We live in a world that is deeply divided. A world that is divided along tribal, social, cultural, economic, religious, denominational, and political lines. And as a matter of fact, there are many things that divide than unite us. The church on the other hand is neither spared in this mix; for its membership constitutes people from all these backgrounds. What is the hope of unity in such diversity?
In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul’s audience faced a similar situation when background differences between Gentile and Jewish believers threatened their unity of faith in the body of Christ. Differences, prejudices, conflicts, biases, and divisions were a deep reality among them. With these existential problems, one might rightly ask, ‘What then did the cross or blood of Christ achieve?’
Ephesians letter is without doubt one of Paul’s most elegant letters. It was written to: strengthen believers in the faith by reminding them of their position in Christ, highlight what the death of Christ achieved for believers, and, to show the purpose of the church (Ch.1-3). The second section of the epistle (Ch. 4-6) deals with ethical implications from the preceding teachings. In the immediate context, Paul discusses spiritual blessings in Christ (Ch.1) and the fact that believers have been made alive in Christ (first part of chapter 2).
In chapter 2:11-22 Paul presents the power of the cross as the hope of unity and reconciliation.
In a divided world, God is on a mission to bring peace where there is enmity; love where there’s hatred; and, unity where there’s division. He is on a mission to both reconcile humanity to Himself, and humanity to each other.
He has done this by:
- Giving us a new identity (vv.11-13)- Believers in Christ are given a new and higher identity- that of a sons/daughters in God’s family. This identity does not depend on external distinctions based on what God has done in us.
In verse 11-13, Apostle Paul reminds the Gentile believers who they were formerly (before they came to Christ). Jews and Gentiles had deeply formed biases and prejudices against each other: Gentiles were referred to as “uncircumcised” by “the circumcision” group (Jews). Jews boasted of circumcision not as some African men do (as a sign to mark transition from childhood to adulthood) but as a key sign of God’s covenanted people. This pride highlighted their special status before God in a way that the Gentiles were not.
It is worth noting here that the imperative “remember” is the only imperative in chapter 1-3. Paul wanted his listeners to be continually aware of the change that has been brought about by their union with Christ. This act of remembrance will further cause them to be thankful for what God has done.
And so formerly, the Gentiles were (verse 12):
- Separated from Christ– They worshiped idols and had no knowledge of Christ.
- Excluded from the citizenship in Israel– Israel was God’s nation in a way that was not true of any Gentile nation.
- Foreigners to the covenants of the promise– God did not make any covenants with any Gentile nation but only with the Jews. Interestingly, many of the Pharisees would pray daily, “O God, I give thanks that I am a Jew, not a Gentile.”
- Without hope– It is said that great hopelessness covered the ancient world. Philosophies were empty, traditions were disappearing, and religions were powerless to help men face either life or death. They literally had no hope to hold on to (1 Thess. 4:13).
- Without God in the world– Although they had many gods as Paul noted in Athens (Acts 17:16-23), they in their pagan religiosity did not know the true God, YHWH.
But all these changed! They were no longer what they used to be. This is introduced by the contrast “but” in verse 13. They were “far away” but have been brought “near” through “the blood of Christ”. This is what makes all the difference! Now, because of the new identity, the blood of Christ is thicker than water (than former external identities/distinctions). They now belong to a spiritual family.
It is the blood of Christ that made the Gentiles citizens partakers of the covenants of the promise. It is through the blood of Christ that those who had no God encountered God and those without hope found hope. To Paul, this was worth remembering.
In a nation plagued by divisions, tribalism, and strong political inclinations along tribal lines, how can we apply this understanding?
Undeniably, our tribes give us our foundational identities as Kamba’s, Kalenjins, Luo’s Kikuyu’s etc. On the other hand our union with Christ supplies us with a new identity as sons/daughters of God. How do you handle these two identities? Do they conflict each other?
To be specific, How do you identify yourself? Are you a Luo/Kalenjin/Kamba/Kikuyu Christian or are you a Christian Kalenjin/Kamba/Kikuyu? If the first be the case then water is still thicker than Christ’s blood.
If the second is the case then, Christ’s blood has become thicker than water.
The new identity that Christ gives is a higher and brings unity across tribal distinctions. Obviously, Jesus does not obliterate our former identities but provides a higher and superior identity. When we came to Christ for salvation, he made us a new creation. He gave us a new and transformed identity that gives us new lenses of seeing and engaging the ‘other’. With this transformed view, we are able to see more than a tribe/political affiliation in a person. It makes us see God’s image in THEM. It makes us see external identities not as primary but as secondary. It makes it easy for one to bless, love, talk to, pray, and to vote for a candidate from another tribe…
The solution to our tribal politics as Christians is not in refraining ourselves from discussing politics but in rising up beyond tribal categories by living out our new identity in Christ that sees all people through God’s lenses.
