The Church’s Witness - Ephesians 3:1–21
As we continue to think about God’s plan for the local church and our mission as members of it, we now turn to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to better understand why God expects the church to be such a powerful witness in the world.
Already in these studies, we’ve seen God build his church through people like Peter who see Jesus for who he is (Matthew 16:15–16), and then from people like Peter our Lord Jesus builds his church (Matthew 16:17–18). And here in Ephesians 2, Paul now makes the same point, only in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Notice how Paul explains the gospel in vv. 1–10, before he describes what the implication should be for those of us who believe in vv. 11–22;
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 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. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:1–10)
Now see how Paul describes what God’s purpose is in uniting us with Jesus. Notice, the language used to express our unity with one another, now that we’re united to God through Jesus.
11‘Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 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. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 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 access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.’
I know there’s a lot in that, but I want you to notice God’s intention for us to be saved by his grace (vv. 1–10), was that we’d be united together as members of his household (vv. 11–22). We often read Ephesians 2:8–9 as a description of God’s grace to us, but rarely do we continue reading the chapter to see that the result of God’s calling was to establish the church. Like we saw in Study 3, the church is the goal of the gospel.
It is absolutely crucial we get this right, because we already meet far too many people who think that putting their faith in Jesus is the end of the story. People who believe they’ve been saved by God’s grace offered to them in Jesus, but have no meaningful connection with his church. People who may meet alongside the church on a Sunday ‘to be fed’, but have no understanding of their place within the body, and God’s will for them to use the gifts he’s given them to work together to build the body up. The result of this self-centred attitude is dis-unity within the church, and as 19th Century English pastor C. H. Spurgeon put it, ‘No one can do as much damage to the church of God as the one who is within its walls, but not within its life.’
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, we not only see what the gospel of God is, but also why God saves us and calls us to come together as one. And this is big news. In the Old Testament, God’s people were commanded not to unite with outsiders. They had strict laws about what to eat, who to marry, what to wear, how to cut their hair, how to farm, and so many other things so that at every turn they’d remember that they were a people set apart by God to carry the promise of blessing to the world. This created an ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitude in the Israelites, and they hated the Gentiles as much as these Gentiles hated them. It was a hate – hate relationship! But notice what Paul says to them;
14‘For he [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace…’ (Ephesians 2:14–15).
It was always God’s intention to bring Israel together with the nations through the work of the Messiah, and Paul is saying that has now happened. Israel are no longer to be united around their peculiar laws and regulations, but united in Jesus. And since Jesus is calling all people from every nation to himself as his people proclaim the gospel, it means this new household that God is building is made up of all who are united to him.
To understand the significance of this, think about an Israelite welcoming a Palestinian into their home. Or a converted Muslim meeting up with a converted Jew to read the bible. Perhaps a young Afghani man welcoming an elderly Chinese man into his life as a brother in Christ, or an Italian woman seeing herself as one with a sister from Zulu descent. This unity was supposed to make the world say, ‘What on earth has brought THEM together!’ Because we know how the world works. We know that unity is only achieved through commonalities, and when people from different cultures and languages come together because of their common faith in Jesus, it shows the world he’s alive. It illustrates the power of the gospel, and the wisdom of God.
And this wisdom is not only seen in different looking people coming together because of Jesus, but in the way they make every effort to love and prioritise each other. God’s wisdom and power is seen within the church in two main dimensions – its breadth and its depth.
It’s seen in the church’s breadth because Jesus has united people from every nation, which is why a multicultural church should be our aim. Not only because it’s a picture of heaven itself with every nation, tribe, people and language represented (as we’ll see Revelation 7:9, The Church in Glory), but it’s also a very clear demonstration of God’s power as people see all these people unite because of Jesus. The church’s breadth is a powerful testimony of the wisdom of God.
And so is it’s depth. By depth, we mean depth of relationships. We love deep. We give deep. In fact, we make it our aim to lay down our lives for one another. Not because we share the same parents, or culture, or assets or line of work, but because we’ve been united to one another through the same Lord Jesus who gave up his life for us. And so Paul will go on to say,
‘…through the gospel, the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.’ (Ephesians 3:6)
This is why Paul commands us to ‘make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’ in Ephesians 4:3, knowing that as we work to that end the church will achieve its God-given goal to display the glorious character of God himself. As Paul goes on to say;
‘His [God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Ephesians 3:10–11)