Who is the church for? - Ephesians 2:11-22
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
At some point when I was younger I learned that in the world of magnets, opposites attractive. When I grew older I discovered that such a truth doesn’t hold for human relationships. We might long to see wonderful examples of diverse community cohesion where people from different backgrounds live in harmony, but the evidence suggests that when it comes to humans, like attracts like.
We see this working itself out in many different ways. For example, at the level of country and colour. What happens in a crowd of strangers? Who gravitates towards whom?
Is there a way to see different types of people brought together in beautiful unity? There is. It’s called the church of Jesus Christ.
This morning we’re going to think more about why this beautiful unity is possible and how we can experience it in practice.
We’ll start with what Paul says in verse 11.
Read verses 11-12.
Remember what we were (Vs 11-12)
Paul is addressing Gentile Christians. He is asking them to remember what they were before they had a relationship with Jesus.
The truth is staggering! No matter how much money we have or how much influence we have or how many academic qualifications we have or how comfortable life is, Gentiles without Jesus are described as in a desperate condition.
- Separate from the Messiah
- Excluded from citizenship in Israel
- Foreigners to the promises
- Without hope
- Without God
A couple of implications to draw out.
First, it teaches us that Christianity is not a Western religion. It’s important to take the time to explain the background story. Jesus did not come to overthrow the Jewish faith but to complete it and then open up the door of salvation to the Gentiles through faith in him.
Secondly, it teaches us that without Jesus the Gentiles we know are without true hope and without the true God.
Twice Paul says to his readers that they should remember what they were. Why? He is just about to describe what they are now. To appreciate their blessings they need to remember what they were like before. This is one of the ways gratitude is developed.
What has changed for the Gentile Christian?
Remember what Jesus has done (Vs 13-18)
Look at verse 13. Read verse 13.
But now - a key change is signified.
In Christ Jesus. What is about to be described in true for someone who is a Christian.
You who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
Somehow the death of Jesus has brought the Gentile Christians close to someone or something. But what? There are two possibilities. Either close to God or close to the Jews. The answer is both.
- Close to the Jews (Vs 14-15)
- Close to God (Vs 16-18)
Firstly, close to the Jews.
This is the emphasis of verses 14 and 15.
- Jesus has made the two one. This is horizontal peace.
- He has destroyed the barrier
- Lots of hatred and tension between them. Some Jewish families would hold a funeral if their child married a Gentile. The Jews called them dogs. The sign in the temple. Cross this and you will die.
- How has Jesus made the two one? By abolishing the law in his flesh. He did it perfectly and he tool the penalty.
- His purpose was to create one new man. Diversity in unity.
All this this has implications for the type of churches which most glorify Jesus’ purpose. Diversity in unity. This is more difficult because it is easier to form churches of like people.
But if we are to truly throw ourselves into building a diverse community then we must believe in Jesus’ plan and also his power through the proclaimed word to achieve that reality.
When that diverse gathering is formed it will be harder. But it will give us the opportunity to love. This is an action we choose.
Still have distinct groups. Let's mix when we can.
Implications for how we see our primary identity.
What is first? Your national identity or your spiritual identity? Your family identity or your spiritual identity?
How we react to immigration?
What we do flows out of who we are!
There is another dimension to Jesus’ reconciliation, that is vertical peace.
Because of Jesus, Gentiles can be close to God. This is the emphasis in verses 16 to 18.
- Both Jew and Gentiles have to be reconciled to God. Not just forgiven by reconciled.
- In the cross he put to death their hostility. He dealt with the consequences of our rejection.
- Peace to those those who were close and far away - preached personally and through his apostles.
- The wonderful summary in verse 18 - through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Because of the work of Christ this has all been made possible!
What a Saviour!
How should Gentile Christians now think of themselves?
Remember what we are (Vs 19-22)
Look at verse 19. Read verses 19-22.
- A family
- A temple
Fellow members. Part of God’s family.
The true family is built on God’s word and nothing else.
What does this mean? How should this truth shape our practice?
First, get committed to being here. The ministry of turning up.
Tony Payne writes in his powerful little book, How to walk into church, “If you think that church is a necessary but slightly tedious chore, in which you have very little part to play apart from getting some spiritual sustenance for yourself, then your commitment to being there regularly is likely to be wobbly at best. You’ll get there when you can. You’ll feel a slight pang of guilt when you don’t - but certainly not enough of a pang to prevent you missing it reasonably often, especially when there is something more pressing or more attractive to do…Of course there are holidays and sickness, and that accounts for some of the weeks we miss. But it’s strange how quickly the absent weeks mount up - family event, children’s sport, a tiring week, bad weather, a weekend away, looking after visiting relatives, a late Saturday night, work deadlines, hitting ‘stop’ instead of ‘snooze’ on the alarm, and sometimes just couldn’t-be-bothered laziness. In reality, what really stops many of us from turning up more frequently to church is a failure to grasp just how vital the ‘ministry of turning up’ really is. One of the acts of love and encouragement we can all engage in is the powerful encouragement of just being there - because every time I walk into church, I am wearing a metaphorical t-shirt that says, ;God is important to me, and you are important to me.’ And on the back it says, ‘And that’s why I wouldn’t dream of missing this’.”
Second, get committed to serving.
Third, get committed to giving. Plan and take action. Support the family.
The special place where God lives by his Spirit.
Is this how we think about ourselves here at Riverside? How precious is this community!
Richard Coekin, “So, next time you attend your church, however ordinary the people may seem, however unimpressive the building may look, remember the three glorious spiritual dimensions of your church: you’re welcomed into the precious family of God, so love those people deeply; you’re being built upon the foundation of the Scriptures, so listen to the teaching carefully; and you’re being constructed as a dwelling of the Spirit of God, so be holy in the way you behave. Your local church is a gathering of a new humanity, the temple of the living God, the only “local building” that will last for ever, and a wonder in the heavenly realms. Enjoy it!”
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