Faithlife
Faithlife

God's Grand Plan for World Peace: The Church

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11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility  15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.   17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

The church is often the target of insult and outrage. How can this be when most churches are non-profits, organizations that are supposed to exist for the benefit of the community? The church today is often hated and even more often ignored. Yet, according to the Bible, the church is a major player in God’s grand plan to bring real, lasting, universal peace to the world. The church is God’s idea, and in spite of her failures and shortcomings, the church remains the hope of the world. 

This text explains why the church is able to deliver on such a promise. It is a big promise, indeed. The hope of the world, and the only place that real peace between God and men can be found, is in the church.

Before we get into this passage, I want to start with a definition of what the church is. This will be a controversial definition, but one I think we will see more clearly in this passage. I define the church as the number of all true believers in Christ throughout all of history.

Real Atheists

In order to understand just how amazing the church is, we have to understand who we are apart from it. The apostle Paul wanted to remind his non-Jewish readers what they used to be before they came to faith in Christ. In verses 11-12 he paints a not-so-pretty picture. He reminds them that they were “the uncircumcision.” As such they were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

By saying that these Gentiles were “the uncircumcision,” Paul was reminding them that they lacked the physical evidence which would prove one was in covenant relationship with God. They were therefore considered to be unclean—social outcasts to the Jews who at times boasted in their special relationship with God.

But so what? Paul can even speak pejoratively of this physical rite of the Jewish people, saying it is a circumcision “made in the flesh by hands.” And in Romans 2:28-29 Paul makes it clear that true circumcision, the kind that really identifies one as being in proper relationship with God, is “a matter of the heart.” So did the fact that the Gentiles did not share the same physical identity as the Jews do anything more than cause hatred between the two groups of people?

In verse 12 Paul says that yes, it did. Not being a part of the Jewish people meant that one was “separated from” Messiah, the Christ. The Messiah belonged to the Jewish nation, and since these Gentiles were “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel” they would also be alienated from the Christ. Furthermore, they were “strangers to the covenants of promise.” That is, they did not hold the privileged position as part of God’s chosen people. Hence, they were estranged from the covenants that promised land, descendents, and God’s presence.[1]

According to Paul, these circumstances meant that these Gentiles had no hope. The hope that the Gentiles were once lacking was not a hope for earthly success or dreams for the future.  In the NT, hope is usually an eschatological signifier, often in reference to the resurrection from the dead (Acts 23:6; 24:15; 26:6-8; 28:20; Rom. 8:23-24; 1Thess. 4:13; 1Pet. 1:3, 21; 1John 3:3).  The reference to hope here is indeed eschatological but falls into the broader concept of salvation.  Only the Messiah of Israel could offer this kind of hope to the Gentiles (Col. 1:27), but their position outside of Israel prevented them from having it.

Being separated from Messiah also meant that they were “without God in the world.” They were true “atheists.” They may have had lots of gods, but they were without the one true God. This serves to highlight their hopelessness. If they do not know the true God in this world, how can they hope to know him in the next?

The Surprising Work of Messiah

But Paul says in verse 13 that something transforming has taken place. These Gentiles who were once “far off” from God and his promises and his blessings have been “brought near” to those promises and blessings. How did this happen? It happened not by their own effort but by the fact that they can now be said to be “in Christ Jesus.” But in verse 12 they were said to be “separated from Christ.” How then can they now be “in Christ”? It is because they have been brought near “by the blood of Christ.”

The Gentiles did not “come near;” they were “brought near by the blood of Christ.” It was the surprising work of the Messiah that accomplished this transformation on behalf of the Gentiles. I say it was a surprising work because the Jews thought Messiah was solely their possession. They thought Messiah would come mainly to restore the kingdom to the nation of Israel. Instead, Messiah came to make dead people live.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:4-6)

Peace on Earth

I have said that the church is the number of all true believers in Christ throughout all of history. If my definition is correct, then Paul is saying that these Gentiles are brought near to the promises of God by virtue of now being a part of the church. I have also said that the church is God’s grand plan for real peace in this world. But so far all we have seen is that the church is the sphere in which people are brought close to God. Indeed, that is what most people think the church is for, to help people find their peace with God.

While it is certainly true that this is what it means to be a part of the church, it is not what Paul wishes to emphasize when he says in verse 14 that Jesus Christ himself is “our peace.” Here he wants us to see that Christ did not come only to establish peace in heaven; he came to establish peace on earth. Listen to how the apostle describes it.

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Eph 2:14-16)

Do you see the emphasis of these verses? Jesus Christ has broken down the walls of hostility between the two most racially-hostile groups of people. The Jews felt superior to the Gentiles since they were God’s chosen people. The Gentiles hated the Jews for their arrogance and have murdered millions of them down through the centuries. And Christ gave his life not only to reconcile men to God, but to reconcile men to each other. He gave his life for this very purpose! That means that if we aim to be the kind of church that exalts the glory of Christ’s death, we cannot be a people who separate over pettiness like skin color or economic status or genealogical arrogance. Black or white, rich or poor, young or old—the church has only one affinity, and that is Christ.

