Turn with me, if you will, in your Bible for our study this morning to the second chapter of Ephesians, Ephesians chapter 2. We come to a wonderful and insightful and helpful passage beginning at verse 11. And for this morning we’re just going to cover verses 11 and 12, although the full text of what we want to say is from verse 11 to 22. I’ve entitled this portion of Paul’s letter “The Unity of the Body,” the unity of the body. It goes without saying that this is an important theme. Unity in the church of Jesus Christ has long been a topic of discussion.
And today we fight against our divisions. We fight against our lack of unity. Denominationalism, historic, theological viewpoints, cultures, traditions, opinions, preferences, all those things fall into the slot between us and create disunity. And disunity is a heartache to God. You know, when Jesus prayed in John 17, He prayed that they may be one. “Father even as you and I are one that they also may be one in us that the world may know that you sent me.”
And I believe that Jesus’ prayers are always answered, because He always prays according to the will of God. And I believe that that prayer was answered, positionally. I believe that Jesus was simply expressing a prayer for the unity of the church, which does in realty exist. We are one in Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 6:17 we know well by now. “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” And so, all of us joined to the Lord are one with each other. And that is true positionally but, practically, it doesn’t always work that way. And as Shakespeare said, “Ah there’s the rub.” That’s the problem.
In 1 Corinthians 12:12 and 13, we have the great statement of the positional unity of the church. The apostle Paul said this. “For as the body is one and hath many members and all are members of that one body being many are one body, so is Christ.” In other words, he said, as a body, physical body, has many members so does Christ. And then he went on in verse 13 to say, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free, and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”
He says “like a body is one, so the church is one.” Like a body has one common principle of life pulsing through all of its members, so the church has one common principle of life, the Holy Spirit who indwells all its members. The Spirit of God puts the life of God in the soul of man and unites him with every other one in whom that same common eternal life exists and draws us together in one body, and Christ is the head. Now, this is an important concept and we’ve been over it in the past. It needs to be emphasized. We are one body in Christ.
Christianity doesn’t do well to divide itself and, yet, that’s basically what happens isn’t it. I think there’s something about Grace Church that sort of is a good illustration of this concept. When you think about people being a Baptist or a Presbyterian or a Methodist or somebody from the Christian church or – or whatever it is; good, bad, or indifferent, liberal, conservative, or whatever. We all have these little pigeon holes that we set ourselves in.
But – but Grace Church kind of serves as a good illustration of what happens when everybody just falls into place under the word of God and all of those distinctions pretty soon fade. Now, this church is basically made up of two elements of people, 50 percent of our people are new Christians, won to Jesus Christ, coming into this church for the first time in a church or an evangelical or a church that believes in Christ.
The other 50 percent of you are people who come from other churches. And as you come in, you bring a certain tradition, a certain commitment to a certain element, a certain body, a certain definition. But as you find your fellowship here and as you pick out those two hundred that you can tolerate and identify – identify at some point with them, you find that, all of a sudden, you begin to lose all those distinctions in the wonderful blending of the Spirit of God and the common eternal life that we all possess.
And so, we have here in microcosm what God would like to see in macrocosm through the whole church, where we begin to lose – we begin to lose definitions, other than that we’re in Christ, that we’re one in him. And I think that’s what God wants. And I know many of you recently have come from other churches, and our great prayer for you is that you would with us be one in Jesus Christ. That there would be a practical outworking of that wonderful oneness that Christ has already accomplished by giving us all the same Holy Spirit.
Now, in chapter 1 of Ephesians, Paul discussed the eternal planning of the body. Paul discussed how in eternity past God put this plan together. As he moves in chapter 2, he discusses how God made it happen in time. Now, that God has master-planned it in chapter 1, in chapter 2 He makes it happen. And the first ten verses of chapter 2, which we discussed last time, are verses which present to us the way in which a person enters the body of Christ and the way is through salvation. And he discusses it.
He discusses the past life when we were sinners and how we came into the life of the body through Jesus Christ, how God loved us and raised us from the dead in Christ and by grace through faith, we were saved not of works and we have been made God’s masterpiece created unto good works. In other words, salvation, the entrance in the body – into the body, how we came into the body. And now as we come to verse 11, he discusses the parts or the composites of the body, who we are in the body. And he really is dealing here with the Jew and the Gentile. He is showing us that the one body draws together those divergent people, the Jew and the Gentile, and by giving them common eternal life by uniting them commonly in Christ, they become one with each other.
That’s his great message, that all of us are one in Christ. All the distinctions are gone. They all fade away. They’re all lost. In fact, in other passages, the Bible is clear about this. Look at Galatians for a moment, chapter 3, verse 26. It says “For ye are all the sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Now, you may not like that in the case of everybody. You may not wish to be associated with everybody that’s a Christian, but you are. You’re one with them. You are all the sons of God and by the way, God loves all of His sons equally. So you’re not preferred by God, even though you may be preferred by yourself over certain others. God loves them all equally.
