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Living Beyond Yourself

"11 Therefore remember that previously you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the people of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who previously were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the hostility, which is the Law composed of commandments expressed in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two one new person, in this way establishing peace; 16 and that He might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the hostility. 17 And 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 our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit." 
Good Morning Beloved,
Welcome to worship this Lord's Day!
We're so glad you're all here today.
There is so much division in our world today. There is division in our government, division in our political views, division on social issues, division in racism. It seems as though everyone has an opinion and is demanding that everyone else hear it. Sadly, this has made it's way into the church, there is division among the church over liberalism, conservatism, evangelical or whatever, there is disunity over denominationalism, theological viewpoints, culture and society, religious custom and tradition, division over biblical historic events. One thing is for certain, Christianity doesn't do well to divide itself. Yet, that is the case. All of these lead to disunity among the people of God.

In John 17:22-24, Jesus prayed to the Father, "The glory which You have given Me I also have given to them, so that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and You loved them, just as You loved Me.
I believe, all of this disunity is to the heartbreak of Christ. Jesus always prays in accordance to the will of God. And I believe that His prayer was answered, at least positionally, however, practically, it doesn't always work that way.
I Corinthians 6:17 tells us, "But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him."
Let us bow our heads in prayer.
Heavenly Father,
Father, thank You for this great honor and privilege of worshiping You, glorifying You, a privilege of which we are not worthy. Thank you for the privilege of being gathered together, here and around the world, we are so thankful for each and every one of these souls. Lord, thank You for so many who are hungry for the truth. Help us to be the people You have called us to be, to be faithful, not only today, but in the days ahead. Lord, thank You for the Word You have prepared for us today, cause us to be not just hearers of the Word, but doer's. May those who are in the world, be unable to see where we end and Christ begins as we walk through this world. Father, we pray for the unity of Your people, that as we are joined to Christ, we would become one with one another. That we might set aside our differences, all for the sake of Christ and for Your glory.
In Jesus' name

Today's Message: Living Beyond Yourself
As we continue our journey through Ephesians today, Paul is going to address some people who had gotten so caught up in their religion that they had lost sight of what really mattered.

In the first half of chapter 2, Paul writes about the human race in general and about the portion of the human race that has been saved by the grace of God. But beginning in verse 11, Paul begins to specifically address his main audience of Gentile believers. He points out that prior to Jesus there was a barrier between the Gentiles and the Jews. But, as Paul will point out in the following verses, Jesus came to tear down that wall and to initiate peace between the Jews and Gentiles.

I believe there are several valuable principals, we could mine out of this passage. Most certainly, the idea of Jesus tearing down the walls that tend to separate us from those who are different from us in some way. In fact, as I pondered these verses, what really stood out to me is how both groups, the Jews and the Gentiles, had gotten so caught up in their religion that it had actually drawn them away from God.

One of the things that constantly amazes me is how people react when they find out I’m a pastor. They may not say it out loud, but I often get the feeling that they’re waiting for me to say something or do something religious.

There is little doubt, that both the Gentiles and the Jews of Paul’s day would probably consider themselves to be religious. Obviously, the Jews understood themselves to be God’s chosen people and they had the Scriptures to study and to guide their lives. And many of the Gentiles were religious, too. Remember how Paul had addressed them in an earlier encounter in Athens. Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious."

Open with me your Bibles to the second chapter of the book of Ephesians. I would like to invite you to follow along with me as I read to you from this marvelous epistle, so rich, filled with helpful insight. The Holy Spirit who indwells all its members, puts the life of God in the soul of man and unites him with every other one in whom that same common eternal life, that's the theme of Paul's great message as we come to this portion of the Scripture, in Ephesians 2:11-22. Paul's incredible message is, "We are all one in Christ!" 

"Therefore remember that previously 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 people of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who previously were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the hostility, which is the Law composed of commandments expressed in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two one new person, in this way establishing peace; and that He might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the hostility. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit."

As we’ve seen already, the Gentiles had no shortage of religion. In fact, they had all kinds of religion, and gods to go with it. So perhaps, before we begin our study today of this wonderful portion of the Word of God, I should take a moment to define the term "religion." One might think that is should be rather an easy task, especially for a pastor. And, it is. However, most people today, do not get their definitions from a pastor, but from the internet. 
So, I too went on the internet this week and attempted to sort through the hundreds of different definitions that I came across. It is isn't any wonder why the world is so confused. So, for the purpose of this message, I'll use the simplest one and the one that best describes the word in the way I’m using it today, which comes from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

"…a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith."

