Text: Ephesians 2:11-22
It has been observed that a national crisis can either make or break a community, depending on its response to it. This has been evident in our nation’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak over the past two months. It is heart-warming to see how people of diverse backgrounds have rallied together through the #SGUnited initiative to help one another get through this challenging time. Singaporeans of all backgrounds have worked together to help our healthcare workers to cope with their work at the frontlines. We must be very thankful to God for giving our nation this social and psychological resilience, because not all nations have seen the same kind of united response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
In some places the outbreak has led to increased prejudice, distrust, discrimination and even violence. Last month, a Singaporean student in London had to go for facial surgery after a coronavirus-related racist assault. In another country, a supermarket staff refused entry to customers who appeared to be of Asian descent, claiming that he was preventing the virus from spreading. Overseas students there have even been evicted or asked to leave their dormitory just because of their nationality.
Even here in Singapore, it takes much vigilance to prevent racial tensions from rising. Several weeks ago, the Ministry of Home Affairs had to deal with a religious teacher who wrote in a Facebook post that the coronavirus outbreak was retribution against the Chinese for oppressing the Uighurs in Xinjiang. He also suggested that Chinese people had caused the virus to spread because they do not wash properly after using the toilet. Such insensitive remarks if left alone, will create unpleasant rifts within a community with people from diverse backgrounds.
Similarly as members of God’s kingdom, we Christians come from diverse backgrounds. We are not a homogenous group – e.g. in our church we have about 1,000 members. But there are differences – e.g. language differences. We have worship services in English, Chinese, Thai and Indonesian. There are age differences – From the oldest which is the GAF, to the youngest which is the LTF. There are also social and career differences – we have students, teachers, lawyers, doctors and retirees. And even within the same group there are bound to be differences in personalities.
God did not make us all alike. Each person has his or her own unique personality, likes and dislikes. Some people tend to be rather strong and aggressive. Others tend to be quiet and uninterested. And yet others tend to be highly-strung and very easily agitated and may resort to panic buying during an outbreak. Each person also has his own convictions, opinions and views. Some would rather worship at home during this outbreak, while others desire to worship in church. This wide variety of personalities and opinions can make the fellowship we share interesting, since variety is the spice of life. But it can also present huge problems, especially when makin corporate decisions. It can produce rifts and divisions.
How can such a group of diverse people be effectively united? How do we overcome our differences and live together peacefully? We will find out today as we continue with the study of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. Let us turn our Bibles to Ephesians 2:11-22 and read it responsively:
11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
14 For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
16 And that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.
18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
In the first ten verses of this chapter of Ephesians we had learned about the salvation that Christ brings. Now, as we go on to the rest of the chapter, we will see three things, beginning with…
1. The Problem that Diversity Brings (vv.11-12)
One reason why Paul wrote this epistle was to deal with an ongoing problem in the church of Ephesus. This church consisted of people from diverse backgrounds. And one particular fault line that existed in this church was the long-standing differences that existed between the Jews and the Gentiles.
When the Gospel first came to the city of Ephesus, there were already Jews and Gentiles there. In Acts 19:10 we are told that within the two years (AD 56-58) that Paul stayed and ministered at Ephesus, “all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus,both Jews and Greeks.” Thus, the composition of the churches that were established in and beyond Ephesus included Jews and Gentiles.
It is in this context that we can now understand what is written in our passage of Ephesians chapter 2. Let us look at verses 11-12 – “Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.”
This described the situation before Jesus came to live on earth 2,000 years ago, when there was no peace between the Jews and Gentiles. The Jews had always regarded themselves as being so much better than Gentiles, because of the covenant relationship that they had with God. They alone were the chosen people of God, the ones to receive His special attention. Therefore, to them, Gentiles had no part in God’s covenant at all. And so the Jews also looked down on them and kept themselves away from them. The Law which God gave through Moses specifically commanded them not to participate in any alliances with Gentiles, whether in marriage, in business or in politics. They went to extremes in practicing social distancing.
Whenever they returned home from doing any business transaction with a Gentile, Jews had to immerse themselves in water to disinfect themselves of all the defilement they had contracted through that transaction. Having meals with Gentiles was absolutely forbidden. The Jews would never enter into the house of a Gentile, because doing so would make them unclean for seven days.
The Gentiles on the other hand, often regarded the Jews as being a rather strange people because they had their own laws and oftentimes refused to follow the customs and laws of other people when they lived in a foreign land. Because of this, Gentiles from almost every ancient civilization hated the Jews and despised their customs and beliefs.
