(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click here)
Faith Bible Church, NY
August 4, 1996
No Prejudice Allowed – Unity in the Church
Prejudice is a vice that transcends all races, all cultures, all social levels. All mankind is inherently self-centered and views everything in terms of himself. Rudyard Kipling well put it:
Father, Mother, and Me
Sister, and Auntie say
All the people like us are WE,
And everyone else is THEY.
Prejudice of all types divide people. It places barriers between us. It stirs up hatred and strife. It leads to all sorts of injustice and inhumanity. Prejudice is not bias. Bias is simply to have a temperamental or emotional leaning in one direction or the other. The mind is not made up. It can still be influenced. The basis of a bias is familiarity. Prejudice is to have already come to your conclusions before the evidence was in. The basis of prejudice is sin.
In view of this, the fact that we find so much prejudice in the world should not be surprising. In our study of Ephesians we have already seen that all mankind born “dead in trespasses and sin.” Prejudice is simply one of the many evidences of man being spiritually dead, in being separated from God. Man does not follow God, but rather the evil influences all around him and within his own heart (2:1-3). As mankind walks according to the influences of society, Satan and selfish interests he judges all other people by how they are different from him by their skin color, country of birth, language spoken, economic level, type of employment, clothing style or personal tastes. The evidence of man’s prejudices are all around us in the form of racism, bigotry, social snobbery, class warfare, etc. Tragically, as our nation moves farther from its heritage in Christianity, we are seeing every type of prejudice, especially racism, increase in breadth, depth and violence.
But again, these problems are not new and they will not go away until the root cause is dealt with, and that is sin. The last few weeks we have been studying Ephesians 2 where Paul expounds on the surpassing greatness of the power of God in dealing with the problem of sin.
Remember from chapter 1 that Paul’s purpose is to magnify the Lord and to answer the prayer he prayed for the Ephesians in 1:15-23. He wants them and us to know the hope of our calling, the riches of the glory of our inheritance and the surpassing greatness of God’s power toward us who believe. In Chapter 2 Paul demonstrates all this by pointing out what we were like and what God did to bring us salvation.
We were dead in trespasses and sin and giving full evidence of that in everything we did. We were shut out from the presence of God and could do nothing about it. There was nothing in us worthy of redemption, nothing to attract God to us. Yet, as verses 4-6 point out, God acted. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly [places], in Christ Jesus.“
God did not do this so we could do whatever we wanted. He did not even do it for our benefit, though we benefit immeasurably from it. He redeemed us from our sins and made us alive for His own glory as verses 7-10 point out. 7 in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Starting in verse 11 Paul brings out another aspect of the surpassing greatness of God. Because God has dealt with man’s sin problem, He has also brought about the means to end prejudice. Men and women of all races and cultures could be united as brothers and sisters in God’s family. The hatred and strife could end. Our identity would no longer be based on how we look or our cultural heritage. A unity unknown to sinful man could not exist. Paul explains this terms of the negative and the positive, our past in sin and our present in Christ while also explaining our new position, blessing and relationships in Christ.
OUR PAST – The Negative.
Look first and verse 11 -12 which explain our past, the negative state we existed in prior to salvation in Jesus Christ.
Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” [which is] performed in the flesh by human hands– 12 [remember] that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Paul first calls us to remember our previous state and then he points out it’s five consequences.
“Therefore remember” in view of what I have just told you remember what condition you were in when God did His work in you. You were dead in trespasses and sin, but God made you alive. You have no basis, no reason to boast. God has extended to you mercy. In addition, you Ephesians were Gentiles. The same is true of everyone here except those of Jewish heritage.
There really is only one proper division between mankind. The Greeks thought it was themselves and then there was everyone else whom they called, “Barbarians.” That same type of prejudice is evident in most other cultures to one degree or another. The Romans were not so racially orientated, because what was important was being a Roman citizen. We Americans are much the same way. As a nation we are made up of about every racial and cultural heritage on the planet, yet we view ourselves as superior to the people of all other nations, seemingly forgetting that is where our ancestors came from. (Even the so called, “Native Americans” eventually have to trace their heritage to the Far East and then back to the Middle East and Noah’s family).
Only the Jews can claim to be a special people, and even then it is only because of God’s choosing – not because there is something inherently better about them. Ezekiel 16 makes that clear, yet God did choose Abraham and his descendants through Isaac to be His special people to carry out His special task. They were to be a blessing to all people (Gen. 12:3; 17:7; etc.). Circumcision was an outward sign of this division between Jew and Gentile. The separation was supposed to emphasize the Jew’s holy task, but instead they became proud. They called everyone else the “uncircumcision” though, as Paul points out they were really only the “the so-called circumcision” – literally, “in the flesh, made by hand,” They were proud, which was bad enough, but had a false base for that claim.
