We are reading the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus. Currently, we are looking at the nature of the church. A non-believer from the first century referred to the early Christians as “the third race.” It makes perfect sense because most nationalities tend to divide the world into two parts — “us” and “them.”
The Greeks did the same. There were the Greeks, the “civilized” people, and all the rest were “barbarians.” Interestingly, it came from the word barbar, which means “to stammer.” You see, in their minds, if you didn’t speak Greek, the civilized language, you sounded like a child who stuttered. When the Romans captured the Greek civilization, they adopted the same terminology. Everyone within the Roman Empire was Roman; all others were “barbarians.” The Chinese did the same thing. China came from their word for “middle,” because they believed they were the center of the earth, the Middle Kingdom. Everyone else lived out on the periphery of the earth.
Yahweh was the same way. He has always only seen two nationalities: His Chosen and Gentiles. Paul used this terminology in this letter to the to the Ephesian Christians. He pointed out that they began their lives as either Jews (God’s Chosen) or Gentiles (those who were not His chosen) — one or the other — and that this division reflected their relationship to God. The Jews were near to God. They had the Scriptures, the promises, the knowledge of God, and contact with him; so, they were close to God.
The Gentiles, on the other hand, were far off, foreign, alien. They were pagans, living in superstitious fear. They were immoral. And their outlook on life and the future was filled with despair and hopelessness.
But then, Jesus came and offered Salvation and Redemption to both, because in reality, despite being “close” to God, the Jews still needed to take the final step which would bring them to God through Jesus Christ. The Gentiles were required to take that step as well. As Paul pointed out, “You were without Christ. You were excluded from citizenship in Israel, and the covenants God made in his promise were foreign to you. You had no hope and were in the world without God.”
But then, “You, who were once far away, have been brought near by the blood of Christ,” and “He has made Jewish and non-Jewish people one.” Wow! But how? “. . . by breaking down the wall of hostility that kept them apart we just saw, in coming to Christ, both Jew and Gentile are made one.”
In the passage we come to now, Paul goes on to present the advantages, the privileges, we hold, which are a result of the grafting of the Gentiles to the Jews. Here we learn once more something about the tremendous resources we received as Christians. I don’t know how to say this forcefully enough, but we need to devote, focus on, dedicate ourselves to grasping these facts.
Our understanding of who we are in Christ will enable us to respond appropriately in every circumstance, every problem we face. Many believers are unnecessarily wrestling with terrible anxieties, fears, and hostilities, which prevent them from acting as God intended us to, all because they have never discovered the full resources that are available in Jesus Christ. As Prophet Hosea declared, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” Which, by the way, explains why Paul worked so hard with these figures and symbols. He clearly wanted us to understand our inheritance. So I urge you to give careful heed to what he says here, beginning with Verse 19:
You are no longer foreigners and strangers but citizens together with God’s people and members of God’s family. You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone. In him all the parts of the building fit together and grow into a holy temple in the Lord. Through him you, also, are being built in the Spirit together with others into a place where God lives (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Did you notice the three beautiful symbols Paul used in these verses? They are designed to teach us great truths about what it means to be a Christian. There is the figure of a kingdom (“citizens together with God’s people”), a family (“members of God’s family”), and a building (“a holy temple in the Lord . . . in the Spirit together with others into a place where God lives”). These are designed to teach us so that Paul’s prayer for us in the first chapter will be answered. Do you remember his prayer?
“Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches [the enriching possibilities] of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe,” (Ephesians 1:18-19).
Please toss out any ideas that this is merely impressive language. It is reality. You can take these words literally and plainly and personally because they will allow you to understand what you need to do the next time you face any difficulty, or how to handle any problems, and how to resolve relationships which are strained or broken. My brothers and sisters, you can solve all of these situations with these fabulous tools.
Really? Well, let us take a closer look at the passage. Notice that Paul begins with a negative. “You are no longer foreigners and strangers.” In other words, “You used to be foreigners and stranger, but not no more! No siree Bob!”
Whoa, Nellie! First, what is a stranger? Well, a stranger is ignorant. Now, don’t be insulted. If you are a stranger in a country, you won’t understand the language; you won’t be able to find places you want to visit, you will be lost! That’s is what Paul was saying, “You used to be strangers to all of God’s promises, but you don’t have to be any more. There was a time when did not know what God could do, or would do for our benefit. We had no idea of the power and enjoyment of peace and joy and forgiveness. We knew nothing about His ability to handle our fears and our phobias and our hostilities. We did not know what to do with them; we were utter strangers to the knowledge of how to handle those issues. But not anymore! Now that we have come to Jesus we are no longer stranger.
(I send out messages like this each morning in emails, and if you are interested in receiving them, send me your email address and I will add you to the list: Mail List)
I do thank you for your gifts. It is your faithful and continued support that makes these messages possible.