So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. (Ephesians 2:11-21, NRSV).
Perhaps there was no greater challenge for the early church than putting into practice Jesus’ vision for unity. Perhaps there is no greater challenge for ours.
Immediately prior to the passage above is a memorable reminder of God’s mercy and grace. God’s love is working to save and create a community living in God-initiated and God-imagined ways. Perhaps you know Paul’s words well: ‘For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.’ (Ephesians 2:10, NRSV).
And so we arrive at the passage before us where it would seem that the ‘in Christ’ community Paul addresses needs a reminder to remember.
Paul begins by highlighting the wall-establishing names have been thrown – ‘uncircumcision’ and ‘circumcision’. Paul identifies this as a mere surface practice. Soberingly, however, he also points to the realities the nations once lived: ‘without Christ’. Apart from Israel. Ignorant of the story of God. No hope. God-less. Alone in the world. Paul is reminding the nations that they were once defined as ‘far’.
There is a new reality, however: ‘the blood of Christ Jesus’. And the ‘far’ are now ‘near’.
We may be tempted to read into this the narrative of a ‘far’ away sinner bought ‘near’ to God. I would certainly affirm such an account of the gospel. This, however, is not what Paul is addressing – at least not yet. This passage is still about division within the community.
And then into this painful reality, Paul makes what is surely one of his more outrageous statements: ‘…he is our peace’ (v14).
This is clearly not a peace between God and people. This peace makes two ‘groups into one’ and crumbles the ‘dividing wall’ of ‘hostility between us’. Here the law that made the nations ‘strangers’ is ‘abolished’ and ‘one new humanity’ is created. The blood of the Christ has made our ‘peace’.
The result: The nations are no longer ‘strangers and aliens’ but ‘citizens’. We belong. We have all the rights, entitlements, and responsibilities of ‘members of the household of God’. In the same way that a brick is in a wall, we are built into the very temple of God. To be sure, the Jewish apostles and prophets are the foundation. Yet, it is Jesus who is the first stone laid determining the proper position of every other.
Paul’s conclusion: ‘In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.’ (vs 22).
For Paul, God dwelt in these communities. They are the temple. God’s vision for the church amounts to a radical community constantly learning to live out God’s demolition – ‘in Christ’ – of every wall that divides.
If you were to describe the ‘Heart of the Church’ what would you talk about? Where would relationships with other people in the church fit into this discussion?
In what ways do you consider ‘unity’ to be positive? Does ‘unity’ have any negative connotations for you?
In what way/s does this passage challenge your understanding of the church? Do you believe there is a gap between the ‘institutional church’ and the vision offered here? What are these differences?
Do you believe there is a gap between your practice toward other people and the vision offered here?
How does the image of the ‘in Christ’ community as the true ‘temple of God’ impact the way you think about your relationships with other people in the church?