A person’s genealogy has never impressed God. Paul points out in Romans 2:28,29, For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the let ter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. Physical lineage was not enough. Physical circumcision was not enough. God has always looked for those that, as Paul points our here and Moses points out in Deut. 10:16 & 30:6, would be “circumcised in their hearts.”
The previous state of the Gentiles had five consequences.
1) Separated from Christ.
As Jesus Himself said in Matt. 15:24, He was “sent to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” Jesus was born into the nation of Israel and sent as the Jewish Messiah to bring salvation to the Jews. The Gentile nations had no hope of such spiritual salvation. The gods of the pagan gentiles were forbidding and repulsive for the demonic forces behind them thrive on fear and despair, not hope and trust. The gentiles had to be added into the plan for Israel as Paul puts in Rom. 11, “grafted into it.” Salvation is to the Jew first, then the gentile.
2) Excluded from the commonwealth of Israel.
The nation of Israel was to be a theocracy with God as their king. He would extend to them His special blessings, protection and love. Gentiles could only partake of the blessing of being part of that nation by forsaking his own nation and becoming a proselyte.
3) Strangers to the covenants of promise.
One of the ramification of being excluded from the commonwealth of Israel was also being excluded from the direct blessings of the covenants of promise God made with Israel. Among the covenants and promises God made with the nation were prosperity and salvation from enemies as they followed Him. In addition eternal life and heaven were promised to those who believed and trusted Him.
4) No hope.
The gentiles had no hope in their pagan religions. Most either thought death ended all existence (still believed by atheistic humanists / evolutionists) or that the released spirit would wander aimlessly in some netherworld throughout the rest of eternity. Man without Christ is still without hope. The Eastern religions have you keep coming back as something else until you get it right at which time would become nothing yourself, but one with everything. Even the religions that give you something positive to look forward too, like a heaven of some type, give no promise. All you can do is wish, there is no certainty.
5) Without God in the world.
Paul is not saying the Gentiles were atheists, actually most believed in many Gods. He is saying they were without the true God. They were “slaves to those which by nature are no gods” (Gal. 4:8). How tragic to serve something you thing is a god all your life and then find out you were wrong! That is why they were without hope.
It is not that God had rejected the Gentiles. True, He had not given them the Law as He did Israel, but God did put a conscience into all mankind and He did make Himself evident in the world around us. As Paul states it in Romans. 1:18-20, God has made evident His eternal nature and invisible attributes to everyone so that all men are without excuse. The problem is that they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.“
God called and set apart the Jews to be a nation to call all nations back to Himself. They were to be the instruments of His grace and love to all people. Instead, they became proud and arrogant and disobeyed His commands, reaping the consequences themselves for that disobedience. While God still has a plan for Israel, the current plan is for the Church to carry the message of God’s provision of salvation in Jesus Christ. Tragically many “Christians” act the same way the Jews did and have become proud and arrogant looking down on those who are still in their sins as inferior.
Brethren, we had better remember where we came from and not repeat Israel’s failure. We were dead in our trespasses and sin. We were gentiles, cut off from Christ, all the blessings given to Israel, hopeless and without the true God. To put it in bluntly, we were scum, dirt bags, worthless trash, and unable to do anything about it. We were dead and decaying and it was God that reached down and picked us up while in our putrid state and breathed life into us, cleaned us up and set us on the higher plane of serving Him. When you get ticked off, remember where you came from and then plead for their souls, the same way someone pleaded for yours.
That was our past, but God has done a wonderful work and given us a marvelous present. 3 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. We were separated from Christ, but now we have been brought near to Him. We now have hope. We now have a relationship with the true God. All of this comes through the bloody sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross where He paid the penalty of our sin. The root cause of our separation from God and our division with other men has been taken care of, and that is sin. When we come to the Lord’s Table later in our service, part of our remembering His sacrifice is to remind ourselves of what He has accomplished. We can now have peace with God and man.
14 “For He Himself is our peace, who made both [groups into] one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, [which is] the Law of commandments [contained] in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, [thus] establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.“
Peace is not just the absence of conflict but the reconciliation of two parties who now live together in harmony. Jesus Christ is our peace because He brought about our reconciliation with God and man by removing the barrier that separated man from God and man from man.
The barrier Paul alludes to here are the walls in the Temple. The temple was separated into different courts. The outer most one was the court of the gentiles. This was the area that all the nations could come to pray to the God. This is also the area that Jesus took a whip and drove out the money changers and peddlers, for the Jews had turned God’s house of prayer for all nations into a market place of thieves. The gentiles could not enter any father into the temple. A sign was posted above the entrance into the next court that being translated read, “No Gentile may enter within the barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.”
