By Sam E. Stone
In the book of Ephesians the apostle Paul tackles one of the great challenges facing believers in the first century: uniting all Christians in one body, following the one head, Jesus Christ. That challenge remains today!
Two groups of people were living side by side in Ephesus—Jews and Gentiles. Each group had contempt for the other. Jewish Christians had been reluctant to admit Gentiles into the church, unless they first became Jews (Acts 15:1; Galatians 2:11-21). After teaching about man’s reconciliation with God through Christ in Ephesians 1, Paul next affirmed the unity that exists between all of God’s children.
The apostle addressed those who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised.” The rite of circumcision was performed on all Jewish boys. In their pride, the Jews felt this made them superior to the Gentiles, the people they called “dogs.” Those who call themselves “the circumcision” were the Jewish people. They used their obedience to this command to inflate their ego and distinguish them from the pagans.
Paul pointed out that before they were saved, they were a long way from the Jews, excluded from citizenship in Israel. But Paul also reminded them, “You were a long way from Christ then too!” William Hendriksen notes that Paul lists five factors to describe their previous condition: Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless, and godless.
Things are different at this time, however—but now in Christ Jesus. When one is born again into the family of God, things change. Those who once were far away have been brought near. Before, the Gentiles couldn’t even stand in the same part of the temple area as the Jews. They were outsiders. Now in the church, both Jews and Gentiles can stand together, side by side, as brothers and sisters. This is because of the blood of Christ. When Jesus died for our sins on Calvary, he brought all of us into his one family (John 10:16; 17:11; 1 Corinthians 10:17).
He himself is our peace, the apostle reminded them. Jesus not only brings peace, he is our peace. He deserves the title “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). He reconciles us to God and to one another. Divisions and distinctions need no longer exist. Jews and Gentiles are now united in Christ’s body, the church.
All of the distinctions between what is ceremonially “clean” and “unclean” are past. While the moral demands of the law have never been removed, the rituals and ceremonies have. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two. A single new humanity exists. God no longer deals with people as Jews or Gentiles; all of his children comprise a single entity, the church of Christ.
The Lord’s purpose was in this one body to reconcile both of them to God. The “one body” could represent the body of Jesus, but seems more likely to mean his body, the church. Only at Calvary can sinners be reconciled to God and to one another (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Jesus came and preached peace. Although Jesus himself preached primarily to those who were near, the Jews (Mark 1:14, 15), his message was delivered through the apostles and early Christian evangelists to those who were far away, the Gentiles. Through him we both have access to the Father. Jesus is the one way by which everyone must come to God (John 14:6).
Paul next emphasizes the contrast between those who are foreigners and aliens and those who are fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. Though most of the Ephesian Christians had a Gentile background, they now had a new citizenship (Philippians 3:20). All of us are aliens here. Though we are fully involved in the affairs of this life, we have a different homeland (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 3:1). Christians are now part of Christ’s extended family, the church (Galatians 6:10).
The apostle changes from speaking of the church as a family to a house. The earliest believers formed the beginning of the building (Matthew 16:16) with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. The position of honor in the building belongs to Jesus in this familiar illustration (Psalm 118:22; Mark 12:10; Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7). Christ is the unifying power in the church (Ephesians 4:16). The goal of this unity is that all believers would become a holy temple in the Lord (1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Peter 2:5). We are his new creation, joined through a new relationship.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.