That definition seems to encompass a lot of movements today, that would classify as religious.

The, we have groups that promote certain lifestyles, groups that promote Self. Political parties and interest groups. Radical environmentalism. Causes to address social issues such as poverty and hunger. Causes to address various diseases such as AIDS, cancer and heart disease, and the list goes on and on.

Every one of those movements consists of people who are committed to a cause, principle, or system of beliefs that they hold to with ardor and faith. In fact, I find it interesting, that even atheists fit that definition. To be clear, I’m not saying that there is anything inherently wrong with many of these groups. There is nothing wrong with taking care of the environment or trying to lessen suffering or eradicate disease. However, for many people, the causes themselves have become their religion.

As Paul so clearly points out, what we need is a relationship, not a religion. And it is both the Jews and the Gentiles that were in danger of missing out on that relationship because of their religion. Although Paul primarily focuses on the Gentiles in these verses, he also eludes to the fact that the religion of the Jews was a problem for them, as well. 

So let’s look at why Paul said that religion posed such a danger to both the Jews and the Gentiles. We'll begin with the Gentiles, since that appears to be a bit more obvious in this passage. You may recall that Jews and Gentiles alike shared the same past that Paul had described earlier at the beginning of chapter 2. 

Both groups were dead, dominated and doomed before God entered into their lives. However, just as he did in his other letters, Paul makes it really clear that there were some advantages the Jews had when it came to their relationship with God that the Gentiles did not share in. 

In Romans 3:1-2, Paul said "Then what advantage does the Jew have? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First, that they were entrusted with the actual words of God."

However, here in Ephesians Paul describes 5 disadvantages that the Gentiles faced when it came to their relationship with God. And regardless of what religion or religious system they subscribed to, nothing short of their relationship with God through faith in Jesus could overcome these difficulties. 

They had no expectation of a Savior.

In verses 11 and 12, Paul says  "Therefore remember that previously 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 people of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world."  

Back in Galatians chapter 3, verses 26 through 28, I'm sure you'll recall Paul said that "For you are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Now, I know some of you may not care for that idea, you might not care to be associated with every other Christian, however, the reality of it is, that you are! Like it or not. You are one with them and they are one with you. And guess what else, since God loves all of His children equally, you are not preferred or chosen over any other Christian out there. In other words, all those divisive distinctions have all been removed through Christ.

Your first inclination may be to think that Paul is simply repeating a point he made earlier on. It seems however, that when Paul uses the word "Christ" here, he is not using it as a reference to Jesus, but rather in its broader sense. The Greek word "christou," literally means "The Anointed One, Messiah or Christ." It is the Greek equivalent of the Jewish word we translate "Messiah." The point that Paul is trying to make here is that the Jews at least had the hope of a coming Messiah, a savior. That was an advantage that the Gentiles did not have.

I would like to make something clear here, there is no religion on the face of the earth that can address the fact that we are separated from God as a result of our sin and that therefore we need a Savior. Only a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ can deal with that, period! It's about relationship, not religion!

Then Paul says, they were "excluded from the people of Israel."

While it's true, that the Jews were God’s chosen people. However, God didn’t choose Israel because they were more worthy or they had somehow earned that right. God just chose them because of His grace. So those who were the people of Israel had the benefit of being within the sphere of God’s election. That was a blessing that the Gentiles did not share in, prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

If there is one thing we’ve learned from our study of Ephesians, it is that no action on our part, no religion, is capable of earning favor with God. Every one of us, who has a relationship with God, has that relationship because God chose us, completely apart from any merit on our part. And the only way we can accept that gift is through faith in Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, they had no share in God's blessings. "strangers to the covenants of the promise."

The Jews were the beneficiaries of many covenants, or promises that God had made to them. It’s interesting that Paul writes about covenants in plural, and of the promise in singular. Paul seems to be saying that all of the covenants from the Old Testament really flow out of the foundational promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 12.

In Genesis 12:1-3, "Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you into a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."

Although God promised to bless all peoples on earth through Abraham, including the Gentiles, that promise could only be made operational in the lives of the Gentiles through Jesus.

