5. Our United Relationship In Christ, Pt. 1: “The Mystery Of The One Body Accomplished” (Eph. 2:11-22)Related Media
“You who were once aliens…are now fellow-citizens…”
Believers share not only united blessings in Christ (1:3-14), and a united transformation in Christ (2:1-10), but also a united relationship in Christ (2:11-22). Our united blessings in Christ have the same roots – the same root of election and the same root of redemption – and we all anticipate the same inheritance based on the same confidence in Christ ensured by the same Holy Spirit, all for the glory of God alone. In Christ also we have experienced a united transformation. God in his mercy and grace has transformed our condition, making us alive in Christ, and he has transformed our position, raising us up with Christ.
But how can such people who were so different, even alienated, live together in harmony? How can our national and religious differences be set aside? How can we be united as one body? That’s the subject of this passage – how people who were formerly enemies of each other (Jews and Gentiles) and of God are brought together in one body to form the church, God's dwelling place on earth. This passage makes clear that through God’s workmanship in Christ Jesus, he has taken very different people and formed us into one new entity, one household, the church. All distinctions between us have been broken down such that…
…a distant relationship is made near (2:11-13)
…a hostile relationship is made peaceful (2:14-18)
…a foreign relationship is made familial (2:19-22)
What was formerly the exclusive relationship of the Jews to God as his elect people is now the common relationship of all believers.
Adopted children sometimes want to find their birth parents. I suppose this is because there is within all of us this inherent desire to be in relationship with others and there is no relationship so dear as the family.
When she turned 21, Tammy Harris from Roanoke, Virginia, began searching for her biological mother. After a year, she had not succeeded. What she didn’t know was that her mother, Joyce Schultz, had been trying to locate her for twenty years. According to an Associated Press story, there was one more thing Tammy didn’t know: Her mother was one of her co-workers at the convenience store where she worked!
One day Joyce overheard Tammy talking with another co-worker about trying to find her mother. Soon they were comparing birth certificates. When Tammy realized that the co-worker she had known was, in fact, her mother, she fell into her arms. “We held on for the longest time,” Tammy said. “It was the best day of my life.” 1
One of the best experiences in the Christian life is to enter into the most intimate and vital family relationship in the world – namely, the family of God. As we study this passage together, notice firstly that…
I. A Distant Relationship Is Made Near (11-13)
Again, the pronoun changes from “we” back to “you”. The focus is again on the Gentiles and their relationship to the Jewish believers and to God.
1. Their Former Relationship Was One Of Complete Distance
They were considered inferior by the so-called “circumcision”. Therefore remember that you were once Gentiles in the flesh called “the uncircumcision” by what is called “the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands” (11).
They were mere Gentiles in the flesh. They lacked the sign of God’s covenant people. That’s why they were called the uncircumcision (11a). The Jews had what they lacked – circumcision (11b), the mark of covenant relationship with God (Gen. 17:11). Even though circumcision was only a mark that was made in the flesh by human hands (11c), and even though it was only outward and physical (not inward and spiritual), nonetheless it was a mark of distinction for the Jews, a source of pride. That’s why they looked down on the Gentiles, held them in an inferior position, rendered them distant, hostile, and foreign. Listen to how the apostle Paul described the Gentiles before they became Christians:
1. They were Christless: 2 At that time, you were without Christ (12a). They had no relationship with him. They were living in the world under the influence of the ruler of this world. They were sons of disobedience, children of wrath and, thus, they were separate from Christ.
2. They were stateless: aliens from the commonwealth of Israel (12b). They didn’t belong to Israel’s community. They were outlawed. Therefore, they didn’t have the rights of citizenship nor could they participate in the national or religious life of Israel. 3
3. They were friendless: strangers from the covenants of promise (12c). They couldn’t claim or experience the covenantal faithfulness and promises of Jehovah.
4. They were hopeless: having no hope (12d). They had no hope of salvation through the coming Messiah whom God had promised would deliver his people. They had no hope in God because they had turned their back on God and chosen, instead, to “walk according to the way of this world” (2). Without a relationship with God, this “world” certainly couldn’t give them hope or comfort. 4
5. They were Godless: without God in the world (12e). If they didn’t have a relationship with God, either through national heritage or covenantal promise, they had nothing.
