Paul wants the Ephesians to see that what unites us is more important than what divided us(11-18). That what divided us in the past, it was our identity but it isn’t any longer.
What is the greatest divide in our society? Class? Race? Wealth?
In 1st Century church and society it was whether you were a Jew or Gentile. Look at Ephesians 2v11. The Gentiles were uncircumcised, separated from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel, foreigners to the covenant of promise. Without hope and without God. Whereas the Jews had all those things. Paul shows them the haves and have nots.
And that caused a divide. If a Jewish man married a Gentile woman his family held a funeral for him. That’s how vast this divide was. And the danger was that divide was carried over into the church. Jewish disciples looking down on Gentile disciples as less than or second rate and so assuming they cannot lead or preach or serve in certain areas. Or Gentile believers resenting Jewish privilege or feeling second-class and unable to serve.
But (13)”now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Jesus coming changes everything both for the Jew and Gentile. The dividing wall between them has been destroyed, the ceremonial law with it’s limits and divisions has been set aside, fulfilled in Christ it’s no longer in operation in the church. It has served its purpose; it pointed to Jesus and now he’s come the ceremonial law no longer determines who can approach God or how we do. Because (15)in Christ the two are made one, united in one new body, the church, and reconciled to God at the cross. The hostility that existed between man and God and Jew and Gentile has been put to death(16), and now there is peace. (17)Peace between Gentile and God and Jew and God, and between Jew and Gentile. (18)Through Jesus both have access to the Father by the one Spirit.
What divided them has been put to death. They’re not Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians who peacefully, but uneasily, coexist in the church. They are followers of Jesus redeemed by his blood at peace with God, filled with the Spirit, with a new identity forged by his death and resurrection. That’s their new identity. What unites them is more important than what divided them. That divide is gone.
The Ephesians believers need to understand their identity. Who they are in Jesus. They are a new humanity, God’s new community, reconciled at the cross. Every other difference is obsolete, like the old operating system with its bugs and flaws that’s overwritten by the new update. They need to live out their new reality, their reconciled identity. That means they will be different to society which still has those divides. In fact society will be amazed, horrified and mystified at the unity they see in the church.
Isn’t that a challenge? Is that how we see ourselves? Have we grasped our identity in Christ? That it isn’t individual but corporate. Christ saves us to unite us with others. Yes we’re reconciled to God but that’s only half the story we’re saved in Christ to be part of a new humanity visible on earth in the church.
How do you think of yourself? Is it based on what divides? Is it to do with education, geography, position, career, class, wealth, having it all together? All things which divide society.
Do we think of ourselves primarily as individual followers of Jesus or part of a new humanity? Saved not to be a new me but part of a new we? The Bible doesn’t have a category for churchless Christian because to live like that is to be less than we were redeemed for. It is to deny the full power of the gospel. It’s to offer to the world a stunted vision of a gospel that can redeem me but not you or them or society. That can save individuals but doesn’t create new communities. It’s to offer a deformed picture of what God will one day do when he redeems, reconciles and unites all things together under Christ. A churchless christian is to discipleship what Frankenstein’s monster is to humanity.
If we want to follow Jesus we are part a new humanity not in theory but in reality. That’s how we follow Jesus and powerfully witness to the world of the power of the gospel, of the future we’re heading for.