Summary: Like the Ephesians we live in an increasingly pagan world. Satan has provided us with lots of ,temple of Diana like, competitors. In spite of this, Like the Ephesians, Christ has made us to be His one body.
One in Christ
July 22, 2018
The early church was faced with the challenge of preaching the saving Gospel to Jews and non Jews who had vastly different cultures, vastly different values, and incompatible religious backgrounds. Additionally the non Jews had few morals. Traditionally the Jews were extremely xenophobic –that is they were distrustful of foreigners. “They had their enemies list --- often with justification. They were also ethnocentric --- they felt that they were inherently better than other people-- that is their ethnicity was superior. Think about their attitudes towards the Samaritans for example.
Looking at the first century Roman/pagan/Greek activities it is understandable how this, non Biblical, attitude existed. For the most part the Jews lived in their own world even as they moved out of Israel and dispersed to other areas such as Ephesus. They had possession of the Law for over 1500 years. And they had the teachings of the prophets. Many zealously and legalistically tried to live by this law even after departing from Israel. This is a factor in some segments of Judaism today. Christian congregations -that is faith Communities – were a mixture of Jewish and Gentile believers at that time..
The practice of circumcision was a dividing point in many early congregations. The Jewish followers of Christ felt that the gentile converts should also be required to be circumcised before they were accepted into the church. The Apostles and church Elders met in Jerusalem ( Acts 15: ) and, led by the Holy Spirit, they agreed that circumcision should not be a requirement. They agreed that it would be a burden for the new gentile believers. They sent a letter to the churches listing the minimal requirements for them to follow. They were asked to refrain from eating food offered to idols , from eating blood, and from eating food obtained from animals that have been strangled. Additionally, they were to abstain from sexual immorality – conduct commonly practiced by gentiles ---- but clearly sinful and particularly offensive to Jews. Circumcision, as a requirement, was excluded. Some stubbornly continued to still include the circumcision requirement for conversion causing Paul to write in Galatians 5: “ I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!.“ Even Saint Paul was frustrated by the rehashing of issues that divide the congregations and interfere with the true work of the church. It is no wonder mere mortals-- like us -- become frustrated when divisive issues are constantly revisited.
Paul reminds the gentile believers that they were once separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise. They had no hope and they were without God in the world. On their own efforts they were far off—actually lost. However, they were brought near by the blood of Christ. Christ is our peace. There is no other path to the Father –no special deals – Christ has made the Jewish believers one with the gentile believers. Where there was once a wall of hostility there is now a bridge of unity. By abolishing the law of commandments, that is those precepts that separated Jews from gentiles, not the ten commandments, God has created a new man in place of the two, making peace and reconciling both Jew and Gentile. This reconciliation through Christ gives access in one spirit to the Father with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. Jews and gentile believers are both citizens with the saints and members of God's household. This whole structure joined together grows into a Holy Temple of the Lord. God's unified believers are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the spirit. Paul says it well in Galatians 3: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ.
How does this apply to us today at Mount Olive. It is not highly likely that Jewish believers will show up at our door. In my home town the Jewish population that once supported two synagogues has dwindle down to only a few. Both synagogues are gone. After merging together the new congregation, that was formed, eventually closed. I sense that this is what other smaller communities have experienced. In sixteen years here, I have only spoken with a Jewish visitor on two occasions. Of course there could be others that have not revealed their backgrounds.
To the Greek speaking gentiles in Ephesus there would have been many obstacles to becoming Christians. The dominant religion was the pagan temple dedicated to the worship of the pagan goddess Artemis, sometimes called Diana. There were many zealous followers of this pagan – actually Satanic -- religion. You can read about the riot against Paul in support of Artemis in Acts 19: The temple of Artemis with its large staff of Temple prostitutes, and zealous community support, was a strong competing force.