In other words, the church is a new creation of God made exclusively around the supremacy of Jesus. This is a theme that runs through the end of this chapter. Christ is the “inclusive representative” of this new creation where believers are incorporated into Him.[2] It is important to note that this new creation is a third entity that transcends the other two (Jew and Gentile) as part of God’s plan to “sum up all things in Christ” (Eph. 1:10).  In Christ, all dividing barriers are done away and peace is the result. “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncricumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

One New Man

So what we have seen in this text is that Christ died in order to bring Gentiles near to the promises of God, and in order to end the cause of hostilities between Jews and Gentiles. By creating “one new man in place of the two,” Christ was able to make peace between two former bitter enemies. Again this means that this “new man” is not an incorporation of Gentiles into Jews, but the creation of a new entity composed of both groups. Together, these two groups are now reconciled to God “in one body through the cross.” This “body” made of both Jews and Gentiles has a name. According to Colossians 1:18 it is known as “the church.” The church is the place where hostilities between mankind are put to an end as together these sinners are reconciled to God.

So if the church is a “new creation” of God, how can I say that the church consists of all true believers in Jesus throughout history? What about the Old Testament saints? Paul tells us elsewhere that not everyone who descends from Israel belong to Israel (Rom 9:6-8). Abraham is said to be the father of all who believe, whether circumcised or not (Rom 4:11-12). In other words, the chosen people of God in the Old Testament may have been the entire nation of Israel, but that does not mean that every one of the Jewish people truly belonged to the people of God. Some refused to believe and were cut off. And I conclude that the chosen people of God in the New Testament are known as the church, but there will always be those within the church who are also not truly a part of the people of God. The true people of God throughout Scripture are those who believe God and his revelation to man.

So what God promised to his people in the Old Testament are basically the promises of God to his church in the New Testament. That’s why Paul can say in our passage that the Gentiles have now been brought near to the promises of God while at the same time say that God has reconciled Jews and Gentiles together in one new man, in his body, the church. It also explains why Jesus “came and preached peace” both to those who were “far off” (unredeemed Gentiles) as well as to those who were “near” (unredeemed Jews). Both needed reconciliation with the other and with God, and this could only take place in a new humanity, a new community called the church. God’s saving purposes are accomplished only among his chosen people, which we may call true Israel or the true church.

A Dwelling Place for God

Paul’s concluding thoughts in this passage present an even more glorious picture of the church. While once we were “strangers and aliens,” we have now become “fellow citizens with the saints” and even “members of the household of God.” It would be hard to miss the contrast that has taken place here. The Gentiles were once far off, but now they have been brought so near to God and his blessings that they have become members of the house in which God dwells. And this house is being built with Jews and Gentiles side by side.

The picture of the church given in this passage is simply magnificent. Why then does the church that we see so often look nothing like the description we read about here? How can it be that the church is far from the place where reconciliation among fellow human beings takes place. Why is 11:00 on Sunday mornings still the most segregated hour of the week in America?

One answer may be that the description Paul gives in this passage represents the invisible or universal church. In other words, Paul is not talking about a local congregation called a church but the church at large. The universal church includes people from different countries and continents as well as people from the different eras of history. Whether they know it or not, they are being built together over the centuries into “a dwelling place for God.”

Indeed the emphasis of this passage is on the universal church, but that does not mean that Paul does not expect these things to also be true in the local or visible church. Our failure to live up these ideals does not eliminate the reality of them but only serves to point out the fact that God is still building his church. That is, he is still adding to our number and he is still building us. “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God.” (Eph 2:22). It is because of the reality of what the church is becoming that Paul can tell his readers “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). In other words, Paul wants us to see what we as the universal church are becoming by God’s power so that we will be able to carry out those ideals now by that same power in our local assemblies.

Peace Only Through Christ

So the church is God’s creation, consisting of all of the redeemed throughout all history. And it is God’s grand plan for world peace because it is only in the church that we find real, lasting peace both with God and with our fellow man. This peace is what Jesus died to obtain for us. This is the ideal that the church everywhere should be striving for.

But there is one last thing I want to say. The peace that the church proclaims is one that is not always accepted. The church is built upon the foundation of what the apostles and prophets taught. And their teaching was based upon the cornerstone of Jesus Christ himself. That means that the only message of peace that the church can rightly bring is the message of Christ’s death on the cross. If the church abandons that message, it has lost its power. That’s why the only hope the church has of being all that God has created her to be is if the church remains faithful to Christ and what the apostles and prophets have said about him. We will look more closely at this thought next week, Lord willing.


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[1] Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker (Dallas: Word Books, 1990), 137.

[2] Lincoln, Ephesians, 143.

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