So we are all the sons of God. Some of the older folks look down their nose at some of the younger folks, and say, “You mean, I’m one with that person.” Some of the younger folks look at the older folks and say, “It can’t be.” But it is. We’re all one in Christ. Positionally, we’re all one. “For,” he says in 27, “as many as you have been baptized into Christ,” – and he’s talking there about our union in His death and resurrection, not about water baptism. “As many of you as have come into a union with Christ have put on Christ.” You’ve all put on Christ. So there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female. You are all one in Christ Jesus.
In other words, all of those distinctions are gone in the spiritual area. When God looks at us he sees us as one. There is no class system. There’s no hierarchy. There are no blue-ribbon sheep and also rams. There’s only in Christ. Positionally, there is absolute equality. In Romans chapter 10 – just to call your attention to another scripture – verse 12, it says, “There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek; for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be,” – what? – “saved.” There’s no difference.
It disturbs me from time to time when – when people want to maintain a difference even today. Now, I thank the Lord for Jewish mission work, and – and we’re very supportive of that and very excited about it. But the only kind of Jewish mission work that I believe in is that kind of Jewish mission work that integrates Jewish people into the church, not keeping them separate. I remember a few years ago when I was told that of the literally tens of thousands of Jewish converts in the Los Angeles area only a several hundred of them were integrated into Gentile churches or into churches of Jesus Christ. I was very disturbed.
And there were certain people who came and said we would like to develop a ministry here in your church among the Jewish people where we’ll separate them out. We’ll have Christian Bar Mitzvah and we – they call themselves Christian Rabbis – and we’ll go through all of the Jewish things and we want to have a separate class for the Jewish people. And I said, but that’s against the grain of the whole New Testament. You know, we – we tried to tear that wall down back in Ephesians chapter 2. We don’t want to build it up again.
Well, that’s what the Jerusalem counsel already settled in Acts 15. Let’s not start it all over again. I really feel Jew and Gentile should be one in Jesus Christ. The Jew has tremendous resources to contribute to the Gentile church and vice versa. We need each other and the obliteration of those kinds of distinctions that keep us separated. And so, we thank God for those kinds of works that draw the Jewish people into loving bonds with Gentile people, because that’s the way our Lord Himself planned it when He gave unto us the common life and the Holy Spirit. And so, we have unity.
Now, that is a problem in the church and it always has been. In the Corinthian church Paul was constantly upset by discord. In chapter 1, verse 10, he says, “I beseech brethren by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you speak the same thing, there be no division among you, you be perfectly joined together the same mind, the same judgment. Because it’s been told to me by some people from the house of Chloe that there is contention among you. And some are saying I’m of Paul and others I’m of Apollos, others I’m of Cephas, others I’m of Christ. He goes into that in chapter 3 and says, “You must be carnal because there’s division and strife and envy among you.”
This was a real problem and still is. Churches pitted against churches, Christians against Christians. The problem with discord and disunity. But I don’t know that it was ever as intense or any more intense as in the New Testament time. The intense, the discord between Jew and Gentile, and that is that to which Paul speaks. You see, he talks about verse 14, he talks about a wall there. You notice it, the middle wall? And this middle wall that he is talking about is a wall that separates people who are near and people who are far off.
Look at verse 13. Some are far off and some are near. Now, he recognizes that there was a tremendous wall between the far-off Gentile – far off from God’s temple, God’s covenant – and the near Jew who had been exposed to all of God’s truth in the Old Testament, and this wall had grown. And in Christ he wants to shatter that wall to destroy it and to bring these two elements together in Christ, in one. Now, that’s the thrust of Ephesians chapter 2. In chapter 1, he says, God master-planned the body. In chapter 2, here’s how God made it, by redeeming everybody by grace through faith and making everybody one in Christ, Jew or Gentile, bond or free, male or female. No distinctions are left.
Now, let me talk for a minute about why we have to face this disunity that existed in Paul’s time. Originally, from God’s direction, the Jews were selected to be His people. There’s no question about that. In Amos 3:2, he says, “Israel only have I known among all the peoples of the earth.” Israel is a special nation. God has chosen Israel. There is a – there is a very sovereign act in God’s will by which He chose those people.
Now, you may say with Richard Wolf how odd of God to choose the Jews, but nonetheless He did. And if He’d have chosen the Irish, you’d have asked the same question, or anybody else. It’s just a question that God chose, but I want you to understand one thing. God never chose Israel to be a bucket. He chose Israel always to be a channel. His intention was not to dump everything in Israel for their own benefit, but to pour through them His blessing to the world. That was His intention. He said they will show forth my praise.
Israel was a mirror. Israel was a channel. They were to reflect to the world. They were to – to be – to be the vessel through which the flow came. God wanted them not to be an end, but to be the means to an end. Listen, God’s heart hasn’t changed. And when Jesus had said, “Go unto all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,” that wasn’t anything new. God always wanted to reach everybody. God always wanted to recover lost man. God always wanted to extend the arms of His grace and tolerance and – and forgiveness and mercy all the way around the globe. He always wanted to do that. And Israel wasn’t supposed to be the single depository of all God’s grace. They were to be the channel through which God reached the world.
