Foreign to Familiar

November 12, 2017 sermon
By John Ulrich, Lead Pastor

Ephesians 2:11-23

The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 2:11-22, uses pictures of buildings to show us the change in status of the world’s relationship with God from “before Jesus” to “after Jesus”. In the Old Testament, only the Israelites, were able to enter God’s presence and have access to His Spirit in the inner Jewish Temple. In the New Testament, because of Christ’s death, God canceled the Jewish law and its hostility so that we (both Jews and Gentiles) could become one body, a “new humanity” of all believers, His “holy temple” in the hearts of His people, with Jesus as the cornerstone, where all can access God through His Spirit.

Just as Paul had to instruct the Church in diversity: how to move Christians from considering Gentiles as “foreigners” without God to “fellow citizens with God’s people”/family. We as a church, Christians, followers, believers need to open our hearts to accepting and loving the diversity of God’s people in all cultures, ethnicities, socio-economic classes, political views, backgrounds, spiritual gifts, even theology in secondary issues, etc.

Principles of Diversity (Unity) in His Church: (Ephesians 2:11-22)

  • God has always desired diversity in His Church. (Acts, Romans 14, I Corinthians)
  • Diversity is difficult. Diversity brings the tough possibility of conflict for sinful people like ourselves, but as Christians we can continually confess the shortcomings of ourselves and others, and be grateful for His grace.
  • God desires diversity anyway. Christ died for our brokenness from the world, the flesh, and Satan; He calls us to be one new person in one “household” – the Church.
  • The key to unity is the Gospel. Jesus nullified the law and our hostility by His death, and reconciles us through His Cross. This gives us a starting point for loving each other as we are all on the same footing: all equally lost (dead, dominated, doomed). The gospel promotes unity by killing self righteousness/judgmentalism through faith and humility in God, and by enabling us to forgive others freely because God has forgiven us.

We have unified diversity through the Gospel. As we live out the Gospel, we are growing into becoming the temple of God (Eph. 2:21) where people will experience God’s glory (Eph.2:22) in our relationships with ALL His people. May we live out and share the hope of the Gospel with All others. Our intentional diversity here at Perry Creek Church causes us to ask different questions of Scripture…and it’s beautiful!

Discussion Questions

  1. Is unity in diversity really possible in our present country filled with angry rhetoric toward others who differ from us?
  2. Is there a difference between the world’s view of inclusion & diversity, and God’s desire for diversity?
  3. Have you ever seen or participated in divisions that impact the ministry or effectiveness of a church?
  4. What specific thoughts, attitudes, or actions might help keep us united as we grow as a church? How is difficult?
  5. Is diversity in our small groups desirable or distracting?
  6. How do we as Christians overcome backgrounds that either give us too much experience with judging others different from ourselves, or absolutely no experience with others different from ourselves?

Introduction

I want to start our sermon this morning with a question: How do you deal with diversity? In our culture in the world in your day to day life how do you deal with the tensions that come about as a result of different ethnicities? Different cultures? Different political views? Different generations? How do you deal with diversity? Do you retreat from it? Do you rage against it? Do you embrace it?

Millions of Americans have undergone formal diversity training at their jobs or at school. But as you can see with one glimpse of the news, our nation is still wrestling deeply with this question of how we deal with diversity.

How do we deal with diversity in the Church? In the church, not only do we or should we have the same issues of diversity in ethnicity in culture in politics, maybe in social class. But in a church like Perry Creek, there are added issues like different denominational backgrounds, different spiritual giftings and priorities and different convictions about what’s right and wrong for a Christian. How do we deal with those? How do we deal with diversity?

If you had been around in Paul’s day when the book of Ephesians was written, you would have seen one area in culture and in the church where this issue of diversity was wreaking havoc, one area where people were absolutely confused as to how to work out their differences. That area was the relationship between Jews and Gentiles.

Israel was God’s chosen nation. He had rescued it from Egypt. He had given it laws about what they should and shouldn’t eat, how they should and shouldn’t behave. God had given Israel the temple and the sign of circumcision. He had commanded Israel to keep separate from the Gentiles. The Gentiles worshipped idols. They did things that God detested, like offering their children to false Gods. Every time Israel mixed with them Israel became badly corrupted. So God commanded Israel to keep distant to avoid the Gentiles.