A Gentile prime minister once persuaded his king to exterminate all the Jews in the Persian Empire. He said, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them. If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed…” (Esther 3:8,9)
About 200 years before Christ, the Greeks tried to force the Jews to renounce their religion and worship the Greek gods. When the Romans took over control of Judea, the Jews were denied any right to rule themselves. They were also taxed heavily by the Romans. The long-standing hostility between Jews and Gentiles finally came to a head about six years after Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians. In AD 66 some tense clashes in Judea between small groups of Jews against the Romans erupted into a full-scale war. The Jews killed about 6,000 Romans. This prompted the Emperor Nero to send the armies of Rome to deal with them. In the ensuing conflict, Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70, more than a million Jews were killed, and 97,000 Jews were enslaved by the Romans.
It is in this context of centuries of unending hatred and hostility between Jews and Gentiles that Paul now writes to the Ephesians about…
2. The Peace that Christ Brings (vv.13-18)
This peace is described in Ephesians 2:13-14 – “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.” You will notice that the key word here is the word ‘peace’. It is found again in vv.15 and 17. This is a peace that the world cannot give. No matter what the world tries to do, it cannot bring any lasting peace. Neither can the world give you the inward peace that your soul needs. There have been peace talks, peace protests, peace initiatives, peace marches, and countless organizations and institutions set up for the sole purpose of promoting peace and harmony. If you were to do a search on the Internet, you will find millions of websites promoting peace!
One website I found was set up by a big organization based in New York called, “The World Peace Prayer Society.” It claims that world peace can be attained if people all over the world of whatever nationality, race or religion will just pray the same prayer, “May peace prevail on earth.” They sincerely believe that the more people they can get to pray this prayer, the more peace there will be on earth. Interestingly, you will notice that this prayer is not addressed to God or to anyone at all. It is a prayer made to nobody, because the world does not know who can bring peace to this world. The world does not seek after the only source of real peace – and that is the Lord Jesus Christ!
Christ is the exclusive source of real peace. This is the main point here in our passage, as verse 14 says, “For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.” Seven hundred years before Christ was born, the prophet Isaiah already foretold that He would be the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). On the night when Christ was born in Bethlehem, the angels filled the night sky with the chorus – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” (Luke 2:14).
Christ has brought peace not only to man, but to the whole creation. Colossians 1:19,20 tells us, “For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peacethrough the blood of His cross, by himto reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” Thus our Lord Jesus is truly the Lord of Peace and the Prince of Peace!
You may ask: How did Jesus make this peace for us? He made peace by dealing with the very root of the problem, which is sin. Jesus paid a huge price for peace: He died on the cross to bear the punishment for our sins (cf. v.16). With our sins removed, we now have peace with God. God is no longer against us or angry with us. We are no longer afraid that His awful judgments may come upon us because of our sins. Jesus has made peace between God and us!
That is not the only kind of peace that we have from Christ. He also enables us to have peace with others. All the barriers and distinctions that divide people from one another are dissolved when they come to know the Lord. In Galatians 3:28, God’s Word tells us: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” In Christ, even the worst of enemies can be reconciled to each other and become the best of friends!
During World War II many American soldiers were captured by the Japanese and severely beaten and tormented as prisoners of war. One of them was a lieutenant named Louis Zamperini. After the Japanese surrendered he returned to the US and received a hero’s welcome. But he continued to have nightmares about strangling his former captors and began drinking heavily, trying to forget his horrible experiences as a POW.
At the encouragement of his wife and Christian friends, Louis Zamperini reluctantly agreed to attend a Gospel rally. There he was gloriously saved and committed his life to Christ. This enabled him to forgive his captors and his nightmares ceased. He then became a Christian evangelist, and went to Japan to visit many of the guards who had mistreated him. They were now war criminals awaiting trial in prison. Zamperini told them that he had forgiven them, and he shared the Gospel with them. Some of them were so touched by what he shared that they too believed in Christ!
This is a sample of the countless testimonies of people who were reconciled with each other through Christ. When they found peace with God, they also found peace with their fellow men. It is really exciting to see people who would normally hate or despise each other because of differences in race, culture, nationality or social status, now becoming the best of friends because they love and serve the same Lord Jesus!
Perhaps there may be someone here this morning who needs to find peace with God. You must have peace with God, in order to have peaceful relationships with others. The Good news is that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins so that we might be reconciled to Him and have peace with God. Now, you must believe in Christ for salvation. How can you do this?
First, you must accept everything that the Bible says about Christ and about yourself as true – that He is the Son of God who came down from heaven to be made a sacrifice for sin, and that you are a sinner who deserves nothing but the wrath of God.
Then, you need to confess to Him personally that you are a sinner in need of His salvation. Put your trust in the completed work of Jesus Christ alone, and stop trusting in your own good works to save you.
And third, to trust in Christ is also to commit your life to Him once and for all, with no thought of turning back. Let Him be your Lord and master from now on. And as you trust in Christ now for salvation, He will assure you that you are His and that all your sins are forgiven. He will enable you to forgive others and to finally be at peace with anyone who has wronged you.