And so, God made them distinct because He wanted the world to look at them. And He wanted to keep them separated. And so, God gave them, from the time He called Abraham, God gave them differences. And God said, I want you so different that, number one, the world’s going to look and say what’s the difference? And number two, you’re going to be so different that you won’t be able to amalgamate or intermingle with any other nation because you’ll never be able to get along with them because of the things that are so distinct. So God gave them the difference for two reasons: to call the attention to the world to them and to keep them separated.
In other words, a Jew had such strict clothing laws, such strict dietary laws, such strict marriage laws, worship laws, festival laws, custom laws, land laws, every other kind of law, that it was just no way that he could really fit in to another society. That’s the way God wanted it. Additionally, they were so distinct that the rest of the world had to take note of them. And that’s the way God wanted it. In order that the world would look at them and say what is this. And the world would say, “But they – they have a different God and their God is the God who has done this.” And the world did say that.
From time to time, they looked at Israel and said, “Who has a God like the Israelites?” Who has a God like the Israelites? That was the point, the special privilege God meant as a tool for witness. They were to be a channel. And you know what happened don’t you? Instead of them seeing themselves as a witness, instead of them seeing the difference as a way to reach people, instead of them standing up and saying, “I’m different and, consequently, the world is going to say, ‘What’s the difference?’ And I can tell them that God has made me different.” Instead of that, it became an excuse for carnal, selfish, self-glorification and pride.
It can happen with us too. We’re to be different, aren’t we? We’re to be completely different than the rest of the world. We’re to walk a different walk, talk a different talk, think a different way. Read later in Ephesians and you’ll find out we are to walk not as the Gentiles walked, not as the heathen walk in the vanity of their mind. We are to walk in love. We are to walk in light. We are to walk in wisdom. We are to walk in the spirit. Our conversation, our manner of life, our walk is to be totally different than the rest of the world. And that it is to be different because we want them to take note of us first of all. And secondly, God wants to keep us separated so different that we can’t mingle with them. It’s the same two things again.
And hopefully the world will see the difference and we’ll say to them, “It’s Jesus Christ that made the difference and here’s how He can make a difference in your life.” And that’s exactly what Israel should have done. Instead of doing that, Israel became proud, loved the difference, celebrated the difference, became proud about the difference, and elevated themselves as if they were better than everybody else.
And I hate to think about it, but I think it’s even possible that that’s happening in Christianity, or could happen. Where Christianity forms some sort of an elite that think they’re better than everybody else. And instead of really being a channel to reach the world, hey, we become an isolated little group of people with our own little lingo and our own little deal and our own little code and our own little bumper stickers and our own little radio stations and TV stations and our own books and our own everything. And it’s us four, no more, shut the door, you know.
And you know what’ll happen. You better reread Romans chapters 9 through 11. God just may change the way He set it up. And He says there you better be careful you Gentiles. God might cut off the branches that were grafted in and stick the originals right back in. You see, that’s what happened to Israel. What was given as a channel to be witnessing turned into a point of pride. And, finally, God just blocked that channel altogether and cut a fresh one called the church, didn’t He? And He said to you, “Now, you go unto all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” You do it.
Israel failed and they were set aside in a tragic thing. They – they – they kept the ceremonies and they kept the rituals, but they forgot the morality and they forgot the spirituality and they had a shell. And the shell, because it had no reality, had no message to give, and they just celebrated the ritual and the ceremony as a point of pride. A good illustration of it is Jonah. God said, “Jonah you go to Nineveh and you preach repentance to Nineveh and Nineveh will be converted.” And Jonah said to himself, “Well, if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s some Gentile horning in on my God.” And so, he hopped a boat and the boat dumped him and he got swallowed up by a great fish. And fish vomited him out. And it’s no wonder, a prophet like that would make anything sick. The fish vomited him out and what happened? He went to Nineveh. Finally, in obedience to God, he preached repentance and the whole city repented and he went out on the side of the city and he sat down and he said, “God I can’t stand it, kill me. I can’t stand Gentiles getting converted.” That’s how far it had gone. That’s how isolated, how proud, how carnal they had come – become, how they had twisted God’s complete intention.
In fact, they actually had contempt for the Gentiles instead of having compassion. They had contempt for them. You know, don’t let this ever happen in the church. You know, and there are little things that I see in the church that I almost fear it’s happening where we become the ones who have and you become outside the ones who have not. And rather than compassion, we have a sense of contempt. And rather than looking up in love and pleading from our knees, we look down in pride at these poor have-nots, which is a perversion of God’s intention.
And I would pray to God that there wouldn’t be as there was in the case of Israel, an ever-widening gap between the church and the world, an ever-widening gap between the church and the world. We’ve got to be in it, people, up to our necks. Salt and light, but not of it right? We’ve got to be the boat in the water. It’s just when the water gets in the boat you’ve got a problem. So there was this animosity, this sense of pride. And it – it was hard not to feel a little that way if you were Jewish because the Gentile nations really did oppress Israel. So it was coming from both sides.
