Intro: What holds a family together? Parents? Blood? Common interests? Love? All of the above? As members of God’s family we have the privilege of sharing our lives together. When something exciting happens to one member of our church family, we can all rejoice together with them. When something terrible happens that causes grief, we weep together, trusting God for the strength to make it through. There is nothing like family! God sure comes up with some great ideas.
-Now sometimes not all members of the family see eye to eye. In fact sometimes there are family feuds that can get pretty ugly. Sometimes there might be a subgroup within the family that has a standoff against another subgroup. The result can be anger, hostility, suspicion, and even hatred amongst the people in these subgroups. This is unfortunate, since such feuding is completely against the wishes of the family leader who started the family. But since He knows human nature, He knew that the fighting could be a big problem. And that’s why He did something about it. He gave equal access and favor to every member of the family so they could come to Him at anytime with any concern. He did away with the old nature filled with pride and selfishness and replaced it with a nature like His own, where unconditional love would be expressed continually.
-In our text today Paul identifies 2 subgroups as Jews and Gentiles. The Jews were God’s chosen people through whom God had revealed Himself for thousands of years. The Gentiles were all non-Jews who knew little or nothing about who God was. But God’s plan was to bring them together as part of the same family – His family.
-So today we’re going to look at some family ties that hold the family of God together.
I. Remember how far you were from God
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)-- 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.
-A few weeks ago we looked at the B.C. life versus the A.D. life. We all have a history of life before Jesus. Even those who grow up in a Christian home and attend church their entire lives come to a point where they have to decide for themselves whom they will serve. I know that was the case with me. In fact, there were several points where I had to decide what direction I was going to take. By God’s grace He brought me through the times when I was directionally challenged and just wanted to do my own thing. God spared me from a lot of the heartache of poor choices. But that doesn’t mean that I was always close to Him.
-My senior year in High School was a good year but a tough year. I had made a commitment to Christ at summer camp after my junior year. In fact, I can look back and remember making a commitment each year of camp to follow Jesus and do all I could to tell my friends about Him. Sometimes it didn’t take very long to forget about that commitment.
-But by my senior year that commitment began to stick and I really made an effort to walk with the Lord and honor Him with my life. However, at the end of the year I decided I’d been good long enough and wanted to have a little fun like everybody else. So I made some compromises and started heading down the wrong path. I didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb. I just wanted to be one of the guys. Well, I got away with sloppy living for awhile, but I wasn’t happy, and God knew just what I needed to help me get back on track with Him. A beating might have helped, but instead He chose to use a cranky traveling evangelist. To this day I don’t really like the guy – even though he has gone on to be with the Lord. However, I could not shake the conviction of the Holy Spirit as He gently pulled me back into God’s favor.
-It’s awesome to see how far God has brought us, but sometimes we need to remember what kind of person we were before He got a hold of us. I’m not proud of the memories that come from the times I did my own thing. I was selfish and was only interested in having fun and being accepted by my friends. Why remember such negative things? One of the biggest benefits I see is humility. In most family squabbles there is a distinct lack of humility. However, if we step back and remember what we were before Jesus found us, then by His grace we can avoid returning there through our actions and attitudes.
-Paul says, “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.” Let me just say, “Remember, but don’t camp there.” I’m excited to move on to this next point.
II. Realize how near Christ has brought you
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
-Not only should we look and see how far God has brought us, but we need to look and see how near He has brought us. We are now in Christ Jesus – if you have confessed your sins and asked God to forgive you and be the leader of your life. I used to be far away from God, but now I am in the very center of His love and favor. I used to try to handle things on my own. Sometimes it was out of stubbornness, wanting to do things on my own terms, and knowing that by asking for His help I’d have to give up what I wanted. Other times I refused to ask for God’s help because I was too ashamed to come to Him.
-But now, I’ve surrendered the stubbornness and He has taken away the shame so I can come to Him boldly, asking for His help whenever I need it. I can also come to Him just because I have a need to be around Him. See, being around Jesus changes a person. Spending time in prayer conversation with God changes a person. Acts 4:13 “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Courage comes from being with Jesus. Peace comes from being with Jesus. Power comes from being with Jesus!
-Family, do you realize how near Christ has brought you? Because of what Jesus did through His death on the cross (His blood), we can now come close to God, getting His attention as He makes His face shine on us. We don’t have to earn the right to be close to God. In fact, we cannot! Jesus already did the work. Our part is to keep coming closer to our Father.
-So, remember how far Christ brought you and how near He has brought you. But we also need to understand that we are not to think only of ourselves.
III. Recognize the Equal Access provision
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this 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.
