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Discover the original intent of Scripture. Make good application to our everyday lives.
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Ephesians 2:11-22

11 So, then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh — called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands.

12 At that time you were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In his flesh, 15 he made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that he might create in himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. 16 He did this so that he might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by which he put the hostility to death.

17 He came and proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So, then, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

21 In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you are also being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.”

The Original Intent

1) Why does Paul reference circumcision to the church at Ephesus? (verse 11)

Throughout Jewish history, God repeatedly commanded Israelites not to intermarry with non-Israelites. (Exodus 34:15-17, Deuteronomy 7:1-6, Joshua 23:9-16) God’s direction was clear: He wanted to preserve His chosen people through their family lineage in order to show all peoples of earth that the Israelites were set apart as a holy people for God’s glory.
God knew that if the Israelites joined with those who worshiped idols and false gods, His people would adopt those practices. History revealed this to be true, and time and again the Israelites were rebuked and suffered consequences for their disobedience to God. (2 Kings 16:1-4, 2 Kings 17:7-20, 2 Kings 21:1-15)

Before God revealed to Peter His plan for His church on earth to include both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 11:4-18), relations between Jews and Gentiles were tense. The self-appointed and self-righteous Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees, did nothing to improve relations. By taking on their own extra rules and regulations, they perverted the heart behind God’s laws and directions. They took God’s holy designation of “set apart” and added their twist: better than.

The church at Ephesus was a mixture of new Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, and with diversity came challenges. Paul’s reference in verse 11 is a nod of acknowledgment to the callous way the Jewish people treated Gentiles prior to coming to salvation in Christ Jesus. The “dividing wall of hostility” Paul writes about in verse 14 would have been nearly palpable to the believers reading or listening to his letter; it was a reality they would have known well.

Jews frequently referred to Gentiles as “the uncircumcised,” a clear derogatory barb. Paul’s words to Gentile believers were a soothing balm to fresh wounds that needed the healing and truth of the gospel, while pointing their Jewish Christian counterparts to humility and Christ’s way of love. 

The Everyday Application

1) Why does Paul reference circumcision to the church at Ephesus? (verse 11)

Paul’s words to the Ephesian church may have referenced circumcision, but his exhortation was more than skin deep; Paul spoke of heart posture. Some within the body felt discouraged and “less than”, while others felt prideful and “better than”. Jews thought their heritage deemed them “cream of the crop” while their Gentile brothers and sisters felt they were “bottom of the barrel” believers because they were “outside” of Jewish bloodlines. Both missed the mark, and Paul’s encouragement to Christian life together in Christ Jesus pointed both sides toward unity flowing from the gospel.

Today, one might simply substitute “Jewish” for “Presbyterian” and “Gentile” for “Lutheran,” “Baptist,” or “fill-in-the-blank,” and it’s easy to see we’re no different. Just as Jewish and Gentile Christians in the church at Ephesus struggled with a “wall of hostility,” we in the body of Christ today struggle with the same.

In our case, we tend to latch on to secondary issues not pertinent to salvation. Instead of grabbing hold of the primary salvific areas where we agree, we fixate and pick at minor issues or things not central to the faith. New believers who’ve recently left a life of sin may feel hesitant to share and contribute to the gathering when seated alongside believers who’ve walked with Jesus for decades. Mature believers may be reluctant to listen to what newer believers have to share, deeming the length of their walk the sum of their depth.

Both operate in error. Both miss the mark. As Paul wrote, “In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are also being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.” (verse 22) All are needed, all being built together into the whole, holy temple of God.

The Original Intent

2) Jesus stated He came to fulfill the Law in Matthew 5:17, but Paul says Jesus “made no effect of the Law”. Do these contradict each other? (verse 15)

Jewish law was given to Moses by God and recorded in the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.) These laws revealed God’s holy character to the Israelites, they identified sin, and displayed how sin could not be in God’s holy presence.

The laws provided a guideline for how God desired His people to live in day-to-day life, and outlined how God provided for His people’s sins to be forgiven. The laws also showed the Israelites how to worship God together. Together, the Law pointed Israelites toward the coming Savior, Jesus Christ.

By revealing His character, the nature and cost of sin, their sinfulness, God’s desire to reconcile them to Himself and forgive them, His intent to set them apart, and how to worship Him, God was consistently pointing His people toward the coming Person and work of Jesus Christ. When Paul wrote, “In His flesh, He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations,” Paul was not writing that Jesus Christ invalidated the law, or that it had no purpose. Rather, he told of the reality that because Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, came to earth and lived a sinless life, fully God and fully man, then laid down His life when He was crucified on the cross for all sin, He satisfied the requirements of the Law for all mankind, for all time. (Hebrews 9:23-28, Romans 5:6-11, 1 John 4:7-16)

Fully man, Jesus satisfied the requirement of a holy, sinless, set apart life, lived perfectly. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21, Hebrews 4:14-16, 1 John 3:4-6)

Fully God, Jesus satisfied the requirement of a pure sacrifice; His blood was shed for our sins, and the sins of all mankind. (Colossians 1:15-20, Ephesians 1:3-10, Hebrews 9:11-22)

None of this fulfillment negates the Law or its purpose, but it does satisfy it perfectly and permanently in the way no human ever could.