So, their former relationship was one of complete distance, but…
2. Their Present Relationship Was One Of Complete Nearness
But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (13). How is complete distance changed into such nearness? How were those who were once without Christ (12) now in Christ Jesus (13a)? How were those who were once far off now brought near (13b)? A distant relationship is made near through the blood of Christ (13c).
The blood of Christ was and is the only means of approach to God. Just like the Gentile Ephesians we were alienated from God by sin. The only way for that alienation to be bridged was through the reconciling work of Christ (2 Cor. 5:19; Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21), who gave himself as a ransom for all (1 Tim 2:6), a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (1 Tim. 1:15; 1 Jn. 2:2; Jn. 3:16).
What is your relationship to God - distant or near? When you reflect on who you are and what life is all about, would you have to conclude that you are without hope, far off?
There is a general sense of hopelessness in the world, a universal despair and emptiness which nothing in this world can fill. It affects rich and poor, old and young, famous and unknown.
Michael Jackson, after returning from a $70 million tour in the East, went on record as saying, “I believe I am one of the loneliest people in the world.” 5 Paul Getty Sr., the wealthiest man in his generation, lived in a house protected by dogs, terrified of solitude and equally terrified of people, and completely bankrupt inside. 6
Speaking of the desperate confusion and void in the human spirit, Ravi Zacharias wrote: “Surrounded by vociferous and confident secular theories on life’s purpose and destiny, and becoming increasingly aware of radically different world-views from its own, there is a restlessness within and a frenetic search for some new idea that will assuage its impoverished spirit.” 7
If you feel distant from God and without hope, it’s because you are also without Christ. When you don’t have Christ in your life, you have no reason to live and no security for the future. Noel Coward, in one of his plays, put it this way: “The past depresses me, the present bores me, and the future scares me to death.” 8
That’s how life is if it is lived far off from God. You don’t know where you came from, why you’re here, or where you’re going. That’s the recipe for hopelessness and estrangement. But the good news is that you can be brought near because God has come near to us in Christ.
In Christ a distant relationship is made near and in Christ…
II. A Hostile Relationship Is Made Peaceful (14-18)
1. A Hostile Relationship Is Made Peaceful Through The Person Of Christ
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one (14a). The pronoun switches again – now from you / your to we / our. He is our peace, Paul says, “peace for the Jews as well as you Gentiles. We Jews also needed reconciliation with God, just like you Gentiles. We were alienated from God by sin, just as you were. We were enemies of God by wicked works just as you were. We needed to be brought near just as you did – despite our special relationship with God as a nation.”
But now, through the person of Christ all distinctions are broken down, whether racial, social, or religious, so that they could live together in a new community of faith in peace.
He himself is our peace. He is the Prince of peace (Isa. 9:6. See also Isa. 53:5; Mic. 5:5; Hag. 2:9; Zech. 9:10), the One who came to bring peace (Lk. 2:14), peace with God and peace with each other.
A hostile relationship is made peaceful through the person of Christ and…
2. A Hostile Relationship Is Made Peaceful Through The Work Of Christ
He broke down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances (14b-15a).
The law was a spiritual dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. What the wall of the temple was physically, the law was spiritually. The wall of the temple had kept the two races apart physically and it separated them socially and religiously.
Similarly, the law had acted as a dividing wall spiritually. The Jews claimed the law as their exclusive means of approach to God. It was the spiritual barrier between them. But Christ annulled the power of the law (see Col. 2:14). He abolished the enmity that the law had made. Legal ceremonies were no longer the means of approach to God. Therefore, the law was no longer a source of distinction between Jew and Gentile, no longer a means of enmity or separation. Through the work of Christ, a formerly hostile relationship is made peaceful.
Christ annulled the power of the law to effect a new creation, to create in himself one new man from the two, thus making peace (15b). Now, “instead of enmity between two races there is peace; in place of two separate entities there is one new man (people).” 9 This isn’t the combining of two peoples but the new creation of a new entity, the church (cf. Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11).
Christ annulled the power of the law to effect a new creation, and he annulled the power of the law to effect a reconciliation: …that he might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity (16).
Reconciliation abolishes the hostility between the parties. It effects peace between former enemies. Through the cross, Christ accomplished two reconciliations. He reconciled both Jew and Gentile into one body (the church) and He reconciled the one body to God. The enmity between these two people was put to death and the enmity between us and God was put to death. Reconciliation was made and the peace treaty was announced. He came and preached peace to you who were far off and to those who were near (17).
