By Richard Lim
All throughout history, human beings have been preoccupied with building walls, from the Great Wall of China to the Berlin walls. Walls signify one thing, they are built to keep people out, to cause division and segregation.
In Ephesians 2, Paul speaks of the demolition of the biggest wall of his time that separated the Jews and Gentiles. In the context of this chapter, the first part of it emphasizes that we have been saved by grace through faith. When a person comes to Christ and submits himself in obedience by being baptized into Christ through faith, there is a vertical reconciliation that takes place. We reconcile with God and we receive God’s gift of salvation. But most of us stop here and we don’t pay much attention to the rest of the good news presented to us in the rest of Ephesians chapter 2. The second part of this chapter tells us that not only are we reconciled vertically, but we are also reconciled horizontally. The work of the cross is both vertical and horizontal.
There existed a divided hostility between the Jews and the Gentiles in the first century world. There was a huge disparity between these two groups. Both Jews and Gentiles looked down on each other. The Jews filled with ethnic pride thought that they were the chosen people of God. They referred to the Gentiles in a derogatory way – “the uncircumcised.” They hated and despised the Gentiles. In fact, the standing symbol of this enmity between them was the stone wall that we can see in the magnificent temple
of Jerusalem during Jesus’ time. If we look at the temple, there was the court of the priest, adjacent to that there was the court of Israel for all Israelite men and further east was the court for women. These three courts were on the same elevation of the temple. There is another court that was on a lower elevation than these three and separated by a wall which is the court of the Gentiles. This was for the non-Jews who had to stand beneath and look up to the temple because they were not allowed to approach any
Latest archaeology discovery showed that the dividing stone wall had warning signs written on it. We normally used the signs “trespassers will be prosecuted” but they had the sign “trespassers will be executed”. At the same time, the Gentiles find the Jews to be rather peculiar. To them the Jews were spurned oddballs that followed strange customs such as circumcision, kosher food, Sabbath and worship of one God.
So Paul argues here in Ephesians 2:11-12, that not only are the Gentiles alienated from God but sin has caused alienation with each other as well. The Gentiles were so far away from God and excluded from the citizenship of being God’s people. They were excluded from the covenant of promise, without hope and without God. However, all that is about to change in the next verse. In verse 13, “but now we who were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” What it means is that no longer has one people group or one nation have exclusive rights to God but because of Jesus, every
single people group can have excess to God.
Notice the next verse, “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle of separation.” Jesus did not lower the wall but He dismantled it, the dividing barrier was completely torn down. The wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles were totally taken down.
Then in verse 15, by removing the old law, Jesus then creates a new man, thus making peace. The word “new” that is being used here is “kainos” which means something that is so new that it is unheard of. It is a new kind, unprecedented, never heard or seen before. It is not a new or a latest model but a new invention. This idea was so radical in the first century that it blew people’s mind. How can two groups of people with so much enmity be reconciled together in peace!! Even apostle Peter in Acts chapter 10 found it difficult to accept initially! Yes, they have now become fellow citizens and members of the household of God, as stated in verse 19. This unity is based on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone.
Now that the unity and the bond of peace have been achieved through Jesus, Paul made an appeal to the church to keep this unity and the bond of peace in chapter 4 of Ephesians. How are we to accomplish it? He gave us some distinct attitudes necessary for this purpose in this chapter. Most importantly, unity demands humility. The spirit of gentleness and lowliness are utmost important traits required in endeavoring to keep this unity. Evil motives will destroy unity. Paul warned the Philippian church in chapter 2 to beware of selfish ambitions and conceit which will destroy unity. Cliques, power-plays among brethren in the church are forbidden by the scriptures (I Cor 1:10-17). Some of the members in the church in Corinth were busy lining up supporters and Paul had to rebuke them.
The apostle John, apostle of love, wrote of a brother who loved the pre-eminence in 3 John 9-10. We must have the sense of “smallness”. Do we esteem others better than ourselves as encouraged by Paul in Philippians 2:3?
Secondly, unity demands that we look for the welfare of others above ourselves according to Philippians 2:4. Of course, this is not an endorsement for being busy bodies (1 Peter 4:15) but rather putting the interest of others as our first priority. This will eliminate selfish pride.
Finally, unity demands that we have the mind of Christ as mentioned in Philippians 2:5. Jesus indeed is our best example for He was meek and humble, always looking into our best interest. Indeed it was because of our interest that He gave up heaven. Having the mind of Christ eliminates pettiness and the conduct of driving wedges between good brethren. On the contrary, it encourages genuine care and promotes oneness.
Unity is not an easy task, but it is possible. It results from the agreement of minds (Amos 3:3) just as Jesus and the Father are in one mind (John 10:30.) In Philippians 2:2, Paul made the appeal again for brethren to be of one mind, one love and one accord.
The Bible tells us that unity among God’s people is a tremendous blessing – “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” Psalms. 133:1.