There is no religion which can ever provide us with the blessings of God. Only God can provide those blessings for us. And He chooses to do that through our relationship with Him which is made operational by our faith in Jesus.

Next, Paul says "...having no hope."
Because the Gentiles did not share in the hope of a coming Messiah, nor were they within the sphere of God’s election, nor were they the recipients of God’s promised blessings, they had no hope. Why does he want them to remember that? Because it’s really good to remember what you were before you came to Christ because it makes you a lot more thankful for what you are.

One of the greatest problems with religion is, that it's unable to give us lasting hope. No rituals, no good works, no amount of piety can produce hope in our lives. The only way that we can have hope is through our relationship with God, which is made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Look, I well know what and who I was before Christ! And I don't want to go back there. Now that I’m a Christian, I’m thankful to God for what He’s done in my life, all He has done to change me, I certainly don’t want to begrudge that to anyone else from sharing in that glorious gift.

Then, at the end of verse 12, Paul reminds them that they were "without God in the world."

The Jews had the advantage of at least knowing something about the one true God. And although it was incomplete until the coming of Jesus, they even had a relationship with Him. God revealed Himself to the Jews and gave them an opportunity to respond to Him in worship.

The Gentiles, on the other hand, had many gods, but the idea of any kind of relationship with any of those gods was completely foreign to them. The nature of their gods made any thoughts of a relationship impossible.

But now through Jesus Christ, both Jews and Gentiles have been given the privilege of a person, intimate relationship with an infinitely awesome God.

Earlier he takes a shot at the Jews. Allow me to point that out now. In spite of all the advantages that the Jews experienced, there is evidence in this passage that their religion had also fallen short. And there are two specific aspects of their religion that Paul alludes to in this passage that kept them from the kind of personal relationship that God desired for them.

Let's go back to verse 11 for a moment. "... the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision” which is performed in the flesh by human hands."

What is Paul talking about? Pride! Paul is very clearly describing the contempt that Jews had for the Gentiles. In fact, the very word "Gentile" was not one that the Romans and Greeks used to refer to themselves, but was a derogatory term that the Jews had coined to describe anyone who was not a Jew.
Although Paul specifically speaks about circumcision here, the broader principle is that nothing we can do in the flesh has any value.

Not only that, the Jews derisively called the Gentiles by the title of "uncircumcision," while proudly referring to themselves as the "circumcision." There is an interesting play on words here. The literal translation is "Gentiles in the flesh." For Jews, circumcision, which had been given by God to Abraham, was a physical sign of their relationship with the God of the covenant. Obviously, the Gentiles did not bear that physical evidence on their bodies, therefore they are referred to as "Gentiles in the flesh."

What really captures my attention here, is the pride of the Jews. They had lost sight of the fact that God had chosen them, not just for their own benefit, but as His chosen people who were to be a blessing to all peoples, just as God had revealed to Abraham. So instead of trying to reach out to the people that God wanted to bless through them, they were making degrading remarks of those very people. They were so stricken with the pride of being God’s chosen people, that they were completely missing the opportunity to be used by God in the lives of others.

Before I continue, I do not want us to miss a important lesson for those of us who are Christ-followers. By now, if there is one thing we should have learned from the book of Ephesians so far, it has to be that God’s work in our lives is nothing for us to be proud of. It’s all God’s work and we’ve done nothing to deserve it. We have done nothing to deserve it!

I want you to pay attention here, rather than turning our nose up, looking down on those who have not experienced what we've experienced, believing that we are the elite members of an exclusive social club, you did nothing to deserve it, you did nothing to earn it, it was a gift! Rather than to hold ourselves above the unsaved, as if we're better than they are, our hearts should be literally broken over that, we had ought to be distraught and we ought to reach out, doing everything within our power to make sure they are exposed to the truth and continuously praying for these people. Before Christ came into your life, you were no better than they! And your new "status," is not one of merit, it was a gift! Let that sink in..

You see, most people today who consider themselves religious, who consider themselves to be Christians, have been terribly deceived. Every religion I know of, has as one of its major tenets the idea that we can somehow do enough good works to earn favor with God. However, that’s contradictory to what Jesus taught and contradictory to what God’s Word teaches.

In verse 13, Paul boldly makes it clear. "But now in Christ Jesus you who previously were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ."