- Making Christ our peace (vv.14-15a)- Our oneness as God’s people has been made possible by Jesus Christ, our peace. Through him, walls of hostilities fall; or must fall. Also, as our model, Jesus unites us to God and to one another.
In Christ, the vocabulary of circumcised and uncircumcised ceases. It is now possible for “THEM” to be “US” because of Christ “OUR” peace.
In order to bring this unity Christ was able to:
A. Make the two one– Practically, how can two become one? Mathematically it can only happen by subtraction; but in Christ two can become one without subtraction. In God’s economy, two can become one through the Person of Christ. The separation between Gentiles and God and between Gentiles and Jews required peace. And Jesus Christ became that peace- the one who makes us one with God, and with one another. Inviting and involving Christ among warring parties will definitely offer a lifeline of peace and hope.
Unity is an important component in our families, relationships, churches and by extension the nation. As individuals and corporately as a church, we have a solution to the challenges Kenya and Africa is facing. The church is not part of the problem but part of the solution because of the message and mission of reconciliation that Christ has entrusted the church to bring to the world (2 Cor. 5:16-21). Therefore be a peacemaker and an ambassador of reconciliation within your social networks.
B. Destroy the barrier/the dividing wall of hostility– Christ was able to do this through his body when he died on the cross for all people.
The “wall” here can refer to the partition that hindered Gentiles from going to the holy place in the temple. It could also be referring to the curtain in the temple that separated the holy place from the holy of hollies. Either way, the dividing wall has been broken.
By implication, there is literally nothing that can once again separate believers from all backgrounds based on race, culture or whichever background. All in Christ have been made one. In addition, Christ abolished the law with its commandments and regulations. As a result, believers are now not under the law but under grace. Barriers divide and hinder unity; they create unhealthy distinctions of “us” versus “them” therefore they must be destroyed.
What barriers of hostilities have we possibly erected as individual believers or as a church? Jesus is the wall-crusher and chain breaker of such obstacles! Demolishing of barriers that separate is necessary for peace to prevail in our relationships.
In your relationships, what are some of the issues that create disunity and strife that God is calling you today to work on?
He reconciles us with the purpose of:
- Forming a New Community (vv. 15b-17)- Reconciliation through the cross, is for the purpose of creating one man/one people/one body- the church. The church is the place where unity and diversity is both experienced and celebrated! The church is the convergent point of peoples from all backgrounds, tribes, languages, nations.
Reconciliation was achieved through the cross- where the hostilities, hatred and enmity were nailed. Therefore the cross of Christ is a unique sign of reconciliation.
What comes to your mind when you see the cross? Is it a sign of shame, failure, defeat or a sign victory and power? Apostle Paul wrote to the church of Corinth, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18). The cross is the power of God. It is the hope that churches and warring communities can be reconciled.
Today, God’s reconciling power is at work in the church and through believers. God’s purpose of forming a new community/church is not in futility because Apostle John in his vision observed, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb…” (Rev 7:9).
- Providing Access for all to the Father (vv. 18-22) – Through Christ, humanity is granted access to the Father by one Spirit. Former enemies are now considered sons/daughters in God’s household.
Both Jews and Gentiles now have access to God through Jesus Christ, by one Spirit. This access comes as a result of the destruction of the former walls of hostility.
The Gentiles are no longer foreigners and aliens but are fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.
In the OT the only division in the temple was between priests and laity (1 Kings 8:41-43), but by Paul’s day architectural barriers had been introduced for non-Jews and for women. Paul claims that these barriers are destroyed in God’s spiritual temple.
The role of Jesus in the access is vital. God’s people now are 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 up to become a holy temple/dwelling place in which God lives by his Spirit.
The power of the cross to bring reconciliation in our relationships is available to every believer. The message that transforms and brings together individuals, families, churches and society is available to every believer in Christ. Therefore, be reconcilers after Christ in a world full of divisions, separation, and conflicts.
Today, as we generously give toward AICMD mission work and ministries, we are reminded that our new identity and unity as believers in Christ should cause us to bring the transforming message of reconciliation to the entire world. For God is making a people for himself from every nation, people and language.
God is calling us to cross frontiers and break barriers in order to bring blessings to the end of the earth. Why support mission work to THEM? It should be because through OUR gift Spirit’s call will enable THEM become US.
I will finish where I started: Is Christ’s blood thicker than water? (Kiswahili: Je Damu ya Yesu ni Nzito Kuliko Maji? Je Uhusiano wa kiKristo ni muhimu kuliko wa kibinadamu?). Is our relationship and identity through the blood of Christ deeper and trustworthy compared to our human and external identities? It should be so; because our new birth is more important and higher than our natural birth.
Christ’s blood is and should always be thicker and deeper than water. #Baraka