So there were these two distant groups: Jews and Gentiles. But by the time we get to the New Testament, that distance had turned to animosity. Jews and Gentiles hated each other. The Gentiles had conquered Israel. They had overthrown the government deported the people, and worst of all, they had violated the temple sacrificing a pig to Zeus on the altar of the Lord.

So by the time we get to the New Testament, the hostility was rampant, and nobody knew how to deal with it. Some Jews isolated themselves and moved to the dessert. Others, like the Pharisees, scorned the Gentiles. They lived around them, but they observed the Law in an exaggerated fashion to remind everyone who had God’s approval and who didn’t! Some Jews, like the Zealots, resorted to violence. They killed Gentiles and eventually waged war on Rome. There was a great deal of hostility caused by this Jew/Gentile diversity, and no one knew how to deal with it.

Now, in the midst of this environment came the church. Jesus died to create it. He based it on faith, and he commanded that in the church, Jews and Gentiles were to mix. They were to worship side by side and serve with one another. It was a pretty tall order, and it was difficult! Nobody knew how to do this! Because of that, Paul wrote the passage that we are going to look at today – a passage written to a mostly Gentile Church about:

  • How to deal with this diversity of Jew and Gentile
  • How to regard one another
  • How to relate to one another
  • How to deal with the hostility that was a part of their cultural background

Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 2:11-22. Now this is an amazing passage to me. This is the high point of the book of Ephesians, and it’s so important for us today! This is really the place where Paul explains how God enables us to move from Foreign to Familiar. This passage focuses mostly on the relationship between Jew and Gentile, but it really applies to any kind of diversity we experience in the church, because this passage gives us the foundation for how we as Christians and as a church should view the differences between us. It’s going to give us the principles that move us from being foreign to familiar. So what we’re going to do today is this:

  1. I’m going to quickly walk you through this passage, so that you understand what Paul is saying, because there’s a lot of history in these verses.
  2. We’re going to apply this passage to our lives. I’m going to give you four important principles about diversity in the church.

Here is my prayer. I do not come to you today as someone who has this all figured out, but this passage is a big part of my heart, and it’s a heartbeat of our church. So I pray that as we talk about diversity as something God values and talk about how he’s made provision for it, that His heart will become our heart and that we will all embrace the diversity he’s called us to. So let’s read Ephesians 2:11-22. Paul writes these words to the mostly gentile church at Ephesus:

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) 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. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 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, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
– Ephesians 2:11-23

We want to start today by looking at the passage, and the passage is kinda hard to understand! Did you notice that? I read it to the Lead Team for devotions the other night and asked them what they got out of the passage. For the first time ever, there was just silence! Finally, one of them said “That’s just there’s a lot there!” True that! There’s a lot of history and a lot of deep theology behind what Paul is saying here, so let me just walk you through the big strokes as quickly as I can! First, in this passage Paul is using a lot of Jewish Temple imagery to show us that God has moved us from being foreigners to him and to each other to being family. We’ve gone from foreign to Familiar.

The Passage: God has moved us from being Foreign to being Familiar

Paul starts in verses 11-12 by giving us the predicament of the Gentiles people, like you and me, unless you are Jewish. This is our situation before we found Christ, and let me say it wasn’t good! Look at what Paul says:

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth (here’s our situation ) 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.
– Ephesians 2:11-23

Wow! That’s not a very rosy picture. Paul is reminding his readers here that in the Old Testament God dealt with mankind primarily through the nation of Israel. To be an Israelite was to know the One true God. It was to have a covenant with him to know the Messiah was going to come through your nation. It was to have hope for the future and laws to guide your life. Yes, those laws made you distinct in the way you dressed, and ate and acted. But in the Old Testament, to be an Israelite was to be near to God.

But to be a Gentile was to have none of that. You could become a Jew, if you were brave enough to be circumcised. But if you weren’t, none of this belonged to you. You didn’t know God, you had no promises from him, and you probably didn’t even know there was such a thing as a Messiah! To be a Gentile was to be on the outside, far from God and far from his people.

Now one of the places that you really felt that distance was at the Temple. If you went to the temple, not only was there a big permanent curtain that divided the Holy of Holies where God dwelt from all people, but if you were a Gentile you were even further divided. You couldn’t even get close to the place where God dwelt, because the Old Testament Law said you were unclean.