It is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. All of us were once far away from God and there was nothing we could do to bridge the great divide between God and ourselves. But through Jesus, God provided a way for us to be drawn close to Him. God is not looking for religion, God is not looking for religion. He desire to have a relationship with us! Beloved, we do not assemble ourselves together to gain religion, we gather together, to collectively worship God, to praise Him, celebrating our relationship with Him.
You shouldn't come to church as though you're attending a funeral, you should come to church ready to rejoice, to worship and celebrate your relationship with the Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe!
I find it interesting that people will invite anyone and everyone they know to a birthday party, a graduation, or send and accept friend requests on social media, trying to gain popularity and social status, yet fail to invite even those they claim to care the most about, to Christ. 

And as a nation, our country has a wall on our border with Mexico in several places. Then, when we build our houses, we build them with walls and then we build another wall around the house for additional privacy and protection.

While we build walls for all kinds of reasons, one thing that all walls have in common is that they cause separation. Don't get me wrong, there are sometimes that separation is necessary, is good and useful, but other times, separation is actually harmful. And, its in those cases, in order to overcome that harm, those walls have to be torn down.

And Paul tells us in verse 14, "For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall."

There was a problem with division in Paul's day, and the problem is, there still is! Churches against churches. Denomination against denomination. Christians against Christians. The problem then, as is now, discord and disunity. However, I don’t know that it was ever as intense as it was in the days of the New Testament. The intense discord between Jew and Gentile, and that is that to which Paul speaks of here in the passage.

In verse 14, Paul speaks about a dividing wall, did you see that? This wall that he is talking about is a wall that separates people who are near and people who are far off. The Gentiles were far off from God, far off from the covenant, far off from the truth of the one true God. And through Christ, God wants to tear down this dividing wall, bringing two that were separated by the wall, together in Christ.

Who then, do we think we are, to rebuild walls, that God shattered in Christ, to separate those who have yet to come to Christ, by keeping them from the truth in the Word of the Living God?

In verse 15, he says "by abolishing in His flesh the hostility, which is the Law composed of commandments expressed in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two one new person, in this way establishing peace"

It should come apparent rather quickly that the main theme in these verses is peace. Peace. Paul tells us that Jesus "is our peace,: He "made peace," and "He came and preached peace." Unfortunately, the way most of us view "peace" today is quite different from what the word meant to Paul and his readers. 

If we look in the dictionary, the most common definition of peace I found was "the absence of war or conflict." However, the word "peace" in both the Old and New Testaments has a far greater, much deeper meaning. The word denotes a sense of well-being or wholeness and often referred to the salvation offered to man by God. The word is used to refer both to the vertical relationship between God and man and the horizontal relationships among men. 

And as Paul very clearly points out in this passage, there were walls that separated men from God and also walls that separated men from one another. But God, through Jesus, who is the peace who tears down those walls and makes it possible for us to have real peace in our lives.

There is some debate among biblical scholars, however, I am thoroughly convinced, that Paul uses the illustration of a dividing wall in this passage, as a result of his own personal experiences. You see, it is very likely that Paul was writing the letter to the Ephesians from his prison cell in Rome.

In Acts 21 we learn that just a short time before that Paul had gone into Jerusalem to deliver the offerings from the Gentile churches to the Jewish Christians there. While in the Temple one day, he was dragged out by an angry mob of Jews who accused him of taking a Gentile into the part of the Temple that was off limits to non-Jews. The Temple of that day, known as Herod’s Temple, had two courts, one intended for the Israelites only, and the other, a large outer court, called "the court of the Gentiles," intended for the use of people of all nations. 
The Jewish historian Josephus records that these two courts were separated by a low wall, some 4 1/2 feet high, with thirteen openings. Along the top of this dividing wall, at regular intervals, were placed pillars bearing in Greek an inscription to the effect that no stranger was, on the pain of death, to pass from the court of the Gentiles into that of the Jews. In fact, several of these inscriptions have been discovered in the past 150 years. In 1871, an entire inscription was unearthed in and is now in a museum in Istanbul. It bears the following inscription in Greek capital letters.

"No stranger is to enter within the balustrade [dividing wall] and embankment around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his death which follows."

The dividing wall in the Temple was a physical symbol of the great hostility that existed between the Jews and the Gentiles of Paul’s day. And although that wall would be physically torn down several years after Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, Jesus had already come to tear down what that wall represented. However, I'd like to point out, that’s not the only wall Jesus came to tear down.