Gentile nations looked as Israel as a slave kind of people. They oppressed them. They slaughtered them. They persecuted them. They killed them. It was really tragic. And so, what happened was instead of Israel being a channel, Israel became this shell of something with nothing to talk about, no message to preach anymore, just a form of Godliness without power. And they began to distain and hold contempt for the Gentiles and a wall went up in a gulf that got wider and wider and wider, until by the time you get to even Jesus’ day the gulf seems absolutely beyond hope of ever bridging. The wall seems so thick nothing could ever shatter it.
The Jew and the Gentile are just at odds. In fact, the Jew thought the Gentiles were created by God for fuel to use in hell. They thought that only Israel was loved of God and all other nations were hated. It wasn’t even lawful to aide a Gentile mother who was giving birth to a baby because you’d be responsible for bringing another Gentile into the world.
Do you know that when a Jew went from the south part of Israel to the north part, there was a little area in the middle called Samaria? And those people were not full-blooded Jewish people. And when a Jew went north, he would cross the Jordan River to the east, go up the east side across the Jordan River at the north back into the area that was possessed by Israel because he’d never set his feet in the area called Samaria. That’s what was so shocking when it said in the Bible that Jesus said, “I must needs go through Samaria.” Jews didn’t do that.
They wouldn’t want Gentile dirt on their feet. If they happen to pick up Gentile dirt as soon as they entered into Israel, the Bible would say they shook off the dust off their feet. They didn’t want to bring Gentile dirt back into their country. Terrible bitterness and animosity. If a Jewish boy or girl married a Gentile, they held a funeral because touching a Gentile in any way physically like that is tantamount to death. That still happens today in Orthodox homes.
They even – they even felt it was wrong to go into a Gentile home because you’d be eating off of Gentile utensils. Not only that, they believed that the Gentiles took their aborted babies and threw them down the drain and they were afraid they’d come in contact with a dead body in the home. That was another one of the things they felt. And so, they just – the gulf got wider and wider and wider and wider. And they turned their ceremonial law into a way to alienate rather than a distinction by which they could speak the truth of God. And on the other hand, the Gentiles looked at them as slaves. They called them the enemies of the human race. And that was true all the way down to Hitler’s day.
Now, you get a little idea of Gentile contempt for the Jews when you listen to Pilate. Pilate cried out, “I surely am not a Jew, am I?” Just contemptuous. I can still hear across the centuries the voices of the owners of the Philippian slave girl as they denounced Paul and Silas because they cast the demons out. And they said, “These men being Jews do exceedingly trouble our city.” You see in there the “being Jews” is the – is the mocking contemptuous term. These men being Jews. Very deep-seeded hate from Gentile to Jew and Jew to Gentile.
And then traces of that bitterness were seen still in the early church. That’s right. Even in the early church, even after Christ had come in and created positional unity. Even after Jew and Gentile were one and there was neither Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free, male or female, all one in Christ. Even though that was true positionally, even though that was true in terms of their state before God, the practical outworking of that didn’t come easy and there was real bitterness between Jew and Gentile even in the early church.
For example, the apostle Paul goes into the area of Galatia on his missionary tours and he wins those Gentiles to Christ, and he teaches them and he – he begins to build them up. In fact, he went back there each time on his three journeys. And behind Paul came along a group of people and they said to them, “You can’t be Christians. You can’t enter into the new covenant. You can’t come from a Gentile vantage point right into the new covenant, right into salvation. You’ve got to become a Jew first. So you’ve got to get circumcised, number one. Number two, you’ve got to keep the whole law of Moses. Then if you qualify as a Jew, from that viewpoint you can become a Christian.”
In other words, Judaism was step one, salvation was step two, and the Gentile couldn’t bypass step one. And so, they laid on him to speak legalist – legalism trip. And Paul sits down and writes the whole book of Galatians to say don’t let those guys do that to you. “If anybody comes along and preaches any other gospel than you heard from me, let him be,” – What? – “accursed.” I don’t care if it’s an angel from heaven, he says. Christ is all. You don’t need that stuff. “Do not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage,” – he says in chapter 5 – “for Christ has made us free from that.” Don’t you listen to that.
But you see what the problem was? Those people had been so committed to Judaism for so long they couldn’t even see anybody coming to God except he came through that manner. And so, they couldn’t allow for it, and so there was this animosity building. And so, in the 15th chapter of Acts, the Jerusalem counsel met together and they said we better decide about this. Do you have to become a Jew to become a Christian or not? You read the 15th chapter of Acts sometime, you’ll hear their answer. Their answer was “No, you do not.” You do not.
You do not have to become a Jew to become a Christian. You become a Christian from being a Gentile. You can just come to receive that salvation. And they said, “You go tell the Gentiles that and don’t you lay any burdens on those Gentiles. You tell them they’re all right in Christ. You tell them to be careful not to do those things that will harm and offend the Jews.” Be very careful, because there are many Jews in the cities where they are. Tell them to be careful about things strangled and fornication and idol meats and things like that. Just be careful about that, but there’s no burden to be added. Faith from the heart of a Gentile is enough.
