The conflicts and separations between Jews and Gentiles that we see going on in the world today are nothing new. Right from the time God called Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldees and go to the land we call Israel today, there has been animosity between these two groups. Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers to describe why they had been called by God to be His workmanship with good works to others as an evidence of God’s present interest in all men. With that objective in mind, they needed to remember the past: who they were before God saved them, and to be challenged as to who they are now and to where God had brought them. We need to remember what God has done for us in order for us to be conscious of the value of being “seated with Christ in heavenly places.”
Writing to the Gentiles, Paul positions himself as a Jew pointing at what Gentiles historically were considered by the Jews. There are some things that are important to remember in relation to our past – before we were saved. The Jews who remembered their past thought of themselves as “we are the people.” To Jews circumcision was an act that made them different and therefore acceptable to God as His people. There is a sense in which this was true. However, the physical act was not evidence of the true cutting off of the world and its ways. Circumcision of heart was the intention of the physical act. The Jews were supposed to have been a kingdom of priests who would worship and serve the living God and His interests here on earth. They failed in this but still thought they were superior to all other people. Arrogance and smug self-satisfaction are still keeping people from God. He draws near to those who are “of a humble and contrite spirit and who tremble at (His) word.”
The Gentiles Paul was writing to were without a promised Messiah who would bring peace on earth and would reign in righteousness. Gentiles lived only for the moment of physical pleasure and any momentary gratification of the flesh. Jews then and now were looking for a Messiah who would rule the world with a rod of iron and establish them as the primary nation of the world. Because of that they have missed the blessings of peace that comes from love, mercy and grace rather than heavy-handed control. The first kind of peace will last. The second only as long as those in authority have bigger, better and more weapons of war. As those who didn’t have the promises God gave the Jews, Gentiles were those who were outside looking in. Aliens are those who may be in the same place as citizens are, but do not have a real part in the benefits and privileges of citizenship. Unsaved people may live alongside believers and wonder what makes them different. Some keep their identity obvious by the way they dress. Believers commit themselves to be modest and honorable. Honesty and unworthiness are outward expressions of what a person is like inside. An alien doesn’t fit in with those who are citizens of the kingdom of God, and the reverse is true as well.
One who is a stranger doesn’t know their way around in a place nor does that person know the unique aspects of the culture into which they are looking. To not belong to a group is one of the most devastating things that can happen to children, teenagers and young adults. They are often willing to compromise what they know is right to be accepted by their peers or a group of people who have common interests. Some adults of a foreign country refuse to assimilate into the nation to which they want to come, and consequently live there as strangers for a lifetime. Christians are like “strangers and pilgrims” to the world system because they “shine as lights” in the darkness. The Gentile believers in Ephesus were without Christ, they had no Messiah; and as aliens they were without citizenship that placed them in position to claim the promises of God. As strangers from the covenants of promise and without any kind of a covenant with God, they were on their own as individuals and nations.
Hope is a great incentive to act in a certain way. When there is no hope in an individual, that person is usually unhappy, without any motivation to make changes for the better. That person will only live for the moment when they look ahead at the consequences that will follow that choice. Suicide is a response to hopelessness. Anger against others that leads to conflict is another response. Bitterness, envy and malice are characteristics of hopelessness. Atheism and fatalism are two of the culprit deceivers that flourish when there is no hope. That mind-set is what has promoted idolatry and other forms of false worship among many people all over the world. The Ephesians made their own idol of Diana and worshipped images of their own imaginations to fill the void that is natural in man without God. When all of these missing things: without Christ, without being chosen people, without a covenant with promises, without hope – that is all summed up – without God. A God-less people in an ungodly world among ungodly people is about as far away from the meaning of life as a person can get. That was where we were in our sins.
Then came divine intervention summed up in these words, “But now in Christ Jesus.” Everything has changed from separation and alienation, to reconciliation and acceptance. A barrier has been removed by a power and authority far greater than a treaty between men and nations. Covenants have been made by the hundreds between nations and they all have failed after a time. Any that have lasted for more than a few generations have been maintained by the power of armies and forces that overcome obstacles. The covenant made between Jewish and Gentile believers has been made by “the blood of Christ.” The sacrifice of His life for us changes everything from the “them and us” mind-set, to making something entirely new in which both are a part. The past is over and done with. Jews and Gentiles who are “in Christ Jesus” are brought near to each other, and to God. No longer are there divisions between those who are members of His body. There are differences but not divisions. The appreciations of every true believer in Christ is because the blood of Christ has brought us all onto new ground – “redemption ground, the ground of peace.”