Although the hostility between the Jews and the Gentiles, especially the Arabs is still quite evident in the world today, I think there is a tendency on our part to think that this passage doesn’t apply a whole lot to us. But the kind of enmity that existed between the Jews and Gentiles in Paul’s day still touches all of our lives today. If we’re being honest, we must admit that we all have walls in our lives that separate us from God and from others.

There are some of you here today, who have walls in your marriage. Sure, you still live together, and maybe even put up with each other, but you don’t have the kind of peace and wholeness in that relationship that God wants you to have.

Allow me to go a bit further, there are some of you here today, that have erected walls between yourselves and your children. There are walls between brothers, sure you are living under the same roof, but you don't a genuine respect for each other nor do you have a truly meaningful relationship. You don't see them as part of yourselves. There's that invisible diving wall, that keeps you separated.

And, some of you have built walls with other family members. There are people in your family that you refuse to even talk to. If you saw them waking down the street, you’d most likely cross over to the other side so you wouldn’t have to have contact with them.

You have put up walls at work. Those of you who are supervisors don’t treat your employees with kindness and respect and those of you who are employees constantly badmouth your bosses, you respect them, and give don’t honor them.

And all of those walls are just as harmful to your peace as the walls that existed between the Jews and the Gentiles in Paul’s day. And if you’re going to have the kind of peace in your life that God wants you to have, then you’re going to have to let God tear down those walls.

Paul teaches us in verse 16, "and that He might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the hostility."

If we look at the division between the Jews and Gentile, the Gentiles looked at the people of Israel as some type of slave. And the Jews thought the Gentiles were created by God for fuel to use in hell. They thought that only Israel was loved of God and all other nations were hated. In fact, it wasn’t even lawful to aide a Gentile mother who was giving birth to a baby, because you’d be responsible for bringing another Gentile into the world. 

That’s what was so shocking when in the Bible that Jesus "And He had to pass through Samaria." Jews just didn’t do that. In fact, they didn't even want to get "Gentile dirt" on their feet.

The primary reason that people don’t have peace in their lives is because their relationship with God, their vertical relationship, isn’t right. As we’ve seen in Ephesians what our lives were like without Jesus Christ. We were dead in our sins, dominated by the world, Satan and our own flesh and doomed to face the wrath of God, and an eternity in hell.

Without Jesus in our lives, our sin erects dividing walls, a barrier, between us and God. God is a Holy God, so when we sin, we separate ourselves from His Holiness. And there is nothing that we can do on our own to tear down that wall. Fortunately for us, Jesus is our peace. He himself has torn down that wall so that we can experience the peace, the wholeness, of a personal, intimate relationship with God.

And, at the exact moment that Jesus breathed His last breath on the cross, God gave a visual symbol of the fact that Jesus had torn down that wall that separated us from God. The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. I'd like you to notice, that it was torn from top to bottom, which is an indication that it was God, and not any man, that did the tearing. And that was a picture of exactly what Paul writes about here in Ephesians. Through Jesus, those who have committed their lives to Him all have access to the Father.

And Paul makes it really clear, that that kind of peace is available to everyone. Regardless whether you’re Jew or Gentile, white or black, rich or poor, male or female, Catholic or Baptist. That peace is God’s gift to everyone who will choose to accept it, through faith in Jesus Christ.

Beloved, it is impossible to tear down the other walls in our lives until we first address this one! The fact is, however, that we will never have true peace with others who have not addressed their own relationship with God. However, that does not give us an excuse to erect walls that separate us from others.

In II Corinthians 6:14-15, we're taught "Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? What agreement does Christ have with Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?" 

That's why Paul teaches us in Romans 12:18, "If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone."

Look, we know it's not always possible to be at peace with everyone, but we are to do our part in living at peace with everyone. Notice he says "on your part" That means we must make an effort!
You can’t do anything about the other person’s relationship with God. And you can’t do anything about whatever walls that they might put up. But you can make sure that you’re not erecting unnecessary barriers.

There is no doubt that sometimes we have to put up walls between us and unbelievers. Because they are not followers of Christ, they aren’t going to act like His followers should. And so there will be times when we just can’t take part in some of the thing they might choose to do. But let’s make sure that we don’t put up unnecessary dividing walls that might keep those people from being introduced to Jesus Christ and having the opportunity to allow Him to tear down the wall that separates them from God. That's why it's crucial that we let God tear down the wall that separates me from others.

