Good morning on this first day of summer! Our reading for this Friday, June 21, 2019 is Ephesians 2:11–21.
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.NIV
Today’s passage is all about belonging. We too often think in terms of who is in and who is left out. The people who are the subject of the Apostle Paul’s concern are known as Gentiles, here identified as the “uncircumcised” compared to the Jews who are known by as the circumcised. The Gentiles are all those who are not Jews. They could become “God-fearers” who left the worship of any number of gods to be followed in the various cultures of the Roman world for the sole worship of the One God worshipped by the Jews.
What attracted them to Judaism and pulled them away from these other religions? The Jews did not actively recruit Gentiles just as much as most churches does not actively reach out to non-churched people. This is to our shame for this is our proclaimed purpose to make disciples. I think subconsciously most Christians in the pews of our churches view discipleship as a higher stage of spiritual life and so those who are more deeply committed and active attempt to encourage others more nominally involved to “step up” in their commitment. We deal with those who come to us rather than going to others whether inside or outside the church with the message of discipleship.
The Gentiles Paul was addressing were those who came to follow the Jewish faith were outsiders who kind of came into the fold, but they could become insiders. Today churches talk about how friendly they are yet when outsiders start attending they are never really accepted or find ready access to becoming insiders. So the church does not grow in numbers because we “put obstacles” (as Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing) in the way for inclusion or neglect the neighbors we have in close proximity to us but who stay away.
The question is what attracted these non-Jews to the Jewish faith? I believe the apostle identifies the cause when he states they were formerly before faith “without hope and without God in the world.” The pursuit of all the gods of this world, whether they be in secular values or diverse philosophies and other religions, have left these seekers to dead ends that did not satisfy their spiritual hunger. St. Augustine of the 4th century wrote that our heart lack peace until we find our rest in God. The natural pursuit for God and the truth draws some while the majority is lost in their futile pursuit for meaning and purpose.
Some are drawn to faith in Christ due to the dissatisfaction they find in other options or because the Holy Spirit has used the witness of Christ’s disciples and the church to peek interest in Jesus. Well this is well and good it is also to our shame that when these seekers come into the church they find they are not readily accepted. Certainly there is a need for spiritual growth and relationship building through mentoring and Christian education, but no matter their stage in the journey of faith they need to be considered family members.
What the institutionalized faith of Judaism failed to do these God Fearers found ready acceptance in the new branch of Jewish faith which followed Jesus. This is one reason for the church’s rapid expansion in the first century after Pentecost. My point is that for the church to grow in our day and time its members must be wholly and solely committed to Jesus. This means being actively invested in growing in faith and service. Naturally this priority will exclude greater participation in activities and pleasures that are not necessarily wrong but which distract us from growing.
Those committed to Christ accept as their calling to relate to and invite their neighbors to relationship and fellowship with God’s people. Once they come they mentor and receive the less experienced as members of the church and endeavor to enlist them with reaching out to other neighbors with the truth and of Christ and intimate companionship with him and the family of God. The apostle was reminding the church of Ephesus of where they came from and what they were called to be and do. May we live up to this aspiration and encourage our churches to do the same.
Blessings! Dr. Brian Homan