Reconciled to Be God's Dwelling

 
  Ephesians 2:11-22  
 

We're about to look at one of the most fascinating passages in Ephesians, but we'll be skipping rapidly over the first two-thirds of it. I am including it for context, but I want to examine in detail verses 18-22 which bring us a wonderful picture of the church as a building, a temple, the dwelling place for God in the Spirit. So, bear with me as I lay the groundwork rather quickly.

Once Separate from God's People (2:11-12)

Paul begins this section by describing the state of his Gentile Christian readers prior to their conversion. Maybe it describes your pre-Christian state, too.

"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." (2:11-12)

"Gentiles" is the Greek noun ethnos, which first means "a body of persons united by kinship, culture, and common traditions, nation, people." The Jews used the plural to refer to non-Jews who didn't profess faith in the God of Israel. The plural can be translated "the nations, gentiles, unbelievers." The recipients of Paul's letter to Ephesians were Gentile Christians.

Paul is writing to people who, not too long ago, were full-blown pagans, participants in mystery religions, adherents to the cult of Artemis, involved in magic and sorcery, and perhaps other religions. They were far from the monotheism of the Jewish people, far from a moral conscience informed by the Ten Commandments. They were moved by the passions of their society and, behind the scenes, the demonic influences upon that society. Paul describes them in verses 1 and 2:

"You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient." (2:1-2)

In verse 12, Paul points out five aspects of the Gentiles' pre-Christian condition (and our condition before coming to Christ):

  1. "Separate from Christ." The Jews, at least, had the promise and expectation of a deliverer, the Messiah. The Gentiles had none.
  2. "Excluded from citizenship in Israel." "Excluded" is the Greek verb apallotrioo, "estrange, alienate." The Gentiles were estranged from the nation of Israel, aliens to the people of God.
  3. "Foreigners to the covenants of promise." "Foreigners" is the Greek adjective xenos, "strange, unfamiliar." Here it means "stranger, alien." With regard to the covenants through which God brought blessing to his people, they were strangers. They had no clue. They had no covenant with God at all.
  4. "Without hope." How sad, to have no hope in God. No promises to trust in. No hope of God's rescue or salvation or intervention. No long-term future.
  5. "Without God in the world." "Without God" is the Greek adjective atheos (from the same root as our word "atheist"), "pertaining to being without a relationship to God, without God" as in our passage. The word is also used of those who deny God. Can you imagine what it must be like to be "without God"? Maybe you've felt like that -- alone, all by yourself in a scary world.

Remember what you were before you knew Jesus!

Made the Two into One Making Peace (2:13-15)

This next passage deals with the relationship of Christians to the Law. However, for this study we'll just read it, so we can spend time on the later verses in our passage.

"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." (2:13-15)

The Law was a barrier that caused hostility between Jew and Gentile. Christ, the Prince of Peace, becomes our peace, and speaks peace to us. Then, in himself, he unites Gentile and Jewish believers into a single new Humanity. "Man" is the Greek noun anthropos, which is the generic word for human, and does not indicate human gender, either masculine or feminine. Our word "anthropology" comes from this root. The new man, the new humanity, however, is Christ himself, and all of us are incorporated into his "body." The result is peace, concord, well-being -- something of the flavor of the Hebrew shalom which Paul certainly has in his head.

Access to the Father (2:16-18)

"... 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." (2:16-18)

"Reconcile" comes from a root that means "to change, to exchange," that is, rather than hostility where estranged parties avoid communication with each other, reconciled parties now engage in mutual dialog and social intercourse.

Because we are reconciled to God, with whom we didn't previously have "diplomatic relations," now we have access. I love this word! "Access" from the verb prosago, "bring into someone's presence, come near, approach."

We have ready access before the God of gods. We can come at any time, day or night. We have ultimate access!

"Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)

         Notice the basis of our access -- "in" or "by" (Greek preposition en) "one Spirit" (2:18). Remember the Spirit's role, because we encounter the Spirit again in 2:22.

 

         Notice to whom we have access -- "the Father" (2:18). We aren't left to deal with lesser beings, but have the privilege of direct access to the King of kings and Lord of lords himself!

 

         And notice who it is who grants this access, who opens the door -- Jesus Christ. Though he is "the mediator between God and humankind (anthropos)" (1 Timothy 2:5; NRSV), he is not some kind of spiritual bridge through which all messages and prayers must pass. Rather, he ushers into the presence of "the Father" -- his Father -- and lets us sit there and talk to the Father about whatever is troubling us. Jesus has made peace and brought us to God.

Now let me summarize. We, as individuals and, corporately, as the church have wonderful privileges:

  • Peace and reconciliation with God
  • Access to the Father

Fellow Citizens (2:19a)

Now let's consider the privileges spelled out in the next verse:

"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household...." (2:19)

Rather than being aliens and non-citizens, we are now fellow citizens. In the United States, most of us were born citizens and take citizenship for granted. We are humbled by immigrants from other lands who aspire to be Americans and are overjoyed on the day when they take the oath of allegiance and become fellow-citizens. Being a citizen was also a big deal in Paul's day. Citizenship wasn't granted to people who were residents, even those who had been born in a country. It was a special status granted only to some. As you follow Paul's life you can see some of the protections that citizenship afforded him under the Roman legal system of the time. As a citizen he had certain rights.