Romans 14 is written for that problem too. Apparently in the church at Rome the Jews and the Gentiles were having trouble. You can imagine a Jewish convert. He gets saved, he comes into the church, the church is predominantly Gentile, some dear loving Gentile couple says let’s have him over for supper. He comes over for supper and they pull out their supper, ham. And this poor Jew says, “What is this offense to God?” They said, “What? What do you mean? What? What are – what are – ” “This is against the law of God.” And they may say, “Well, we had Peter come to our church one time and Peter told us that all things were clean. There was no clean or unclean anymore.” According to Acts 10. He’d seen the sheep and the whole bit and that’s all done away with.
Oh, you can just imagine the panic. He’s not liberated from that. He’s been in it all his life. That’s all he knows. He’ll gag on the first bite. No way can he handle that. And so then he gets a little animosity. Then there’s a little bitterness in what starts out as an effort toward harmony becomes discord and pretty soon he begins to resent that Gentile’s freedom. And then he begins to think that he’s the only one that’s spiritual and the Gentile is getting in cheap, and then there was this continued animosity in the local church. That was a problem, a real problem.
And some of those early Jews still wanted to keep the Sabbath, because they’d done it all their life and they couldn’t make a break. I see that nowadays. I see people who are converted from Catholicism. And they’ve been in the Catholic Church so long that they come to the Catholic Church in the morning and then they come here for the second service. Some of you. Why? You see, you just can’t make that break that fast. There’s tradition there. There’s some roots there. There’s some feelings there. And it takes a while and you’re being weaned away from those past things, and that – that’s just part of it.
And that was part of the problem here, but it went even deeper because there were tremendous antagonistic bitternesses. There just was no real coming together. It was because there were too many differences. They just looked at each as racially unequal. I think about it in terms of the south, part of the United States. I think about it in the early days a slave – of the slaves.
I was reading Oliver Buswell, III’s book. He’s a very leading anthropologist, a fine Christian. His book called Slavery, Segregation and the Scripture, in which he says that the people were teaching the slaves how to read. And then they found out that when they read, they read the Bible. And when they read the Bible they got saved, and then they wanted to come to church. And they had a problem. So they stopped teaching them to read. And that’s what happened. And so, what grew up in the south was a caricature of Christianity. And much of what you see is black southern Christianity has some of the parts, but it’s almost a caricature because it only went so far and then it was cut off.
And what grew out of it was a tradition, basically because they didn’t have what they needed in terms of education to fill out their Christian understanding. It can happen in a lot of ways, in a lot of different ways, in a lot of societies. But the message of the word of God is that we’re one in Jesus Christ. And that wasn’t going to be easy in Paul’s day. You know, even the apostles had trouble with this. Look at Galatians chapter 2. Peter, our beloved friend with the foot-shaped mouth who is forever and a day doing the wrong thing, realized that God had told him that ceremonial law was set aside, ritual law was set aside.
And so, he came up to Antioch, in Galatians 2:11, and he was having a wonderful time in Antioch and he was – verse 12 says he was eating with Gentiles. He just went over to the Gentiles’ house and whatever they gave him, he didn’t say, “Well, did you get this out of the marketplace? Was it purchased from a pagan temple? Have you done it with the right kind of washing? Have you drained off the blood, blah, blah, blah, blah? Have you gone – what kind of animal is this? Does it have a cloven hoof or not,” and all of this? He didn’t go through all that ritual. He just had a wonderful time and just ate it and probably said, “Boy, this is – I’ve never tried this, but it’s terrific.” Until some Jews arrived.
Certain men came from James. And when they came, he withdrew separated himself fearing them who were of the circumcision. The circumcision should have quotes around it. It was a party. It was a party of Judaizers who wanted to make all the Gentiles get circumcised and keep the whole law before they could be thought of as true Christians. And so, they arrived and, immediately, Peter walked out of the Gentile fellowship, had nothing to do with them, identified immediately with the Jews, got all the others Jews to do that and they had a split church. Jews doing their thing, Gentiles doing their thing. Paul says, “I withstood him to the face because he was to be blamed.”
It was a real problem, and even poor old Barnabas got carried away with the hypocrisy of the whole thing. There was a tremendous tension there even in the early church. Jew and Gentile were equal in God’s eyes, they were equal in Christ’s body. They were not equal in the eyes of each other and that had to change. And so, chapter 2, verses 11 to 13 – 11 to 22 rather, discusses the definition of the unity of the church that is at the heart of the church’s oneness. And it’s an important passage.
Now, we’re going to consider two parts, first part this time, next time the second part. First of all, we see the social and spiritual alienation of the Gentiles. And then next time, we’ll see how they were socially and spiritually united. They started out alienated, they became united in Christ. And the whole message of this thing is if it’s true then get with it, folks. Get with it and celebrate that unity. You know, one of the terrible things that occurs in the church of Jesus Christ is when we separate ourselves in classes.