Paul leaves absolutely no doubt that I am incapable on my own of breaking down the walls that separate me from others. Why? Because only God can do that. Notice, that all of the action that is taking place in these verses is done by God. And God is only able to do that in our lives, after we have taken care of the wall that separates us from Him. 

But it does seem to me that there are some things that we can do in our own lives that make it more likely that God will be able to tear down those walls. While we can’t tear down the walls on our own, we can certainly impact how God works in our lives by our actions. Can we not?

I'd like you also to notice, that when Jesus tore down the walls between the Jews and the Gentiles, He didn’t do that by trying to transform one of the two groups to be like the other. To me, it seems logical that since Israel was God’s chosen people, Jesus would just transform the lives of the Gentiles so that they would be like the Jews. Right? No, Jesus did something radically different. 

In II Corinthians 5:17, Paul tells us that "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come." The word for "create" that Paul uses here, "ktizó, is the same one he has used earlier in his letter. It is a word that means to create something new that never existed before.

In Galatians 6:15, Paul says "For both circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation." 

And in this passage of Ephesians, Paul is making it clear, that God doesn’t really care about what group someone belonged to before their faith in Christ. All that really matters is that Jesus has made them into a "new creation."

God no longer looks upon them as Jews or Gentiles. He sees them all only as followers of Jesus Christ. And if we’re going to allow God to break down the walls that separate us from others, we need to have that same perspective.

We live in a world today where most people identify themselves based on some characteristic or distinguishing feature. We have people who find their identity in their race, African-Americans, Native-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics-American, and Caucasians. 

We have people who find their identity in their political beliefs, Republicans and Democrats, Independent. Conservatives, liberals. Green party, Tea party.

Even within Christianity, we have people who find their identity in their denomination or their theology – Catholics, Apostolic, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists; Calvinists and Lutheranists. My gosh, is it any wonder why we’re so divided?

I want to tell you today, that Jesus came to tear down all those walls. His desire is that we find our identity not in any of those groups, but in Him. That from the moment we accepted, our identity would be universally found in Jesus Christ! Not in the other petty stuff that doesn't matter! Can't you see that?

Let me ask you a question, something I believe it very important. When someone asks you the question, "Tell me about yourself," what's the first thing that comes to your mind? If the answer is anything other than "I’m a believer and follower of Jesus Christ" then you can be pretty sure that there are some issues in your relationship with God, there are dividing walls in your life that you need to let God deal with.
I know that may not be what you want to hear, however as your pastor, I am committed to guiding you in a right relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. And sometimes, its not easy to hear. And I'll be honest, sometimes, its not easy to say either. But I bound by my committed to God, by that which He has called me to do, in the name of Christ. Therefore, regardless of how uncomfortable it is for either one of us, its what I must do

Another things we must keep watch over is self-righteousness. Though there was much that divided the Jews and the Gentiles, probably the greatest cause of hostility between the Jews and the Gentiles was the way the Jews used the Law. The Law, itself was not a bad thing. After all it had been given to the Jews directly by God. But when the Jewish religious leaders began to add their own interpretations and definitions to the Law, it became nothing more than a self-righteous, holier-than-thou demand upon others, which were impossible to keep by the way and all without any admission of guilt on their part. What God created for the benefit of his people had been twisted and turned, into a dividing wall.
The Jews, especially their leaders, had become so self-righteous that it alienated them from the Gentiles. They demanded that others change their own behavior without recognizing their own need to change, too. They needed for Jesus to remove the dividing wall between them and God just as much as the Gentiles. They just didn’t realize it. And the Gentiles despised the Jews because they knew they lived in self-righteous hypocrisy.

Jesus’ solution was to take this self-righteous application of the Law, out of the equation and to show both the Jews and the Gentiles that they needed forgiveness and grace. In effect, Jesus leveled the playing field and removed the greatest source of their hostility toward each other.

I’m convinced that self-righteousness is one of the greatest sources of hostility and conflict in our own relationships. As long as one person insists that the other is always wrong, and that there is nothing at all he or she needs to change, then of course hostility and resentment remain. This is especially true in marriages, in our relationships, whether between parents and children, siblings, our friends, at work, and even in our relationships with others in the body of Christ.

