Summary: Learn to overcome certain differences that divide Christians
Some of you know that I was at a church leadership conference last week. There were about 2,000 attendees from all around the world. I’m very thankful for the inspiration and the learning I received.
I came home Thursday night and received a call from a friend. She asked if Susan and I went out of town. She apparently called us during the week. I told her I went to a conference, and I named the conference. She replied, “Dana, how could you?” She was surprised that I went to this particular conference. So for the rest of the conversation I defended my decision to attend this conference.
I had given books written by the founder of this conference to a number of people during some very difficult times in their lives. And each one of these people eventually put their trust in God through Jesus Christ. Moreover, the founder of this conference has helped hundreds, if not thousands, of people around the world come to trust God through Jesus Christ. Yet, many Christians accuse him of betraying Christianity.
Mark Twain once said that he put a dog and a cat in a cage together as an experiment to see if they could get along. They did. So he added a bird, a pig and a goat. They, too, got along fine after a few adjustments. Then he put in a Baptist, a Presbyterian, and a Catholic. Soon there was not a living thing in that cage.
What is it in the Christian that causes us to divide and fight? Steve Brown suggests that we fight because we believe we are right about the eternal truths from God’s Word, the Bible. Yet, we mistakenly believe we are right about everything else in life just because we are right about certain very important things.
This morning, we return to our study in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. We will look at Ephesians 2:11-22, and be reminded by Paul to live at peace with one another as Christians. Let me read for us, Ephesians 2:11-22.
Before we begin to study and apply Paul’s encouragement to be united, let me give a little background. Paul identifies two groups of people who became Christians in Ephesus. The first group is the Gentiles. They include everyone who is not a Jew. The second group is the Jews, who looked down on the Gentiles.
Yesterday night, my family celebrated the closing of the old year with a dinner at my parent’s home. This dinner precedes the opening of the Chinese New Year. After dinner, my parents gave Esther two red envelopes. Then they gave Esther two more red envelopes to give to Susan. When Esther gave them to Susan, my parents gave Esther another two red envelopes to give to me. And Esther gave them to me.
But what if Esther kept the four red envelopes that were meant for Susan and me? And what if after Esther kept the red envelopes, she began to make fun of Susan and me for having no red envelopes? That’s exactly what the Jews did to the Gentiles.
The Jews are descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Jews are the people whom the Creator God promised to bless abundantly, so that they could in turn bless the Gentiles, who were either atheists or idol worshippers. This way, the Jews serve to let the Gentiles know the blessings come from the one true God. If God had blessed the Gentiles directly, the Gentiles could attribute the blessings to idols or to luck or to personal effort.
Unfortunately, the Jews kept God’s blessings to themselves. Not only that, they looked down on the Gentiles for not being chosen and blessed by God. As a result, prejudice and hostility developed between the Jews and the Gentiles. But this hostility does not need to continue as Christians.
So Paul writes in Ephesians 2:11-22 to unite the Jewish and Gentile Christians in the Church of Ephesus. Paul reminds them of the necessities for being united with God, and thus, united with each other. Let me unpack what Paul wants to communicate.
First, we need to recognize we are unqualified. Verses 11-12.
Paul begins by reminding the Gentile Christians that they didn’t have the knowledge of the one true God. The Gentiles were either atheists, or they worshipped man-made gods. The Jews, however, knew about the one true God. But knowing about God is not the same as having a right relationship with God.
Jesus tells us that the way to qualify for a right relationship with God is to recognize that we are unqualified. In Luke18:9-14, we read the following:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable, “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’