Through the cross, Christ bridged the gap between us. He achieved reconciliation and he announced that peace was made (cf. Isa. 57:19; 52:7; Jn. 14:27; Rom. 5:1; 10:15). The ground and the sign of this peace is that both (Jews and Gentiles) have access by one Spirit to the Father (18). 10 Through the death of Christ access to God was opened up, the veil of the temple was torn in two (Matt. 27:51) granting us “boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19). Now through Christ “the door” (Jn. 10:7), all believers can approach God with confidence in / by one Spirit who indwells us and unites us together in the church.
People today long for a sense of belonging and unity. People desperately want nearness and peace, and the unity of the family. Instead, they experience distance, estrangement, divorce, and fights. Peace can only be truly known in all relationships through Christ. Christians are the only ones who can say that they are at peace with each other, with their families, with their co-workers etc. Christ is the only basis for peace with God and with man. Christ is the only one who can make opposing people at peace, united in thought, purpose, and action. And the church is the place where peace is to be modeled and proclaimed.
Through the work of Christ, a distant relationship is made near, a hostile relationship is made peaceful, and…
III. A Foreign Relationship Is Made Familial (19-22)
1. Through Christ, We Are All Citizens Of The Same Country
Now therefore, you (Gentiles) are no longer strangers and foreigners but fellow-citizens with the saints (19a). Now those who were once strangers are family. Now those who were once foreigners (Gentiles) are fellow-citizens with the saints (Jewish believers). Now those who were once aliens are now permanent residents. We all belong to, and are citizens of, the same country.
2. Through Christ, We Are All Members Of The Same Household
Now, those who were strangers are family members, …members of the household of God (19b). It’s one thing to be fellow-citizens of the same country – that binds us together in a “national” kind of way – but our united relationship in Christ is far more than that. Now we are all members of the same family. We all have the same Father. We have a common bloodline, with a common nature. We have common family characteristics with a common heritage. We have a common inheritance. It doesn’t get any closer than that!
Now, those who were distant and hostile live in the same household. Those who were social and religious outcasts are now outstanding members of the body of Christ. Those who were considered inferior people are now family equals. Now those who were stateless belong to the community of faith. Now Christless people are “in Christ”. Now those who were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel (12) are fully accredited members of God’s family. Those who were strangers from God’s covenant of promise are now joint-heirs with all God’s family. Now those who had no kinfolk have a family of saints. Now those who were without friends have friends from every tribe and nation. Now the hopeless have an assured future. Now the godless are members of God’s household, God’s chosen people.
Now we have all been brought into the household of God. Not just citizens of the same country in good standing. Not just members of the same family in blood relationship. But now, in Christ, we belong to the same household – we live in the same home, the same building, the church.
NATO and the United Nations are organizations that have for years tried to make foreign, hostile nations at peace with one another. Not long ago, NATO desperately tried to stop the hostility of the Serbs against the Albanians in Yugoslavia, trying to work out an agreement whereby they could live as peaceful neighbours. Millions of dollars are spent each year in attempts to achieve world peace, but no matter how hard they try or how successful they might be, they can never make foreigners part of the same family. But in Christ, foreigners and strangers are made one household of God.
This household is a living building …having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone (20). It is a living, spiritual building made of living building blocks (i.e. all believers), established on a living foundation - the apostles and prophets - and secured by a living cornerstone - Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone (cf. 1 Pet. 2:4-8; Ps. 118:22). He has the position of honour and headship. He is the stone from which all other stones find their proper function and relationship in the building (Cf. Col.2:7; Pet. 2:4-5). He is the One who binds the entire building together, giving it strength, alignment and unity. 11 He is the stone into whom the whole building (is) fitted together (21a).
This household is a dynamic building… the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (21b-22). If you watch large office towers being built, they gradually rise up out of the ground, appearing to literally to grow until one day they are complete and fully occupied. That is what is happening to the construction of the church.
It is a dynamic building because it is comprised of all kinds of different people - from different races, nationalities, languages, and societies, who are being fitted together. They are being fitted together because they did not previously fit together. They were at odds with one another. They were hostile, distant, and foreign. But now, each one is being perfectly fitted together in this building of God in a new relationship, the family of God.