So there was a dividing wall at the Temple that separated the inner court where the people of Israel worshipped God and offered sacrifices from the outer court where Gentiles were allowed to worship. You were divided from God and from God’s people. But look at:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.
– Ephesians 2:13-15a

Our situation before we found Christ was not good. We were distant from God and distant from his people. Paul uses a beautiful image here to show us what Christ did for us. See, that wall in the temple that separated Jew from Gentile. It was not just a wall of division. It was a wall of hostility. If you went to the temple, you would see on that wall every so often big signs that said “If you are a Gentile and you go beyond this wall, we will kill you!” And they did! The Jews were allowed to execute any Gentile, even Roman Citizens, for crossing that wall. It was a wall of hostility.

Paul is using that imagery to show us that Jesus’ death changed all of that. When Jesus died, the curtain that separated man from God was torn in two giving us access to God. When he died, he didn’t just destroy the dividing wall physically. He did something bigger. He completely obliterated the need for that wall. Because Paul tells us that when Jesus died, he nullified the Law.

I wish we had time to go into all that means but listen: Jesus nullified the Old Testament Law. He cancelled the Law as the basis on which people, any people – Jew or Gentile – relate to God. Jesus fulfilled the Law perfectly, and then he died in our place so that we no longer have to fulfill the law. Neither Jew nor Gentile now has to try to live up to those Old Testament commands.

They’ve been done away with, and we have a new covenant with God, so there is no need for distinction. Israel, no longer has to do the things in that Old Testament law. They no longer have to dress differently, eat differently and no longer have to be circumcised. Gentiles are no longer unclean. So there’s no need for any wall between Jew or Gentile or any of us. The wall is destroyed through Christ. Paul tells us why. Look at what he says:

His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
– Ephesians 2:15-18

Jesus’ goal was not just to make it easier for Gentiles, like you and me, to become Jews. That’s not what he was about. Rather, his goal was to create a new category of humanity – not Jew, not Gentile, but Church Christian – Christ Follower, Believer. He created a new category of humanity that is not based on your ethnicity, not based on your culture or your income or your gender, but a category that is based on faith in Jesus.

Through that faith, as we accept Christ’s death, we move from being far to being near. Through that torn curtain, we now have open access to God. Through that broken wall, we now have access to one another. Regardless of ethnicity, culture, status, or gender. We move from being foreigners to God and one another to being family.

And because of that, Paul continues with this imagery to show us that God is building us into a completely new kind of temple. Look at verses 19-22:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
– Ephesians 2:19-22

The temple of God is no longer in Jerusalem. Now the temple, the place where God dwells, is not determined by geography or a building. Rather, the temple of God is in the hearts of his people, people of all kinds that call upon God. People that God has moved from foreign to familiar.

So that’s the passage. Paul uses temple imagery to show that God has moved us. He has changed our status from foreign to familiar. There’s a lot of different directions we could go with this passage. We could talk about our relationship to the Law. We could talk about the nature of the church. We could talk about the blessings of Israel and how they apply to us. But what I want to talk about today, the place my heart went months ago when I first began to think about this passage, is this issue of diversity in the church.

Because this passage lays the groundwork, not just for Jew and Gentile diversity, not just for ethnic diversity, but for diversity of every kind to exist in the church. This passage is one of the foundational passages about that. So let me give you:

Four Important Principles about Diversity

The first principle is just this:

 

  1.  God has always desired (unified) diversity in his Church

Make no mistake, God has always wanted diversity in his church. Think about the way the church began. If you read the book of Acts, like we did earlier in this year, God started the church at Pentecost by miraculously enabling the Apostles to speak to several different groups of people in their native tongue. Remember that? See chances are all those people would have spoken Greek. It was the universal trade language. But God didn’t speak to them in Greek. He spoke to them in their own language, in their heart language to invite them to come as they were.

God wanted diversity. If you keep reading in Acts, God went to great lengths to ensure diversity in his church. He sent a vision to Peter to get him to talk to an Italian. He miraculously transported Phillip, so he would talk to an Ethiopian. God let persecution break out, so that his church would spread out and include Samaritans and Greeks and people of different ethnicities.

