Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ephesians 1: We and You

In the first 12 verses of Ephesians Paul has listed the many divine benefits enjoyed by those whom God has made objects of His divine and gracious activity. And in every case Paul has used the word "us" or "we." If you go back and look carefully you'll see that Paul apparently has a particular group of people in mind. They aren't defined. The readers apparently know Paul and know who the "we" are. But in vs. 13 it changes. Now Paul suddenly includes "you" as being recipients of these many blessings. And if we search further we'll find that the "we" are the Jewish believers, and the "you" are the Gentile believers. In fact, 2:11-22 is Paul's masterful declaration that God has brought both Jew and Gentile into the same body, the same Temple, so that they are no longer two peoples but "one new man" in Christ.

This bringing of the two into one new community is the foundation of Paul's ministry. If Gentiles were not "in Christ" they could never benefit from His work, and never enjoy the blessings enumerated in this opening section. But Paul's joy is to preach that God has included the Gentiles, and that all who are "in Christ" enjoy the same blessings, the same position, the same redemption, forgiveness, and inheritance. And, as we will see, this is evidenced by the fact that both enjoy the same indwelling Spirit of God.

What does this mean? Simply this. In Christ there is no room for those who want to rank the races as though one had more  merit than another. There is no room for racial prejudice, no room for any kind of class system, no room for any of the many ways we humans critique one another so as to assume great things about ourselves. In Paul's day it was common for Jews to consider themselves morally and spiritually superior to all other races. After all, they were the chosen people! Paul himself had lived this, and excelled in that special brand of arrogance. But on the road to Damascus he met Jesus, and it rocked his worldview, as well as his view of the Gentiles. God showed him that He was not partial to any ethnicity, and in fact, had chosen Paul to take the message of grace to the Gentile world.

In fulfilling his mission, Paul faced two huge challenges. First, the Jews believed that their ethnic distinction, made possible and visible through their keeping of the Mosaic Law, meant that they were superior to the Gentiles. They even included a prayer in all of their synagogue services that went something like this: "Lord, I thank you that I am neither a woman nor a Gentile." And without getting carried away on the "woman" part, here we need to understand just how real was the enmity between Jew and Gentile.

Second, the Gentiles hated the Jews because of the way they were looked down on by them. Again, the Mosaic Law was the symbol of the hatred. The Jews measured everything by the law and found themselves to be excellent, and the Gentiles to be pagans. The enmity was great, and in some ways, has continued down through modern history as the persecution of the Jews in many countries over the last century illustrates. Into this hostile environment Paul went boldly proclaiming that the God of all Blessing had poured out His redemption and forgiveness in Christ Jesus. All who were "in Christ" were now mutual recipients of all of God's blessings, whether Jew or non-Jew. And if we read Ephesians with this in mind we will find that the work of Christ was not merely so that we as individuals could be adopted into the family of God, but even more, so that God could create for Himself a chosen people, from every tribe and tongue under heaven. The only hope for unity among the diverse races and cultures of the world is to be found in Jesus Christ. No other plan will work simply because no other plan can rid our hearts of the natural enmity that exists as a result of our inborn selfishness and sin.

Hope this helps,



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