-While Paul was dealing with the issue of Jews and Gentiles coming together in Christ, that is not an issue with most of us – either because we are Gentiles and value to Jews as God’s chosen people, or because we rarely have opportunity to interact with a Jewish person who is a follower of Jesus or Yeshua.
-Now Paul’s words still apply to our lives today. There are still times when people put up barriers between themselves and other people. There are still racial barriers, socio-economic barriers, geographical barriers, denominational barriers, educational barriers, and so on, that can divide us. These barriers can lead us to two possible extremes, both unhealthy. One, we can become exclusive and be tempted to disqualify anyone who does not look or think like us. Or two, we can actually begin to believe that we don’t really have a place to belong in God’s family, since we are not like some other folks who seem more deserving.
-Let me remind us all today that God’s grace is not exclusive! God’s family is not exclusive! We must not harbor any hostility towards others who would seek to draw near to God. For Jesus Himself is our peace who has destroyed the barriers!
-V.17 says that Jesus came and preached peace to those far away and those who were near. Again, I know that Paul is referring to Gentiles and Jews here, but sometimes churches develop their own classification system. Maybe you are someone who grew up going to church and don’t really know what it means to be far away from God. Or maybe you weren’t a church goer but you lived a pretty clean life and wouldn’t consider yourself as far away from God. On the other hand we might look down on someone who lived fast and wild, immersing themselves in an unsavory lifestyle. Did you ever stop to think that God loves both kinds of individuals the same? V.18 says that through Jesus we both have access to the Father by one Spirit, the Holy Spirit. As we saw earlier those who were far off have been brought near to God through the blood of Jesus.
-Since everybody needed forgiveness and since the ground at the foot of the cross is level, we must make every effort to find common ground with those who are different from us. Since there are no 2nd class citizens in God’s family, we need to come together as family members who need one another. That leads us to the next thought.
IV. Reaffirm the Unity of God’s family
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s 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.
-Whatever you were before you came to Christ, you’re not that any longer. You are no longer separated from God. You are no longer a slave to sin. You are no longer driven by your own selfish desires. Instead, you are a full-fledged member of the family of God – fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.
-Again, it is never all about me. It is about God and His family – you, me, and all of us together! But it goes beyond the happy few gathered here today. It crosses the street and the town to wherever believers are gathered today. It crosses days to those who gather for worship on Saturday. The boundaries of God’s family extend to those who are shut in their homes from illness or infirmity. They extend to the person who never sets foot in a church building due to past disappointments or misunderstandings but still has a loving relationship with their heavenly Father. God’s family includes all who have called on the Lord in faith and repentance, asking Him to be the leader of their lives. And that is where the boundaries of our fellowship and unity must be!
-We cannot make new boundaries to suit our own likes or dislikes. Look what Paul writes a little later in this same book: Ephesians 4:2-3 2 “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
-This tells me that unity takes effort! It may require such things as hospitality, multi-family get-togethers, movie nights, 5th Sunday Sings, picnics, workdays, Sunday School classes, meeting for lunch, enjoying a Saturday breakfast together, etc.
-So first reaffirm the principle of unity among God’s family, namely that each person matters to God and therefore should matter to us. But then, take definite steps to build unity in the family of God. Ask yourself at least once a week, “What have I done this week to strengthen the unity within my church family?” Then ask, “What will I do to promote togetherness in my church family?” Ask God to help you, and He is here to give us all the help we need because of this final thought.
V. Rejoice because God lives among His people
22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
-It’s not just about the fact that God is with me individually – even though I believe He is. The biblical understanding of who God is and how He reveals Himself is best understood corporately. What do I mean by that? Well, one of the names assigned to Jesus was Immanuel, meaning God with us. Not God with me – even though He is. God with us speaks of a community of people and reminds us that the presence of God is much bigger than one person’s experience of Him.
-But the truth that is so amazing here is that God lives with us. He lives in us and among us because we are the body of Christ, we are in Christ, and Christ is in the Father. We live in Him and He lives among us!
-Family, we must not take the presence of God for granted! After Solomon’s temple was finished the presence of God was so heavy and so powerful that even the priests could not enter to perform their duties. When we come together in unity and honor God with our praises and our hearts are right with God and with one another, God loves to show up! And when He shows up people get what they came for – a taste of heaven on earth!
-I believe God wants to fill us with His glory, but from what I read in this chapter, we are a people in process. We are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit. The more we are growing in unity and love for God and one another, the more God will live in us.
Conclusion: How can we keep growing in unity and love? Well, it may help to I. Remember how far you were from God. But also, II. Realize how near Christ has brought you. III. Recognize that every believer has Equal Access to God. IV. Reaffirm the Unity of God’s family and establish action steps to promote unity in your church family. Finally, V. Rejoice because God lives among His people. The more our unity grows the more His glory shows!