In our passage, the primary point of diversity is Jew vs. Gentile, because the church was still trying to figure that out and because there was a history of division and violence between them. But if you read the New Testament, God wants all kinds of diversity in his church:

  • God wants diversity in ethnicity. That’s why Paul planted the church at Ephesus. It was a melting pot for the area. But God also wants diversity in social class. The New Testament talks directly to both the rich and the poor as being in the same church.
  • God wants diversity in spiritual gifts. Part of the reason Paul wrote 1 Corinthians is that the Corinthians thought everyone should have the same spiritual gift. Paul is saying “No,m God wants diversity in our spiritual gifts.”
  • God even wants diversity in our theology! Did you know that? Not on primary issues – that’s called heresy! But on secondary issues. Romans 14 talks to Christian brothers with different convictions about holy days, and alcohol, and what a Christian should eat. Paul says “Let every one be fully convinced of what he thinks is right, but stay together. Don’t spend all your time trying to straighten each other out!”

Different ethnicities, different cultures, different socio-economic classes, different theology – God wants it all in his church. God created one new man! He doesn’t just want diversity in his church. He wants diversity in This church. We’re very intentional about that. We want that diversity of cultures, of incomes, of backgrounds, of theology on secondary issues. It causes us to ask different questions of Scripture, and it’s beautiful. God desire diversity in his church.

2.  Diversity is difficult

Look at the passage. Paul talks about people being foreigners to one another. He talks about exclusion. He talks about barriers and a dividing wall. He talks about hostility. Why? Because diversity is difficult! It’s hard! We see this all throughout the New Testament. In the early part of Acts right after the church is formed, there’s conflict between Greek-speaking Jews and Aramaic speaking Jews over the way their widows were being treated. Diversity created difficulty!

In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul has to get onto the rich, because they are mistreating the poor and not sharing with them at the Lord’s Supper. So Paul has to rebuke the rich. In James, it’s the opposite. James has to get onto the poor for sucking up to the rich and being nice to them, just because of what they can get out of them. Diversity created difficulty! In Romans, people are dividing over theological convictions. Can a Christian drink wine? Can he eat meat that may have been offered to an idol? Should he celebrate the Sabbath?

Underneath just about every church in the New Testament was this division between Jew and Gentile that is addressed in our passage. There was this question of how Jewish someone had to be to become a Christian. There was conflict or the occasion for conflict everywhere, not because these were evil people, but because diversity is difficult.

It’s tough! Let me give you an example what I’m talking about. The other day UK and I had coffee. We were talking about the differences between American culture and African cultures. Most Africans have what’s called a warm climate culture. They value relationship. They are very relational, very respectful, very community-oriented. In Nigeria (where UK was born), it would be considered the height of rudeness to go into a room and not greet everyone in the room. It would be considered extremely disrespectful to sit down with someone for a business deal and just come straight to the point. In Nigeria if someone asks you a question, you don’t look them in the eye. That’s confrontational. You look down to show respect and to show that you are carefully considering your answer.

That’s how Ukay grew up. Then several years ago he moved to America. America is a cool-climate culture. We value truth and objectivity and productivity. We’re all about getting it done and being direct! In America, if you don’t come to the point, you are wasting people’s time! What does it mean in America if you won’t look me in the eye when I ask you a question? You’re lying!

Ukay said when he first moved here, he was watching a TV show where a policeman said “I can always tell when someone is a criminal, because they don’t look me in the eye, and they take a long time to answer questions!” And Ukay thought: I’m going to end up in jail for sure!

On and on it goes, but what is my point? My point is “Don’t ever look Ukay in the eye when you talk to him!” No! My point is just: Do you see how much potential there is for conflict when we combine these diverse cultures? Not only is there the chance that we could communicate poorly and inadvertently insult someone, but even if we communicate clearly we may have very different priorities!

Diversity is difficult! Then throw other things in the mix in a church:

  • Different education levels
  • Different denominational backgrounds. You’re like “That’s not the way you do communion. You do communion in little cups!
  • Different giftings the teacher values teaching the person with the gift of helps values action
  • Different convictions. Some of you celebrate Halloween. Some don’t.

Diversity can be difficult! Are we not seeing this in our culture? There is division everywhere! In the church, diversity can be difficult. Even when we have the best of intentions, we’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to say insensitive things and frustrate each other with our different priorities and make mistakes even with the very best of intentions. Here’s the thing: We won’t always have the best of intentions. We all still battle the flesh. Sometimes, we are going to say and do and think things that are just wrong. We’re all going to get it wrong sometimes. Diversity is difficult.

So (1) God has always desired diversity in his church, and (2) Diversity is difficult.

