11Therefore remember when you were formerly Gentiles in the flesh, called “uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands. 12For you were at that time separated from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having not hope and without God in the world. 13But you in Christ Jesus you who were formerly far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For He Himself is our peace, Who has made both one and has broken down the barrier of the dividing wall, having abolished in His flesh the hostility, 15the law of commandments and rules in order that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, so making peace, 16and that He might reconcile both in one flesh to God through the cross, having killed the hostility in Himself. 17And He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near, 18because through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19Now therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners but are fellow-citizens with the saints and the household of God, 20having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, of which the chief cornerstone is Christ Jesus Himself, 21in Whom all the building is joined together, and grows into a holy temple in the Lord…22in Whom you are also built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.
Paul continues the “story” of redemption, recalling for the Ephesians how they as Gentiles were formerly divorced from righteousness and covenant with God. This covenant relationship with God is significant; it is the common thread in Old and New Testaments regarding God’s relationship with Mankind. Originally, God established a promissory covenant with ethnic and national Israel; now, through Jesus Christ, His covenant has gone international. Paul explains to the Ephesians that they formerly had been excluded from the benefits of citizenship (πολιτειας, 12) and were strangers and aliens to God’s people (ξενοι, from which we get our English word “xenophobia,” or “fear of aliens,” 12). In fact, one of the primary features of the Mosaic covenant is that there were many laws of ordinances and rules that kept Jews and Gentiles separated, so as to remind Israel of their cultic purity to the one true God. The primary emphasis of the Law had been a reminder of the “separateness” of Israel from the pagan nations they had displaced, and the Levitical codes helped enforce this concept of purity. This was so rigidly enforced, moreover, that when the temple was eventually built, a dividing wall was placed in the outer courtyard beyond which no Gentile was to enter. It contained an inscription that Gentiles would have only themselves to blame for their deaths if they passed into the inner courts. What Christ accomplished, of course, was the complete abolition and obliteration of this wall. The “wall,” in Paul’s view, isn’t literal—it’s the metaphorical tendency to racially separate. Christ obliterated this. In fact, according to Paul, Jesus actually abolished—at the same time as this “wall”—all of those laws and codes that continued to keep the Jews and Gentiles separate. This is why Paul forbids the continued observance of cultic rites and purification rituals and calendar dates, etc, in Galatians. That stuff was literally abolished (καταργησας, 15) by Jesus Christ. Now, Gentiles and Jews are brought into one body in Christ. They have access to the same Father by the one Spirit. Moreover, when they are corporately gathered together, they are an habitation of God. Consider what one scholar said about this new temple: “it is the actual beginning fulfillment of the latter-day temple prophecies from the Old Testament” (Baugh).
There is no getting around that others are different than we. There is no avoiding the obvious reality that some of our fellow Christians are of a different racial or ethnic background than we. But segregation is not Christlike; in fact, Christ’s work on Calvary actually demolished not only the veil of access to God—thereby granting us access to Him personally—but also demolished the wall that keeps races and ethnicities separate. The curse of Babel has been reversed in Christ, and in the church we see all mankind being brought together as one. If you truly want to see the image of God in man, you will see it in diversity. As long as the church remains a place of racial segregation, it will remain an abomination that we shouldn’t be surprised to see suffer. We should behave as though we truly believe this passage of scripture. How can we do that?
First, we can learn to embrace the other. We can start the hard work of inviting others to our church who aren’t like us. This is the tough (even impossible) work of evangelism, and it is high time we Americans put away our infamous narcissism and did it. Next, we can recognize that what Paul writes about the habitation of God applies to us, as well. You want to be in God’s presence? Come to church. Be devoted to church. It is in our corporate gathering that we are truly the temple of the Lord.
God considered the church so important that He sent Jesus Christ to die for her, and the Spirit to shape her and grow her and prepare her. To what extent is she important to you?
Leaders: when you are gathered with God’s people in the local church, are you overwhelmed with the “chores” that we must do to bring God’s word to His people? Are you snowed under with anxiety or stress about something you forgot or something last-minute? You are probably missing out on the sweetness of God’s presence—He is truly present in His habitation, the local church, when she is gathered corporately. Let’s not let Sunday or Wednesday become a time of stress. Let’s remember that His presence is there, and He is enjoying us. Why not enjoy Him?