James even talks about it, doesn’t he? About the man with the fine garment and the ring comes and gets the best seat, and the person who comes in scraggly clothes, we say, “Here,” – you know – “sit under my feet here out of the way. But in Christ everyone is equal. With God there is no respect of what? Persons. None. You might as well get that straight. There’s none. There’s none at all. And so, Paul wants to help them to understand this, so he begins from the vantage point of the fact that it is true. Gentiles you are alienated socially and spiritually.
Look at verse 11, and let’s begin with the social element of the alienation. “Wherefore remember that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh,” – that is physically speaking you’re a Gentile – “who are called uncircumcision by that which is called the circumcision in the flesh made with hands.” We’ll stop right there. Now, he begins by describing not the past state of sin, that was chapter 2, verses 1-4 where he went into that.
He’s now discussing their state of alienation. He says, “I want you to remember this. Remember that you used to be alienated socially.” And in verse 12, he’ll tell them you used to be alienated spiritually, remember that. Remember that alienation. Why does he want them to remember that? Because it’s really good to remember what you were before you came to Christ because it makes you a lot more thankful for what you are, doesn’t it?
Listen, I know what I was before I came – became a Christian. And now that I’m a Christian, I’m thankful to God for what He’s done in my life to change me and I don’t want to begrudge that to anybody of any race or color or creed or anything else. Remember what you used to be. You know, it’s easy for you to want to alienate Jews. It’s easy for you to want to alienate people that you do in your society. Remember you used to be alienated. You used to be the one really alienated from God and from God’s people. Remember your unregenerate days.
F.F. Bruce says “Nothing is so apt to promote gratitude as a retrospective glance fixed on the whole of the pit from whence we have been dug.” He’s right. It’s good to remember what we were before Christ came. So he says remember. “Remember, first of all, this tremendous alienation.” Notice this. “In time past. you were Gentiles, physically. You – you used to be Gentiles.” By the way, there are Gentiles and there are Jews until you get to the church and then there are neither. All right? So he says, “You used to be Gentiles. You used to be a Jew. Now, that you’re in Christ, you’re in Christ.” Period, paragraph, end of distinction.
So he says, “You used to Gentiles and you were called uncircumcision by that which is called the circumcision in the flesh made by hands.” In other words, you were called, you Gentiles, the you here, the ye is Gentiles. As far as the Jews were concerned, you were outcasts. And they called them the uncircumcision. And by the way that should be in quotes because that was a term of mockery. That – that would be tantamount to calling somebody in our culture a nigger. That’s – that’s the way that word was used. The uncircumcision, it was a term of derision, a term of mockery, a term of defamation, a term of reproach.
The Gentiles didn’t have the surgical sign of Genesis 17 to mark them out as the people of God and so they called them the – the uncircumcision. And even in David’s time, you know, that was a term of derision. Do you remember David’s word? “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of God?” 1 Samuel 17:26, “this uncircumcised Philistine.” That was derision. That was mockery. And the Jews, of course, in contrast called themselves the circumcision, the circumcision. The name of which they were so proud.
They were more proud of the external operation than of anything on the inside. You see they had just perverted the whole thing. They’d fouled it all up. And so, Paul, he really levels a shot at the end of verse 11. Look at this. He says, “But that which is called the circumcision in the flesh made by hands.” Now, what does he mean in the flesh made by hands? Physical. He says the circumcision, and by that, I mean the ones who are physically circumcised, not spiritually. In Romans 2:28 he says, “circumcision is not that which is of the flesh, but real circumcision, he is a true Jew who is one who is circumcised in his,” – What? – “his heart.”
He says, “Yeah, they’re the circumcision all right, in the flesh.” Period, that’s it. They think they’re the true people of God, but it’s only external. And so, the circumcision, the people with the outward sign and no inward reality would mock the Gentile. And that is simply an emphasis, a way to look and see the social alienation. There was just no way that they could enter into a relationship. And it looked insurmountable.
Further Paul says, not only is there social alienation, but there is spiritual alienation. There’s a real alienation in verse 12. “At that time,” – he says – “ye,” – again the Gentiles prior to salvation – “were without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise having no hope and without God in the world.” This is real alienation. This isn’t social, this is spiritual.
The Gentiles, before Christ came, before the gospel came were literally cut off from God. They were cut off from God. Let me show you these five things. First of all, they were Christless. Verse 12 says, “without Christ.” They were Christless, separated from the Messiah. Now, what does that mean? Listen, beloved, that means they had no messianic hope. They had no hope of a Savior. They had no anticipation of a deliverer. History was going no place.
There wasn’t going to come an ultimate judge who’d make wrong right. There wasn’t going to come an ultimate judge who’d reward the good and punish the evil. There wasn’t any – going – going to be any day of vengeance. There wasn’t going to be any balancing of the scales. There wasn’t going to be any deliverance. There wasn’t going to be any restructuring of history so it made sense. It was going nowhere.