The Everyday Application

2) Jesus stated He came to fulfill the Law in Matthew 5:17, but Paul says Jesus “made no effect of the Law”. Do these contradict each other? (verse 15)

There is a wide variety of teachings shared in the church regarding the Law and the new covenant. In transparency, I have struggled various aspects of these teachings.

Some teachings seemingly minimize the importance and purpose of the old covenant, emphasizing freedom in Christ and the wondrous reality of the new covenant made available to us because of Jesus. These teachings seem to invite willful sin because of freedom in Christ.

On the other hand, some teachings seemingly minimize the importance of the new covenant, emphasizing instead the duty of Christians to continue to uphold God’s law as we are sanctified and made into the likeness of Christ. Some of these teachings seem to hint at a gospel of Jesus Christ plus works.

When we consider the Law as obsolete, or choose not to study it, we miss out on a rich invitation to learn more about our God and His character. While we aren’t held to Old Testament requirements, there is still treasure to be found in every line.

When we consider salvation as something we can in some way obtain through our performance, we are in great danger of missing out on the true Gospel of Jesus. “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Not “everyone who believes in Jesus and follows the law.” Not “everyone who believes in Jesus and fulfills X, Y, and Z.” Just, “Everyone who believes in Him”.

God, in His perfect wisdom and timing, chose to deliver the Law to the Israelites to provide a way for them to have a relationship with Him, and to prepare the way for Christ. The old covenant was not a reaction or a response; it was part of God’s plan from the beginning, designed to point all of us straight to the Savior.

The Original Intent

3) What does Paul imply by stating that members of the church at Ephesus are no longer foreigners and strangers? (verse 19)

While his words address the Gentiles in the body, their Jewish counterparts would also have heard his encouragement as Paul’s words were read aloud to the church. Knowing this, Paul deftly comforted and encouraged the Christian Gentiles, showing them they were no longer outside the family; they were welcomed and joined under the saving blood of Jesus Christ.

At the same time, Paul’s encouragement to the Christian Gentiles served as a gentle reminder to the Christian Jews in the body. They were simultaneously encouraged that they were brought to peace only through Christ Jesus, and by Him alone, all members of His church were being woven together into His perfect design.

Neither party could claim preference, elevation, or special status. Neither party could claim they were more or less worthy. Neither party could claim sinlessness, better sacrifice, or better information. Both parties, and the hostility between them, were under and united by Christ.

God’s plan for the Israelites to become the nation through which He would bless every nation on earth with the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, was brought to fruition in Jesus. The Gentiles, or all the other nations of earth, were now invited and welcome to join God’s family and be made righteous, by the blood of Jesus.

Paul exhorted the Gentile Christians to own their new identity in Christ and embrace the fact that they were embraced by God. In his encouragement to the Gentile Christians, Paul exhorted Jewish Christians to live in the reality that there was no longer any separation between Jews and Gentiles. Both were united in Christ Jesus. Both were part of God’s family. Both, together. 

The Everyday Application

3) What does Paul imply by stating that members of the church at Ephesus are no longer foreigners and strangers? (verse 19)

As a Gentile Christian, centuries removed from the time these words were penned, I am overcome by the incredible love of God for all people, and especially for His Church because I know I am included in God’s family. When I consider Paul’s exhortation to the Gentile Christians at Ephesus, my heart is encouraged and my faith is strengthened.

Our Father knows all things. He knew the hearts of the church at Ephesus. He knows our hearts and every secret sin we’ve committed. He knows our adversary, and our minds, attempt to draw up and hurl every reason we are disqualified, or not enough, or too sinful, or just not right for God’s family.

He also knows that each of those things is true. We aren’t qualified. We aren’t enough. We are sinful, and in our flesh, we are not fit for God’s family. But Jesus. Because of Him, God views me, and you, through His shed blood. We are made holy and righteous when we exercise true faith.

When we put our trust in Him, repent of our sinful state, and accept the gift of salvation, the enmity between us and God is abolished, and we are joined to His family by Christ alone, for His glory. The Gentile Christians were once separated from God by their sin, with no hope for a relationship with Him. The Jewish Christians may have been God’s chosen people, but they were separated from God by their sin, with no hope for a relationship with Him.

God provided a way for the Israelites’ forgiveness when He provided the Law, which pointed forward to the time when Jesus Christ would come to pay the price of sin for us all, bringing all who repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ into His family. 

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