Passage: Ephesians 2: 11-19
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“So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family” V. 19 (NLT)
On September 6, 2005 my husband, our daughter and I drove to the local Immigration Office for my citizenship ceremony. After almost six years of paperwork, waiting and quite a bit of money spent, I was holding the green certificate that attested that I was an American citizen. I was officially in. I remember the excitement of pledging allegiance to the American flag as a citizen for the first time. I would not need a “green card” or an “alien card” to be accepted for employment, to go in and out of the country and now I could even have a say in politics. For all legal effects, I became, in a matter of seconds, an American with an accent. Or as my sister-in-law says, “I’m now in from off”.
People who were born and live in the same country all their lives often cannot grasp how hard it can be to be an outsider at times. And I definitely can say by experience that many Americans I know have no idea of how good they really have it compared to most of the countries in the world. That is why you see such a grin in many of us foreigners’ faces when we proudly sing the Star Spangled Banner. We were aliens in the land, and now we are citizens, enjoying the same dreams and opportunities that made the founding fathers leave Europe behind. Just as the Gentiles in Ephesians felt, we were not rightfully in the hierarchy to enjoy the privileges of being a citizen in the land, but because of our citizenship, we now do.
The New Living translation puts it this way: “Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews (…)”. (v.11)
We know how proud the Jews were of their heritage. That was one of the main reason the Pharisees hated Jesus so much. They were the elite, the chosen people. They believed that their lineage and a ceremonial surgery made them righteous. They forgot that the circumcision was established as a sign because of Abraham’s righteousness. The circumcision itself was only an outward expression of an internal change.
“and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised (…)” Romans 4:11 (NASB)
The “heathen gentiles” were outcasts in Israel. The Jews looked down at them with disgust. They were aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, both for civil and religious matters. They heard of the covenants of the God of Israel, but could not claim the promises. They could not participate in the anticipation of the “salvation that would come from the Jews” (John 4:22, paraphrased). The gentiles were without hope and without God. That was actually the climax of their misery!
I started this devotional by mentioning that I was once an alien in the land I now live. I know how it feels to have very limited rights and privileges, even though I was a legal alien. Just like some of the gentiles who possessed land, cattle, etc, but could not come close to the same privileges as the Jews.
Can you imagine the joy that overcame the gentiles of Paul’s days when they heard the Good News that the salvation of the Jews was available to them? You should understand it, because, unless you are a Messianic Jew, you and I are the gentiles that Paul refers to. Once outsiders, called “uncircumcised heathens” and now united with Christ Jesus, the Messiah. Once far, but now brought near through the blood (v.13).
God chose to save ALL through Christ
“But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” V. 13.
For the reader of that time, the fact that the gentiles were put in the same position as the Jews was a huge heresy. No wonder most of the apostles died terrible deaths. Between Rome and the Pharisees, the Gospel of peace that proclaimed unity between the Jews and gentiles and proclaimed Jesus as the One and Only Lord was blasphemy to the wicked, self-righteous leaders of the day. But God made it very clear: He chose to save all. By faith, Abraham’s righteousness, which was originally Jewish inheritance, was passed on to you and me at the cross. The only requirement became faith in Jesus’ Christ; His death and resurrection as atonement for our sins. Regardless of whom we were before Christ, in Him we were transformed and became one body, called by God to perform His work on earth.
God chose to use ALL to build His temple
“For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” v. 14
Christ has broken down the walls that people build between themselves. Because of that, we, God’s people, should be able to come in unity with people that are not exactly like us within the church. We were reconciled with God through Jesus’ sacrifice and thus we should be united. We should be “fitted together”: “in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord” (v. 21).
We were called by God to build His church upon the cornerstone that is Jesus Christ and He alone should be our common ground. Unfortunately, many times we build up walls between Christians within the church. We will evidently have more in common with some people than others; however the division should never be influenced by external elements such as race, appearance, intelligence or economical status, lest we become like the Pharisees.
Various bricks – One temple
We each are one brick in the building that is God’s church. If you look at a brick building, you will see that the bricks are never the same color, exact same size. But they are fitted together in a way that the structure is unified and strong.
Unified is the word – In a unified church, people live in one Spirit. The command of the day is “to TOGETHER glorify God”. Each single life has talents and gifts that were given by God for His glory and the job of the group should be to work together to help each other accomplish God’s work. Jesus being the cornerstone, we are the bricks. Some of us in lower places, some in higher places in the building, but without each one of us, the structure would be incomplete, weak and ugly.
We are the living stones in the house of the Lord. We are to see each other as such, and build each other up as such. We are to help the brothers and sisters that are weak in times of trials, exhort those who need encouragement, admonish those who may weaken the Holy temple of God when they are walking in sin or acting in the flesh.
We are all “in from off”
At the end of the day, each one of God’s children is actually “in from off”. According to the way of the New Covenant made with men through Jesus, we were all aliens. All separated by the same sinful nature and thus apart from God: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23 – NASB). None of us are so talented and skilled that we stand out as a separate group in God’s eyes, separated from the other bricks in God’s temple. We all matter. We all count.
At the end of the day, there will be no room for religion, race, size, intelligence or handicaps in Heaven. We will be the perfect bride of Christ, redeemed by the blood and free from the entire physical realm that challenges the unity of His church on earth.
In the meantime, my challenge starts with myself. I am being challenged to love God’s people as He loves them: just as they are. Regardless of how imperfect we are, and oh, are we ever! I am being challenged to realize that we were all foreigners to His love and we are all recipients of His grace. I am being challenged to extend the compassion and the loving-kindnesses that God renews in my life every morning (Lamentations 3:23). I am being challenged to be slow to judge and to promote the unity of God’s temple by valuing every brick that is around me. I’m being challenged to love like I wish everyone would love me: with respect, lovingly showing me if I am acting in the flesh, encouraging me when I need some help, praying for me when trials come my way. I am being challenged to forgive as I hope I am forgiven when I fail.
My prayer is that each one of us are truly challenged to live out what we were called to be: a colorful Building, His temple, unified and growing in love, grace and knowledge of Him – until He returns or calls us home.
We are God’s people, the chosen of the Lord,
Born of His Spirit, established by His Word;
Our cornerstone is Christ alone,
And strong in Him we stand:
O let us live transparently
And walk heart to heart and hand in hand.
We are the Body of which the Lord is Head,
Called to obey Him, now risen from the dead;
He wills us be a family,
Diverse yet truly one:
O let us give our gifts to God,
And so shall his work on earth be done.
(“We are God’s People” by Bryan Jeffery Leech)