Then, as God moves you to share this good news with those you used to hate, they too can experience the same peace with God and be reconciled to Him. What a great joy it will be for you to be made one with them through Christ! This is the same oneness that Paul wrote about between Jew and Gentle in vv.16-18 – “And that [Christ] might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.”
Paul then writes that this reconciliation and peace that is Christ brings will eventually lead us to experience…
3. The Progress that Oneness Brings (vv.19-22)
This is stated in vv.19-22 – “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”
Here Paul describes all believers as a building that is still being constructed. And the One who is doing the building is God Himself. He is the Master architect who had established the building’s firm foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ as the chief corner stone. He will add each believer as lively stones to His building until it becomes a glorious House that is fit for Him to dwell in.
This does not mean that we have no part to play in this building process. Paul himself wrote about the care he took in building up the believers at Corinth: “…as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11)
The same thing was true of the Church at Ephesus. While the spiritual barriers between Jews and Gentiles have been removed by Christ, the two groups of believers in the church had to overcome the racial and cultural gaps that still stood between them. Like many Christian Jews today, the Jewish believers at Ephesus would continue to observe some of their Old Testament feasts like the Passover and would dress differently from the Gentile believers in church. The Gentile believers may have had certain eating habits that the Jewish Christians may have difficulty coping with. How can they prevent these differences from causing disunity in the church?
The answer is to depend on the love of Christ. When we are filled with His love, we are able to regard one another as fellow-citizens with the saints, and as members God’s family. Since we are now one in Christ, we must put aside all class distinctions and learn to love and accept one another.
Dearly beloved, God’s Word teaches us that every person of whatever nationality or social status has priceless value because he bears the image of God in him. Besides that, every person also receives life, health and sustenance from God, and if God considers them as being worthy enough to receive all of these gifts, we would be insulting God if we did not consider them to be worthy of our love and attention.
Christian brethren should have even more value in your sight than that. This is because every Christian has been purchased with the precious blood of Christ. God has sent His only begotten Son to die for him. He is therefore very precious in God’s sight. He deserves your time, attention, interest, love and devotion.
And you may be surprised at how much you will be blessed as you do this. One brother in our church shared with me that when he was about to be retrenched from work, he was tempted to feel very depressed about his situation. But when he began to help others, he realised that many people were facing problems that were a lot worse than his own. That kept him from feeling greatly upset.
Once there was an email prayer request from a sister in our church who was due to give birth to her first child, and she was naturally feeling worried about going through childbirth. When the prayer request went out, another sister in our church responded immediately and offered to help her, because she had given birth about a month before that, and she said that she could empathise with this sister.
A person who has suffered loss, can better understand the pain of others who are suffering loss. Someone who has gone through failure can understand better the disappointment of others who are going through failure. One who has been sick can better understand the hardship of others who are sick. One who has been stressed can better understand the feelings of others who are stressed. When the words of comfort and assurance to a sufferer are given by a fellow-sufferer, they mean so much more and are treasured much more than words given by anyone else!
In a hospital ward one day there were two patients on adjacent beds. Both were Christians and both happen to be suffering from the same illness. And they encouraged one another. When one was going through a particularly painful procedure, the other prayed for him fervently, because he knew exactly what he was going through. This is the way to overcome all the difficulties we face in life.
We are all fellow-citizens and fellow pilgrims going through the same trials of life in a sinful world. Think of ways to bear one another’s burdens and build up one another. Even a small little expression of sincere care and concern can go a long way to help someone who is in need. Even if you cannot get close to him because of social distancing measures, you can text a message of encouragement to him. If you don’t know what to say, just find a Bible verse that God may use to minister to him. You can share an experience you had that is relevant to his situation. Or you can get him in touch with people who have the resources to meet his needs. And when there is really nothing that you can do to help him directly, you can always pray that God would help him.
Here is a question: How about people you really cannot get along with? This is where we must learn how to deal with disagreements as mature Christians. The key to doing this is the love of God. It is the love of God in us that enables us to be meek and kind in our response to people we cannot get along with.
Meekness is the virtue that can help us to move along with every kind of person. It enables us to be accommodating with others. Through love we can put up with one another’s different opinions and different ways of doing things – we learn how to agree to disagree. The love of God that is in us will also enable us to be patient with others. And when we make mistakes and offend one another unintentionally, the love of God enables us to forgive one another. God’s Word tells us that love covers a multitude of sins.
Let us therefore learn to love one another well as children of God and as fellow citizens of God’s kingdom. Please think about what you can do now during this Covid-19 outbreak to show more love to others and to reach out more to others, starting with those in church. Make it a habit to be more attentive, more alert, and more sensitive to the needs of those who are around you. This morning we have seen the Problem that diversity brings, the Peace that Christ brings, and the Progress that oneness brings. May the Lord enable all of us to remember how glorious it is to be made one in Christ – He is the tie that binds us together.