A number of years ago, I received a package from Germany. Getting packages from Germany is no novelty, as my older brother was a missionary pastor there for many years and this particular package indicated that it had been sent by him. When I opened it up, it was to find a bit of odd-colored crumbling masonry, speckled with reds and blues. I looked at it for a moment, wondering if he had attempted to ship a pot and whether the mail handlers had been particularly brutal. Then I remembered what had happened only weeks earlier in Germany. The Berlin wall had come down. A city which had been divided for nearly forty years was reunited.
If you had traveled to Jerusalem in the days of the Apostle Paul, you would have found another wall. It wasn't lined with machine-gun turrets or barbed wire. But it was no less divisive. It was a rather low stone wall, only about 3 or 4 feet high. It surrounded the Temple. It divided the outer court of the Temple, known as the Court of the Gentiles, from the inner court. A number of gates were placed into this wall at strategic locations. And by each gate, there was posted a sign. The sign held a warning in three languages: Hebrew, Greek and Latin. It warned that no Gentile was permitted past this point on pain of death.
You see, the Gentiles were excluded from worshiping god in the temple. They could come and worship from afar. But they were excluded from the community of God's people. They were outsiders. It was death for them to come closer. Indeed, as Paul writes to the Ephesians from a Roman prison, the reason for his initial arrest was because of a riot that had taken place when it was thought that he had brought a Gentile past the wall.
Paul had a ministry to the Gentiles. He was noted as the apostle to the Gentiles. There were a number of Gentiles who labored with him in the ministry. Paul had not always been like this. He had started out as a racist. His racism extended back all the way to his father and to his father's father - back all the way to Abraham. He had a cultural heritage of racism - of holding himself separate and aloof from all Gentiles. That all changed when he came to Christ.
THE WAY WE WERE.
"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 -- 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." (Ephesians 2:11-12).
Paul is writing to believers in the city of Ephesus. They are mostly Gentiles. They are known as being the "Uncircumcision." They do not share in their bodies the sign of the Abrahamic covenant. And there was a time that their situation was even worse.
(a) Separate from Christ
(b) Shut off from the commonwealth of Israel.
© Strangers to the covenant of promise.
The Jews had the promise of a Messiah. They were the commonwealth of Israel - God's holy nation. And they were bound to God through his covenant promises. The Gentiles had none of these.
As we hear of Paul talking about how we used to be, we are reminded of a similar passage earlier in this chapter. The general outline is the same. First Paul speaks of their former condition in sin. Then he describes what God has done in bringing salvation.
Paul says that they were "without God." The Greek says that they were "atheoi" - atheists. How about you? Are you an atheist? You might reply, "Of course not! I believe in a Supreme Being - someone who is bigger than I am." But are you living your life as though there were no God? If you are not loving Him with all of your heart and all of your soul and all of your body and if you are not serving him, then you are a practicing atheist.