It’s a dynamic building because it is growing. It is a growing building because the church is not yet completed. All the pieces are not yet in place. It’s still in process and will continue growing and being built until the end of the church age when it will be complete. Those who are being saved are still being added to it daily. As people are added to the church, so it grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
It’s a dynamic building because it is a holy dwelling place. This new, united entity, the people of God, are not only a growing building but they are a holy temple. The qualification for being part of this dynamic place of worship is not national heritage or family descent or religious tradition, but to be in the Lord. Those who are in the Lord are holy people, set apart exclusively for the worship and service of God. They are a holy temple in the Lord.
This temple is no longer the exclusive territory of the Jewish people, but now the Gentile believers are also included: … in whom you also (you Gentiles) are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (22). It’s not just Jewish believers who are being fitted together into this new building but Gentile believers as well. The building materials are diverse but the dwelling place is one.
God’s people are the dwelling place of a holy God, who no longer dwells in temples made with hands (Acts 17:24) but in his church, among his people. His people are his holy dwelling place.
It’s a dynamic building because God’s Spirit is there. God dwells among his people by his Spirit. Only those who are in the Lord and indwelled by the Spirit are those who comprise the habitation / dwelling place of God.
It’s good when a distant relationship is made near. It’s better when a hostile relationship is made peaceful. It’s best when a foreign relationship is made familial, because the closest of all relationships is to be family, to be familial.
Ethnic hostility was a barrier in the N.T. church. Christ overcame that barrier at the cross and the church had to adjust to a new relationship and put that relationship into practice. This raises the question as to what are some of the barriers that have to be overcome in our churches today – e.g. relational, ethnic, theological, traditions, minority groups, generations (old vs young), music etc.
The church is the place where God dwells, where peace reigns. It is the household of God, his family dwelling place - not an empty, cold, distant place but a warm, friendly, inviting place. The family of God is the church. It’s the place where we enjoy nearness and unity through Christ. It’s the place where we have been reconciled to God through Christ. It’s the place where we have peace with God and each other through Christ. It’s the place where we are united together in Christ. It’s the place where God dwells by his Spirit.
A lady tells the story of attending a Bible study at church. Before attending the Bible study she would tell her 3-year old son, Chad, that they were going to God’s house. Each time they walked through the quiet sanctuary on their way to the nursery, Chad looked around in awe. One particular day, he stopped abruptly and asked, “Mommy, if this is God’s house, how come he’s never home?” 12
That’s what some churches feel like – empty, nobody home. May our churches never feel empty as though no one’s home. May our churches always be places of refuge, comfort, unity, solace, friendship, fellowship, support, care, love, and laughter because it’s home! When we meet together it is to meet with God in his house, to enjoy the nearness of relationship that we have with him.
The church is a place of unity that testifies to the world. That was Jesus’ prayer to the Father, that the church would be united so that “the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me” (Jn. 17:23).
Is this true of us? Is our unity such that those around us come to the conclusion that God is in our midst and that the gospel is true, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world, and that he loved us as he loved his Son? Does the world see the love of God in us, binding us together and reaching out to others?
There is no other organization in the world like the church. There is no other organism where God dwells by his Spirit in his people. There is no other organization that is authorized and commanded to carry the good news of the gospel to the world. There is no other structure in which God is present and active in the world.
Let us resolve to be in practice what God has created us to be - his church, his body, his bride, his people, living in nearness, peace, unity, as his family.
1 Cited in B. Paul Greene, San Pedro, California, Finding Our Dearest Relative in “Leadership”, Vol. 15, no. 4. Copyright 1999, Christianity Today, Inc.
2 These categories are from William Hendricksen, Exposition of Ephesians, New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1967), 129-131.
3 Arthur G. Patzia, Ephesians, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers Inc, 1990), 191.
4 William Hendriksen, 129.
5 Quoted in Michael Green, Follow in His Footprints (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 29.
6 Green, 89.
7 Ravi Zacharias, Deliver us from Evil (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996), 4.
8 Green, 96.
9 Patzia, 196.
10 This verse provides a wonderful confession of the Trinity.
11 This metaphor does not contradict 1 Cor. 3:11. It is merely a shift in the metaphor. Here the apostle is not speaking of “builders” (as in 1 Cor. 3) but of a “building.”
12 Karen Ketzler, Anybody Home? In “Today’s Christian Woman (Christianity Today, 1999).
Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)