The stoics even said history ran in cycles of 3,000 years. At the end of 3,000 years, the earth and the universe all burned up and it was reborn and it started over on the next cycle of 3,000 years. That’s how hopeless their view of history was. No Christ. They worshipped Diana of the Ephesians, also known as Artemis. And we think of Diana as some lovely, gorgeous creature. Listen, the – the statue was a black beast, a big black ugly beast with nipples hanging out of its stomach, supposing to sucker other little weird black beasts, gross, ugly idolatry. That’s all they had was to worship that thing.
History was going nowhere. Life was a treadmill. They had no Christ. They had no hope, no deliverer, no Messiah, no anointed, no king, no Savior, nobody who’d make it right. They were Christless. And I want you to notice something. To be Christless is to be Godless in this verse and it is also to be hopeless. And I say that because there are all kinds of people who come down the pike saying it doesn’t really matter what religion you believe, God accepts them all. Well, they’re going to have to deal with this verse which says if you’re Christless you’re hopeless and you’re Godless.
And Acts 4:12 put it this way, “neither is there salvation in any other for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” They were Christless. They didn’t have any -- anybody to look to. Second, he says they were stateless, aliens. That means strangers, foreigners, people without rights of citizens. They were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. God had built a theocracy. God had built a nation. And that nation was the recipient of His blessing. That nation was the target of His special love. That nation was in special arrangement with Him. And the Gentiles were aliens to that commonwealth.
Now, had they accepted the true God, they could have entered into that place of blessing and become a part, but they did not. And consequently, they were aliens. They were stateless. They had no community. They had no kingdom. They had no benefactor. They were not in the state of a beneficiary. They were outside of his dominion.
In Isaiah chapter 63, the prophet recites something of God’s attitude to Israel. “I will mention the lovingkindness of the Lord and the praises of the Lord according to all that the Lord hath bestowed on us and the great goodness toward the house of Israel which He hath bestowed on them according to His mercies and according to the multitude of His loving kindness.” Now, listen. “For He said, ‘surely, they are my people, children that will not lie.’” So He was their savior. “In all of their affliction, He was afflicted and the angel of His presence saved them in His love and in His pity, He redeemed them and He bore them and He carried them all the days of old.” You see, there’s God’s unique relation to Israel. Of course, the next verse says “but they rebelled and vexed His Holy Spirit, therefore He turned to be their enemy and fought against them.”
When they didn’t reciprocate that kind of love, God turned in judgment. But He had a special love for them. He gave them a theocracy. He ruled over them. He gave them a priesthood. He gave them blessing. He gave them His law. He gave them His rule, but the Gentiles didn’t know that. They lived without God’s rule, without God’s kingdom.
Thirdly, Paul says they are covenantless. A person without Jesus Christ is Christless, stateless, not a part of God’s economy, not a part of God’s kingdom, not a part of God’s world and not a citizen of heaven. And also, covenantless. Look at the phrase there. It reads in the Greek this way, “and strangers from the covenants of the promise.” Strangers from the covenants of the promise. What was the promise? The Abrahamic promise, Genesis 12. That is the overriding promise, the great circle that surrounds all of God’s dealing with Israel. The promise.
Now, inside the promise were many covenants. The Davidic covenant, the mosaic covenant, the Palestinian covenant, the new covenant, all of these covenants were inside this great Abrahamic promise. And all of this is that God promised to bless them, to prosper them, to multiply them, to save them, to redeem them, to give them a kingdom, to give them a land, to give them a king, to cause them to reign, all these incredible covenants that God made. Amazing things to give them eternal life. To promise them heaven. All that is in that covenant. Gentiles, he says, were strangers to it all. They had no promise from God, no guarantees, no securities, no nothing.
And fourthly, he says they were hopeless, without hope, having no hope. If you don’t have a Christ and you don’t have a kingdom to belong to and you don’t have any promises, I’ll tell you something. You don’t have any hope. What is hope? Listen to this, hope is confidence – now watch – based on credible promises from someone who can perform them. Did you get that? Confidence based on credible promises from someone who can perform them. That’s real hope.
If somebody comes up to me says, “John, I – I want to give Grace Church a million dollars,” I have two questions. “Can I believe what you say? Are you credible?” And what’s the second question? “Have you got a million dollars?” Right? A credible promise from somebody who can perform. God comes to me and says, “I promise you this.” First question, “is God credible?” Yes. Number two, “Can He deliver?” Yes. That’s why we put our hope in Him, you see. Hope is confidence based on a credible promise from somebody who can perform it. And the Gentiles don’t have the somebody and they don’t have the promises apart from God and Christ.
In fact, the Gentiles of Paul’s day believed that there was no future for the body and when – when you’ve breathed your last breath, that last “huff,” was your spirit leaving you, or it went out through an open wound and that you existed the rest of your existence moaning the fact that you were in lostness and that you were unable to be comforted. Diogenes said “I rejoice in sport in my youth, long enough will I lie beneath the earth, bereft of life, voiceless as a stone, and shall leave the sunlight which I love, good man though I am. Then shall I see nothing more. Rejoice, O my soul, in thy youth.”
