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, so 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.
This week we are talking about community. How should Christians live in a secular environment? Fortunately for us, the apostle Paul was answering that very question with his epistle to the Ephesians nearly 2,000 years ago.
Ephesus was a port city, an incredibly important area for trade and commerce in the Roman empire. It was also culturally diverse, with groups of people from all areas of the ancient near east mingling and cohabitating.
We read about Paul’s successes and failures to establish a church in Ephesus in the book of Acts. As you may recall, the small Christian movement was largely tolerated/ignored until Paul started discouraging people from buying silver idols of the goddess Artemis, which started to hurt the local silversmiths. People become suspicious of religion when it starts to affect business.
So, for context, the audience of Paul’s letter is an island of faithful believers in an enormous, multicultural city. What does he tell us?
The first passage we will examine, verses 13-22, encourages the Jewish believers to accept the new, gentile faithful. For generations, the Jewish people were God’s chosen people, set apart as the holy children of God. Now, Paul writes, Jews and Gentiles alike are part of the same body of Christ! Through his death, he created “one new humanity in place of the two.” Now both Jew and Gentile alike can claim the inheritance that is due to children of the king. In fact, if we look at the image that Paul himself uses, both Jews and Gentiles are necessary building blocks for the dwelling-place of God. It’s incomplete without everyone. Paul is encouraging us not to think of ourselves as separate groups, even in a place as diverse as Ephesus. Instead, we are parts of the same body, members of the same household, citizens of the same kingdom.
If we begin to look at our neighbors and people in our community with the descriptions Paul uses, it might change the way we behave. That horrible old lady who lets her dog wander through your yard is not a stranger, she’s a sister! The noisy kids breaking glass by the gas station are inheritors of the kingdom. The illegal immigrant at the grocery store is your countryman. We can not live apart from our neighbors because Jesus Christ bought us peace and unity with the cross.