When I was much younger, my primary objective was to win the argument, rather than to resolve the conflict. However, later on in life, I realized that all I was doing was putting up dividing walls, ones that were often difficult to overcome. I am so grateful, that God very clearly revealed to me the error of my self-righteous ways. He’s allowed me to see that I’m not always right, that sometimes I just need to admit that I’m wrong and say "I’m sorry" and ask for forgiveness. And when I do that, it allows God to tear down those walls. I still don’t get it right all the time, but at least I’m getting better.

I'd like to encourage you to think about how your own self-righteous attitudes, and how they may be erecting walls in your relationships with others, then consider praying and asking God, what you can do to help tear down those walls. 

That's why we must Obey the words of Jesus.

Paul writes that Jesus had come and preached peace to both those who were far away, the Gentiles, and to those who were near, the Jews. So, what exactly is Paul referring to? I find it especially interesting, just how many different ideas that different commentators have about what Paul meant by the preaching of Jesus.

However, it seems to me that if we just take this in its simplest sense, it would refer to everything that Jesus had said while he ministered here on earth.

Certainly the entire Bible is profitable for us. It is all God’s Word. But there is also a great benefit to focusing on the specific words of Jesus. And when it comes to allowing God to break down the walls that separate us from others, that seems to be particularly true. 
I'm sure you can find many applicable passages, but here are just a couple that I believe, are particularly relevant.

In Luke 6:27-28, Jesus said "But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."

And in Matthew 5:22-24, Jesus teaches us "But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire. So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift."

If we'll just search the Scriptures, Jesus actually had quite a lot to say about our relationships with others,  and as we obey those teachings, God can use them in our life to break down the walls that separate us from others.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners, strangers but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. 

Sadly, there is a tendency with a number of Christians, who view their relationship with God as something that just impacts them. And there is no doubt, that there is an individual aspect to our faith. However, much of what Paul wrote in the first chapter and the first part of the second chapter of Ephesians, deals with how God has entered into the lives of individuals, in order to draw them into a personal relationship with Him. But even there, Paul eluded to the idea, that our Christianity is not just for us. Our faith is intended to be experienced within the body of believers that God has created, the church.

I believe that is exactly what Paul is teaching us in verses 18 and 19, "for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household." Our Christian faith, was never intended to done alone, Jesus sent the disciples out in two. Coincidence? Nah, Jesus knew exactly what He was doing, fellowship. The point Paul is making here, is that it doesn’t really matter where you were before Christ, because now, we are all now citizens of a new kingdom, that is far superior to that of the kingdom of Israel or any kingdom of earth!

Citizenship is not only important, but citizenship matters. As citizens of this country, we have some benefits that we can expect to enjoy. We reap the benefits of being protected by our military and law enforcement officials. We have the right to travel wherever we want and to choose where we want to live and work. If we’re charged with a crime, our rights are protected by the Constitution, and we have a right to our day in court. We have enjoy the freedom to elect the people we want to govern us.

However, with that, we also have some responsibilities. We are required to pay our taxes. And although many choose not to, we have a responsibility to participate in the election process by voting. We have to submit to the laws that govern us, to obey Federal and local laws.

When we choose to be followers of Jesus Christ, we automatically become citizens of His kingdom. And with that citizenship, also comes with privileges and responsibilities. We get the privilege of being part of a body of fellow believers, where we can be encouraged and we can grow in our faith. We get the protection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

At the same time, we also have a responsibility to participate in the life of the body and submit to its leadership. We have a responsibility to participate in the body, and I don't mean just showing up on Sunday. We have a responsibility to provide our share of the financial resources that are needed to maintain and advance the Kingdom of God. We have a responsibility share our time, our talents. Those who have been blessed with financial resources, have a financial responsibility to help those who are less fortunate. And, we have a responsibility to share the message of the gospel and make disciples, to increase God's Kingdom.

God didn't create Christians to be foreigners and aliens to His Kingdom or to the manifestation of that kingdom here on earth, the church. So it is beyond my understanding, why any believer would want to be an illegal alien, here in this world when they could experience full citizenship in the Kingdom of God.

God has made you a member of His family, a member of His household, remember that at the beginning of chapter 1 Paul wrote that when God chose us, He also adopted us into His family. And as great as it is to be a citizen in God’s Kingdom, it’s even better to be a member of His family! In being part of His family, we have been given access to the Father. Much like our earthly families. However, unfortunately, there are some, who grew up without the benefit of access to their Father. But that doesn't occur in our new family, we can come to Him, anytime, anywhere. He's always there for us!