Grab it while you can, man, because there’s nothing coming. No hope, no hope. That’s despair. And, beloved – and the sum of it all at the end of verse 12, “without God in the world.” It’s bad enough to be a part of the evil cosmos, it’s bad enough to be engulfed in this system that Satan is running. But to be in the midst of it without God is really to be a victim isn’t it. And this isn’t atheism. These people aren’t atheists. It means they don’t have the true God. They could be pantheists and believe that God was everything. They could be polytheists and believe there were many gods and still be without God, right?
Mars Hill, Acts 17, Paul goes up and says “I perceive that you have many gods. Now, let me tell you about the only one you don’t have who is the only real one.” And he proceeded to tell them. And so, he says remember, remember that you were alienated socially. You were really despised and you were alienated spiritually, Christless, stateless, covenantless, hopeless, Godless. That’s the state, beloved, of somebody without Jesus Christ. That’s the state of somebody outside the kingdom, outside the covenant, outside the promise, outside God, outside Christ and without hope.
You say, “well, why did God do that to the Gentiles?” He didn’t. They did it to themselves. Turn with me – and I’ll close with this – to Romans 2. Romans 2, verse 11, “For there is no respect of persons with God.” All right? No respect of persons with God. Doesn’t like Jews better than Gentiles or vice versa. He loves both the same, no respect of person. Listen, now. “For as many as have sinned without law.” -- who would that be? Heathen, Gentiles without the law of God – “shall perish without law. As many as have sinned in the law shall be,” – What? – “judged by the law.” Simply saying this, everybody’s held accountable. You don’t have the law, you sin without the law you’ll be punished. You have the law, you sin with the law, you’ll be punished.
All right, now verse 14, I want you see it. “For when the Gentiles,” – here we are, the pagans, the Gentiles, the ones outside – “who have not the law do by nature the things contained in the law these though they have not the law become a law to themselves because they show the work of the law written,” – Where? – “in their hearts.” Now, listen to me. God gave Israel laws on stone, but God gave every man ever born into the world the conscience to see the law of God written where? In his heart, so that everyone is accountable.
And if a Gentile is Christless, stateless, covenantless, hopeless, and Godless, it is not because God withheld anything from him. God has written His law in His heart. You say, “Well what happened?” Go back to chapter 1 of Romans, verse 18. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” Here’s the reason, “they hold the truth in,” – What? – “unrighteousness.” You see they – they begin to live unrighteously – “And that which may be known,” – verse 19 – “of God is manifest in them.”
God has shown it to them that’s conscience, that’s the law in their hearts. “And then outside them the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood.” You can even know that He’s eternally powerful, “so that man is without excuse.” Now, what he’s saying is two things. Look. Man doesn’t hold on to this truth even though it’s written in his heart, number one, and even though it’s all around him, number two that he can see God.
The problem is this, verse 21, “when they knew God,” – they did know God. Did you know that? They knew God. Man knew God. Men know God in their conscience. But – “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God. Neither were thankful became vain in their imaginations, their foolish heart was darkened. They thought they were wise.” – and verse 23 – “They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into all their idols.” – and the result, verse 24 – “Wherefore God also gave them up.”
Now, you see what happened? The Gentile had as much opportunities as the Jew. As much as the Jew. God put the law in his heart, and when he didn’t live up to it, God, in His wonderful sweet grace, called out that nation Israel and said will you go back to that Gentile world. And will you tell them what they’ve done and will you call them back to me. But they didn’t do that. They became proud, selfish, sinful, isolationist and a great gulf came. And it’s only Jesus Christ who came along to reach across and grab the hand of the Jew and the hand of the Gentile and knit them together.
And it isn’t easy. And, beloved, we still fight the same battle today, to see Jesus’ prayer answer, practically, that His church would really be one. That we would be able to reach our hearts and our hands out and take the hand of anybody who names the name of Jesus Christ and draw that hand into our hand. But that’s the unity of the body that Jesus wants. I hope you’ll pray and strive in your own heart to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Let’s pray.
Our Lord, we’ve just again had a sense of conviction in our hearts about this urgency of seeing the unity for which Jesus died come to reality. Help us Lord here to be a little – little start, a little part of it. Maybe we can’t unify the whole church, but we can sure make sure that we love each other here and maybe start a – a pattern that’ll spread. I thank You, Lord, that there is unity in this church. On the surface, there’s no division here. I pray that it’s down deep too.
I pray that there’s a deep love, that there’s a tremendous desire on the parts of these people to pray for one another, love one another, edify one another, teach one another, exhort one another, rebuke one another, confess faults one to another, restore one another. And I pray that there’s a tremendous commitment to minister spiritual gifts, mutually, and to care, to love, that our unity may not just be positional, but that it may be practical and that the world may really see it.
Father, help us not to hold anyone as less than ourselves, but help us to get down like Jesus did and think it not something to be held onto to be equal with God, but to humble ourselves, become a servant. Help us to look not on our own things, but on the things of others. Help us to love everybody the same, as Paul says in Philippians 2, having the same love. Teach us, Father, to love like Jesus loved, even the unlovely who have to love us too. Show us what it is to be one in You and we’ll thank You in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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