former deep divisions, making peace between them. Thirdly, he reconciled this new united humanity to God, having killed through the cross all the hostility between us.

 

[17] Already we have been told that he is our peace [14] and that he created a new humanity, thus making peace [15]. Note here that Paul does not say that Christ gives us peace but that He Himself is our peace [14]. Peace is not a commodity given to us by Christ; it is a reality experienced in fellowship with Christ. But now Paul says that Christ preached peace, publishing abroad the good news of the peace he had made through the cross. First he achieved it; then he announced it. And since the achievement was at the cross, and logically the announcement must follow the achievement, this preaching cannot refer to his public ministry. It must refer to his proclamation of the gospel of peace to the world through the apostles and through subsequent generations of Christians. Jesus Christ is still preaching peace in the world today, through the lips of his followers. Moreover this good news was addressed from the start to the ‘far’ and ‘near’, that is, to Gentiles and Jews equally.

 

[18] Although reconciliation is an event accomplished on the Cross; access is the continuing relationship to which it leads. Our access is to the Father, through him (the Son who made peace and preached it), and in one Spirit (the Spirit who regenerates, seals and indwells his people, who witnesses with our spirits that we are God’s children, who helps us in our weaknesses and teaches us to pray, and who unites us as we pray). Thus the highest and fullest achievement of the peacemaking Christ is this Trinitarian access of the people of God, as through him and by one Spirit we come boldly to our Father. Let us take full and continual advantage of this blessing of access to our Father.

 

Accept your Place (2:19-22)

 

[19] So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, [20] having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, [21] in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, [22] in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. [NASU]

 

[19] So then indicates that Paul is now concluding his argument. It is on the basis of what Christ has done for us that there is a so then. Whenever we are taught what God has done for us, we should always look for a summons for us to be faithful to him. In this verse the summons is in the form of the no longer … but you statement. We are no longer strangers and aliens, but are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. The clear implication is that we should now live differently. Our new identity both secures us (we belong) and transforms us (we live as citizens and sons, no longer as aliens and orphans). In order to indicate the richness of our changed position and our new privileges in Christ, Paul draws our attention to three familiar models of the church. The first is God’s Kingdom where God rules his people and bestows upon them all the privileges and responsibilities which his rule implies. The words no longer strangers and aliens, but … citizens emphasize the contrast between the rootlessness of a life outside Christ and the stability of being a part of God’s new society. The second model is God’s Family or Household of God. This metaphor is more intimate than the first. What is amazing here is that we have been brought into the household of faith, not as servants or slaves, but as full members of the Father’s family, his children by the adoption of grace. In this family all racial, national, and ceremonial distinctions have gone forever.

 

[20-22] The third model of the church is God’s Temple. Here Paul elaborates his vision of the new temple in greater detail than elsewhere. As he develops his image, he refers to the foundation and cornerstone of the building, the structure as a whole and its individual stones, its cohesion and growth, its present function and (at least implicitly) its future destiny. First, the foundation. Since apostles and prophets were both groups with a teaching role, it seems clear that what constitutes the church’s foundation is neither their person nor their office but their instruction. Moreover, we are to think of them as inspired teachers, organs of divine revelation, bearers of divine authority. In practical terms this means that the church is built on the New Testament Scriptures. They are the church’s foundation documents. And just as a foundation cannot be tampered with once it has been laid and the superstructure is being built upon it, so the New Testament foundation of the church is inviolable and cannot be changed by any additions, subtractions or modifications offered by teachers who claim to be apostles or prophets today. The cornerstone is also of crucial importance to a building. It is itself part of and essential to the foundation; it helps to hold the building steady, and it also sets it and keeps it in line. The chief cornerstone of the new temple is Christ Jesus himself. Here Paul has particularly in mind the function of Jesus Christ in holding the growing temple together as a unity. The unity and growth of the church are coupled, and Jesus Christ is the secret of both. As a building depends for both its cohesion and its development on being tied securely to its cornerstone, so Christ the cornerstone is indispensable to the church’s unity and growth. Paul moves on from the whole structure of the temple to its individual stones. In both cases union with Christ is indispensable. Here in Paul’s picture the extra stones being built into the structure are you also, by which he means his Gentile readers. What is the purpose of the new temple? In principle, it is the same as the purpose of the old, namely to be a dwelling place of God [22]. The new temple, however, is neither a material building, nor a national shrine, nor has it a localized site. It is a spiritual building (God’s household) and an international community (embracing Gentiles as well as Jews), and it has a worldwide spread (wherever God’s people are to be found). God lives in them, individually and as a community. The double emphasis here (fitted together, built together) reminds us that the church is not an aggregate of diverse people, but individuals united to each other in their union with Jesus Christ. Once again in verse 22 the Holy Trinity claims our attention (in Christ, dwelling of God, in the Spirit).

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.     How do verses 11-22 relate to verses 1-10? Before Paul describes the wonderful blessings that belong to those who are in Christ, he calls us twice to remember. What are we to remember and why is it important to remember this?

       

2.     What did Christ do, when he died on the cross, to get rid of the divisive enmity between Jew and Gentile, between man and God? (15-16). Why does Paul identify the “Law of commandments” as the enmity which Christ abolished?

 

3.     What is the result of Christ’s achievement and announcement of peace ? (see 19-22)

 

4.     Describe the three models of the church that Paul lists in 19-22. What does each model teach about the nature of the church? What truths about the believer’s relationship with God and with other believers does each model emphasize?

 

References:

Let’s Study Ephesians, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth Trust.

The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.

Ephesians, Geoffrey B. Wilson, Banner of Truth Trust.

The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Volume 3, Eerdmans.