Alienation is a word often used to describe our human plight. Everywhere relationships are broken – between or within nations, in the workplace, between friends and within families. The phrase ‘the power of love’ or ‘love is everything’ is said to be the cure-all for brokenness and division. But what do these expressions really mean? What does real love look like?
Throughout the Bible, especially as it relates to God and his relationship with us, we find a radically different way that love is understood. As we touched on last week, in chapter 2 of his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of our natural state as the walking dead: You were dead through the trespasses and sins, he says (2:1), … children of wrath (2:3).
However, God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us has given his people new life with Christ, raising us from death and giving us a seat beside Christ in his victory and rule (2:4f). God is truly just in judging us because we chose to divorce him. Yet at the same time, he has chosen to love us and reveal his grace to his people because his nature is to have mercy.
He goes on to explain what this means for his non-Jewish readers: Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (2:12).
Pointing out that they were once without Christ: they didn’t know the Messiah of the Jewish people and were thus separated from God and from God’s ancient people. They were aliens – implying that being men and women made in God’s image, a former relationship with God had been broken. They now lived without hope – something that is quite evident when anyone, especially a celebrity, dies unexpectedly. Then the focus is on the person and their amazing life with no reference to any hope beyond the grave. Similarly, these Gentiles were without God, living in the darkness of self-interest without the light of Christ in their lives. They had no hope beyond this life.
Barriers of power and greed, culture and class, color and race cause division everywhere. Broken relationships exist at every level, as we see exemplified across the political divide. We experience proximity but without community. Remember what you were, Paul says.
Yet how often do we forget and so write our Christian testimonies failing to remember that we were once without Christ, without God, and without hope – that we were saved by grace and now live by grace (2:8,9).
The peace-maker. God could have written off men and women in disgust. But that would have been an admission of defeat. Instead, at an extreme cost to himself, he chose a path that would enable peace between the Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) peoples, and also between both groups and himself (God).
Consider verses 13 through 16: You (Gentile peoples) have been brought near by the blood of Christ. In his flesh he has made both groups into one. So that he might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.
The Bible tells us that from the very beginning of his creating work, knowing what men and women who were created in his image would choose to do, God determined on an infinitely more costly strategy. Instead of abandoning this evil and ungrateful world that had rejected him, he would provide a path to peace. He would rescue people from the consequences of their folly by dealing with the penalty of his own just anger. He would destroy the enmity without destroying the enemy and thus provide a way for peace.
The key is Christ Jesus and the blood he shed when he died at Calvary. It’s the first time in the Letter that Paul has developed the theme of the cross of Christ. And here he is telling us in beautiful words, that when we meditate on Jesus’ crucifixion we see what God has done. In an extraordinary gift of selfless love, he has opened the way to peace through Christ’s sacrificial blood shed on the cross.
Christ is creating a new society in which hostility gives way to harmony; alienation gives way to reconciliation. Of all the great teachers, prophets, mystics and all the isms of the world, Jesus alone has been able to achieve this.
This doesn’t mean that humanity is now united and at peace. Daily the news tells us it isn’t. But while at times it is difficult to believe, there is one group where true community is possible: amongst God’s people.
Citizens of God’s new society. In verse 19 we read: So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,
You non-Jewish believers, Paul says, are no longer what you used to be— strangers and visitors without legal rights. Rather, you have a new status. Once you were without God, but now you have the same God and Father as Jewish believers: you are brothers and sisters together in Christ. Once you were without hope, now you are joined together with believing Israel and being built into a temple – the people with whom God lives. It’s an awesome picture of the future.
Without the teaching of the apostles and the prophets we wouldn’t have a clue about what God has done. Jesus Christ, the Messiah, is the chief cornerstone of God’s work. Cornerstones were essential in ancient buildings, setting them and keeping them in line and steady. The glorified Jesus is the key to the growth and development of God’s new community.
Not there yet. This doesn’t mean that God’s people are yet perfect. Far from it. It does mean our being honest with God, turning to him in repentance and asking for new resolve and strength to live his good way. It means less self-interest and self-will and more of what God expects of us.
It means putting aside everything that stands in the way of developing true community as God’s people – getting to know one another, including those who are not normally part of our social network, caring for those in need, working at reconciliation with those we have hurt or those who have hurt us. Not bearing grudges or grievances.
Men and women everywhere are looking for meaningful, trusting relationships. In an angry, bitter, and divided world a powerful testimony to the truth of God’s gospel is the local church community where peace, not division, exists. What are we doing with this precious jewel God has given us?
A prayer. God of the nations, whose kingdom rules over all, have mercy on our broken and divided world. Shed abroad your peace in the hearts of all men and women and banish from them the spirit that makes for war; so that all races and people may learn to live as members of one family and in obedience to your laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.