At the inner most place in the Temple was the Holy of Holies. It was separated from the Holy Place by a thick veil. Only the High Priest could enter into it and he could do so only once a year on Yom Kipur if he had prepared himself properly, otherwise God would kill him. When Jesus died that veil was torn in two from the top to the bottom (Mt. 27:51). The barrier that separated man from God was broken. The enmity was gone.
The barrier that separated Jew and Gentile was also broken because the Ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law were also abolished. Notice that Paul specifically says here the “Law of commandments contained in ordinances.” The moral aspects of the Law are repeated in the New Testaments, the ceremonial code is not. The enmity between Jew and Gentile caused by that aspect of the law was eliminated. They were reconciled into one body through the cross. The suspicion and hostility was turned to friendship. Jews and Gentiles could now eat together and eat the same foods. Gentiles could now fully worship God alongside their Jewish brothers, and I say “brothers” here because Christ has made the two, Jew and Gentile could be made into one new man, thus establishing peace. We can live together in harmony. Let me add that this “new man” is not some new is the sense of fresh and recent, but “καινὸν” new in the sense of being different is a completely new model. We are not “repaired” but re-designed and re-made.
This was the peace preached by Jesus. This is the good news Jesus was telling people about. The word translated, “preach” here (εὐαγγέλιον), means to “tell good news” and its root is where we get the word “gospel.” The gospel message was and is to be proclaimed far and near because it is for all people. Through Jesus Christ all men regardless of ethnicity can now have access through the Holy Spirit to God the Father.
Paul adds in verse 19, 19 “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.” Racial barriers are no longer an issue to Christians. We are one in Christ. No longer English, German, Hispanic, African, Asian or whatever else. If we share the same salvation in Jesus Christ, then we are all simply Christians. Our ethnicity and cultural backgrounds no longer divide us. In Jesus Christ there is no black or white or brown or yellow or red, just humans who were dead but have been made alive by Jesus Christ. One culture in itself is not superior to the others, for we are all to be striving for a Biblical orientation, not a cultural one. Our cultural practice must bend to the Scriptures. The only difference our ethnicity and cultures should now give us are some wonderful new foods to share with each other.
We are no longer strangers and aliens to one another. Strangers and aliens, two terms expressing regional pride towards those who are different. A stranger is a short term resident. Alien, someone whose citizenship is in another country. All true Christians are aliens and strangers to this world (1 Peter 2:11), but not to each other, for we share a common citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20) where our permanent dwelling will be. We are now of the household of God and so will spend eternity with Him. We are now part of the same family.
Paul adds: 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
Paul’s conclusion takes on the analogy of a building. Its foundation are the apostles and prophets. It is through the prophets and apostles that God has given His special revelation to us. Our understanding of God and His will has been give to us through them, but the chief foundation stone, the corner stone is Jesus Christ Himself. The corner stone determines the placement of the foundation stones and therefore every part of the building. Every true Christian is to be united in this one building: a temple for the purpose of the worshiping God. This temple is not completed yet, it is continuing to be built. New rooms are continually being added, but every aspect of the building is tied together and untied upon the foundation and corner stone. Like a building in which there are different rooms for different specific purposes, each believer is uniquely gifted by God, but also like a temple, all of us are untied for the one great and grand purpose of giving glory and honor to God.
Jesus Christ prayed in John 17 that His followers would be perfected in unity and would love one another. There are several movements that exist today that say they want to the church to be unified, but their basis of unity is not scriptural. There is only one basis for being united: we have to be part of the same building. A person can name the name of Christ without knowing Him. They can admire the building and even walk around inside it without being part of it. Our desire is to labor with all Christians that are part of the temple of God that truly know Jesus Christ as their lord and savior. However, we cannot be unified with but must rather stand against those that deny that Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God; the deity of Jesus Christ; the gospel message that salvation is by God’s grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ and His work on Calvary; or that add anything else to that message. We are to be united, but unity can only come if we share the same corner stone and foundation. Otherwise we are not part of the same building.
There is no room for prejudice in the church. To treat anyone as inferior because of their ethnic or cultural heritage is only a display of your own sinful pride. Let us remember where we came from: dead in trespasses and sin, separated from God, AND let us remember what God the Father has done for us in Jesus Christ by making us alive together with Him. His death on the cross has brought us into fellowship with God and other Christians. Let us consider these truths as we prepare our hearts for Communion.
For comments, please e-mail Church office