3. God desires it anyway

This issue of Jew and Gentile and how they fit together – this diverse puzzle that Paul had to work with it – was tough! He didn’t just have to deal with it here. It’s all over the New Testament. The Apostles had to weigh in on it. They had a big council in Jerusalem of all the church leaders to deal with it. They wrote an official position paper on it! In the end, it almost tore the church apart. They had already had big trouble over this by the time Paul writes Ephesians.

Notice something: Paul doesn’t say “Whew! This diversity thing is tough! OK, start a Jewish church and a Gentile church. Start a rich church and a poor church. Start a Tarheel church and a Wolfpack church.”

What did he say? Think about the passage. He said “Christ gave his life to make you one with you. He has nullified the cause of our division. He has called us to be one new person. He has put us in one family. Now go out and live like it!”

Love one another, with all your brokenness and mistakes and bad assumptions and all the hot messes in your lives! I know it’s hard! All our enemies the world, the flesh, and the devil are conspiring against it. The world system is hard-wired to keep us from unified diversity. Satan would like nothing more than for us to divide and live our Christian lives in isolation or for us to spend all our time in petty squabbles! But we have to do this!

Unified diversity is hard. But God wants it anyway. Last point:

 

4. The Key to unified diversity is the gospel

Notice in this passage on Jew and Gentile unity that Paul doesn’t even mention some of the things that we might expect. He doesn’t mention the Great Commission that tells us the church will be comprised of all nations. He doesn’t talk about the command to love your neighbor as yourself. What he does talk about again and again is the gospel. He says we’ve been brought near by the blood of Christ. He says Jesus nullified the law and our hostility by his death. He says he reconciled us through his cross. Again and again, the gospel. Why? Because the gospel gives us what we need to move toward unified diversity. If you really get the gospel, you will inevitably automatically move toward unified diversity, because it calls us to that by its very nature. The gospel gives us a unified starting point for loving each other. Last week we talked about how lost we are without the gospel. Remember that? Dead. Dominated. Doomed. (It was a cheery message!)

You may not have liked hearing that about you or your loved ones. It’s not pleasant! But here’s why its important: It puts us on equal footing. We’re all lost! We all need the gospel! There’s not one kind of lostness for Africans and another for Americans. There’s not one kind of lostness for the rich and another for the poor. The gospel tells us we’re all equally lost! So that does away with the idea that some people or some kinds of people are innately better than others.

The gospel gives us a unified starting point. The gospel also moves us toward unity, because it kills self-righteousness. When Jesus nullified the law, he ended our ability to hold up a checklist of external behaviors and say “I’m closer to God than you are because my checklist is longer!” Our self-righteousness is done. In the gospel, we relate to God through faith and that means there’s no basis for being judgmental.

The gospel promotes unity by enabling us to forgive. If we are going to do life as the church with people that are different from us, there are times when we are just going to get it wrong! No matter who we are! We are going to unintentionally say things that are insensitive. We are going to attribute wrong motives to someone. We’re going to look Ukay in the eye when we’re talking to him. Just kidding! But from time to time, differences are going to clash, and we’re going to mess up and hurt people. It’s just human nature.

So how do we deal with that? The gospel gives us the tools to forgive. Not to forgive because the other person has been straightened out or to forgive because it’s good for us, but to forgive because we’ve been forgiven. To freely forgive one another with the forgiveness we’ve received in the gospel. That’s the kind of forgiveness we are going to need if we’re going to live out diverse relationships.

There are other things the gospel puts us in the same family. It gives us the same Spirit. It gives us a shared future. My point is that the key to unified diversity in the church is actually the gospel. We can have unified diversity through the gospel.

Let me say this in closing: That gives God a lot of glory! Paul closes this passage by saying that as we live out the gospel, we are now the temple of God. Built on the Apostles and prophets with Jesus as the cornerstone, Paul tells us we are growing into a Holy Temple.

In the Old Testament if you really wanted to feel God’s glory, if you wanted to experience his presence and see what he was like, you went to the Temple. That’s where God’s glory dwelt. That’s where you could really sense his presence.

Paul is saying that as we live out the gospel and as we practice this unified diversity that the gospel propels us to that. We will be that. We will be the place where people sense God’s presence. We will be the place where they can see what his heart is really like. We will be the place where people will experience God’s glory, as he is glorified in our relationships.

God has always desired diversity for his church. Diversity is difficult. He desires it anyway. The key to diversity is the gospel. Let’s live the gospel out.