Notice that we are "fellow citizens with God's people". The Greek word used here is hagios, "pertaining to being dedicated or consecrated to the service of God, holy, sacred," here, of people, "holy ones." Previously only Jews had the status of God's holy people. Now it is granted to Gentile believers as well.

It is important to observe that we don't become independent of the Jews, but share in the privileges they already had as God's people. In Romans, Paul uses the analogy of the olive tree into which the Gentile Christians are grafted (Romans 11:16-21), and reminds Gentiles that the tree is Israel.

Members of the Household (2:19b)

In addition to being fellow citizens, we are now members of God's house.

"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household...." (2:19)

"House" (a building) and "household" (a family) can all be referenced by the same Greek word, oikos, "house." This is important because at this point Paul begins an analogy of a building, which culminates in being the grandest house of all, a temple.

The analogy starts with our privileges -- being fellow citizens with the saints, and now being members of the house(hold) of God. "Members of the household" is the Greek noun oikeios, "persons who are related by kinship or circumstances and form a closely-knit group, members of a household." Paul also uses the word in Galatians 6:10.

We are not just house guests or house servants, dear friends, we have been adopted and are now family members, children of the Father. Wow!

The Church is a family. You may be able to pick your friends, but you can't pick your family. You just are assigned them -- and they you! The church is not an exclusive club of those who are raised like you are, or have a certain level of education, or live in the right neighborhood, or come from a particular race or social class. Your brothers and sisters, some of them, have come from hard backgrounds. Some are wounded. Some are hurting. Some are healing. Some are powerful in the Spirit. You don't choose them but you must love them. Why? Because they have one thing in common. They all trust in Jesus Christ and have been chosen, elected, by the Father to be his family.

You see, "family" is not a comfortable, clubby concept, "just us four, no more." It is the Father's family, and he teaches love as the prime directive within his household. We learn to love each other in the family, and, so doing, create a microcosm of God's love in an imperfect world. We are family and are joined to each other by very strong bonds.

A Holy Temple (2:20-21)

Having begun with the concept of household, family, Paul's thought now moves to the other meaning of "house"a building.

"....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." (2:20-21)

This structure has several important parts:

         The foundation is the apostles and prophets. The teaching of the prophets to the Old Covenant congregation and the teaching of the apostles to the New Covenant congregation provide a firm foundation. These foundation people are no longer living, but their words are preserved for us in Scripture. That is why we value Scripture so highly.

 

         The cornerstone. Jesus is part of that foundation, too. He is the one who called the apostles, taught them, and commissioned them to pass on his message to us. He is also the Redeemer who brought us salvation. Here he is referred to as the "chief cornerstone" the stone that is laid first and gives form and unity to the entire building. It is a reference to Isaiah 28:16:

"See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who trusts will never be dismayed."

         Building. The "building" is the Greek noun oikodome, "building, edifice." You and I and billions of Christians living and dead -- we are the building (also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3:9 and 2 Corinthians 5:1)

 

         Fasteners. "Joined together" is used here and in Ephesians 4:16, where it refers to the church as a body that is joined together. Before bolts and nails, wooden structures were held together by carefully constructed joints. The carpenter would chisel a slot or notch in one beam engineered perfectly to fit another beam that would join to it, locking in place with a peg or dowel. In fine stone buildings, stones were often cut and fashioned at the quarry to fit exactly with the stones that would be next to them in order to keep the structure from coming apart in case of an earthquake.

A Dwelling Place for God (2:22)

And now Paul comes to you and me, and reveals a key divine purpose for both the universal Church and each local congregation:

"And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." (2:22)

Paul continues the construction analogy. "Built together" is a Greek word which means "to build up or construct of various parts, build up (together)." You and I are not built to be Lone Ranger Christians. We are to be built together with others.

But, Lord, some of those people in the church are hard people to love. Lord, leave me alone. I don't want to be part of a building. Loving them is too difficult. Dear friends, being part of a church congregation -- being built into it with others -- is not an option for us, it is God's plan for us. We are living stones (1 Peter 2:5), living 2x4s, joined to others to create something beyond ourselves. Something not for our benefit, but God's. God desires us to be part of a holy temple -- his holy temple -- for his purposes.

Why?

The answer brings a sense of reverence, of holy awe. This verse tells us that God wants you and I be part of a temple in which God himself desires to dwell.

When Gods presence came to inhabit the tabernacle first and then the temple later, he so filled it that the priests could not enter to do their work. No wonder Paul's doxology says, "To him be glory in the church!" (Ephesians 3:21)

But we are not outside the Temple wondering what it's like to know this God and experience his presence. We are part of the Temple itself, onlookers and participants in what God is doing in his congregations. You and I, with others in our communities, form a Temple, a congregation, for God to dwell in.

We are the Temple of God in microcosm, manifested in our community. It doesn't matter if we are small, Jesus is present where even two or three are gathered together in his name (Matthew 18:20). When we gather together in his name, his power and presence is mighty. Come, be part of the holy Temple in which God will dwell by his Spirit. It is God's desire for you and your destiny in God.

Churches, temples of God's dwelling, are outposts of God's glory and presence and power in every community all over the world. Without you and others like you forming the Temple, the church is absent part of God's people. But when you and others make a commitment to become part of the Temple, the congregation, then God himself comes to dwell in that congregation and make himself known.