As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’m co-leading a medium-size-group Bible study through Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. We just held our third session a few nights ago, and I am very thankful for our interaction thus far! Our third session was focused on Ephesians 2:11-3:13, in which Paul continues to contrast what believers were without Christ with what believers presently are in Christ. While in 2:1-10, Paul’s main contrast is between spiritual death and spiritual life, now Paul focuses on the contrast between alienation and reconciliation. In particular, he focuses on how Gentiles were once alienated from both God himself and from the promises God had made to the nation of Israel. Yet now in Christ both Jew and Gentile believers become citizens of the Kingdom and members of the household of God!
How does this happen? On on hand, Christ fulfilled all the ceremonial requirements of the law, thus abolishing that which divided Gentiles from Jews. On the other hand, Christ fulfilled all the standards of holiness contained in the law, thereby abolishing that which divided man from God. Because Christ has fulfilled all aspects of the law and paid the death penalty for sin, all believers (whether Jew or Gentile) find reconciliation with one another and with God.
During our discussion, we tried to observe a few ways in which believers in Christ find a common identity in Christ which transcends ethnic, cultural, and personality differences. Yet, in transcending such differences, the gospel does not minimize nor erase them. Indeed, Christians can embrace their common identity in Christ while also embracing very different cultural heritages, languages, clothing styles, food preferences, etc. As long as diversity does not involve sinful behaviors or thought patterns, diversity can be healthy and beautiful within the body of Christ.
Finally, we spent some time discussing Paul’s understanding of his own ministry. In Ephesians 3:1-13, Paul describes how God had graciously revealed to him the “mystery” of his plan to save the Gentile nations – to make them heirs of his Kingdom and partakers of his promises by the gospel (3:6). Furthermore, God had sent Paul to proclaim this good news to the Gentile nations (compare with Acts 26:16-18). What would be the result? Sinners would be saved by the grace of God, and the wisdom of God would be gloriously displayed for all to see.
Do we see our lives the way Paul saw his? Do we see ourselves as playing parts in God’s plan to bring glory to his name through the salvation of sinners? Do we even believe that God has such a plan and is able to see it through to completion? (If not, perhaps we should revisit Ephesians 1:3-14). Paul saw himself as an agent of God’s grace by which God would bring the gospel to sinners and glory to his name. I pray that by faith in Jesus Christ we can individually and collectively pursue these same goals (which I’ll repeat one more time because they seem worth repeating): the glory of God in the salvation of sinners.
One other thing: if you’d like to see my attempt at “arcing” Ephesians 2:11-3:13, you can take a look here.