I John 3:1 tells us this wonderful truth, "Look at how great a love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children. And we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it didn’t know Him." 

Even though every individual believer has access to God, it’s interesting here that Paul writes about our access to God in terms of how that occurs in community with others, "we both" have access.

The church is also the place where my Christian brothers and sisters help me to cultivate the characteristics that my heavenly Father wants to pass down to me and see me develop in my life. God could have chosen to accomplish that purpose in my life apart from other believers, but as we’ll see in even more detail in the coming weeks, God uses our spiritual family, the church, to do that in my life.

And the church is a place where I can develop deep, intimate relationships that far surpass any that I could have outside the church family. Our common bond in Jesus Christ is a far stronger force than anything else that might connect us with others.

God does not create spiritual orphans. It is never His intent that His children would be estranged from His family. So why would any Christian want to try to live out his or her faith apart from the love and support of the family that God has given to them?

The next imagery that Paul uses is that of a picture of a building. It is a building being built by God and it has three major characteristics:

It's based on God’s Word. In verse 20 he says, "having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone,"

In I Corinthians 3:11, Paul describes Jesus as the foundation of our faith. "For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ."

So some might find it a little surprising when he now describes the foundation of the church as being the apostles and prophets. However, we need to realize that Paul is making a very different point here that he did in his letter to the church in Corinth.

When Paul refers here to apostle and prophets, he is describing those like himself, who were the authoritative recipients and proclaimers of God’s revelation in Christ. The apostles is a term that Paul almost always uses to refer to himself and to the eleven that Jesus had appointed to go and be messengers for Him plus Matthias, who was chosen to replace Judas. The prophets are undoubtedly New Testament prophets who worked alongside the apostles to proclaim the gospel of Jesus.

The principle that Paul is laying out for us here is that the church needs to be built on the accurate and authoritative proclamation of the gospel of Jesus. For us, that is the Word of God, the Bible, which consists of the writings of the apostles and prophets that have been passed on to us.

We are joined together in Christ, who is the cornerstone of our faith.

At the end of verse 20 through verse 22, Paul says, "Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit."

Jesus is described here as the cornerstone. Paul is undoubtedly thinking of the cornerstone which formed the base of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem. It was the size of a railroad box car, weighing around 570 tons. That cornerstone was the most important stone in the building. It established the point from which the rest of the building would be constructed and in a sense it was the stone that held the whole building together.

Jesus is more than just the cornerstone. He is the means by which all of the individual stones are being joined together in this building. Peter also described this process I Peter 2:4-5. "Coming to Him, a living stone—rejected by men but chosen and valuable to God— you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."

Peter, much like Paul has done in our passage today, uses passive verbs to describe this process. In other words, we can’t make ourselves into a building. It is Jesus, who is doing all the work. Peter and Paul both use a present tense verb to describe the process. – "We are being built," into a spiritual temple. 

Beloved, that is exactly what Jesus does when He builds His church. He takes a bunch of blocks that aren’t much good on their own and He fits them together perfectly as a master builder. But in order to do that, He has to chisel away and cut away those parts of our blocks that would detract from the finished product or that would keep us from fitting in with the other blocks. And though Jesus is concerned with the individual blocks, His overall purpose is to create a building that will bring glory to Himself. 

Paul concludes with verse 22 with "...into a dwelling of God in the Spirit." From the very moment that we become a follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us as a guarantee that God will deliver everything He has promised to us. God does not create individual Christian blocks which are designed to exist on their own. Every follower of Jesus has been designed to be joined together with other believers, in this beautiful spiritual temple called the church, in which God lives and works.

Look, no family or building is ever going to be perfect. However, if we are the least bit rational and sane, we don’t just bail out when problems arise. That’s because we have responsibility! And, the same is true of the church. 

There's an old saying, "If you ever find a perfect church, do not join it. Because you'll just ruin it." 

As Christians, we were created to be part of a body. Believer's, joined together in Christ, forming the church. The call to be a follower of Jesus Christ is a call to live beyond yourself. The church is not here for you. You are here for the church, your community, and your community, the church is here for the world. Jesus did not die to make you into a sanctified consumer. He died to bring you alive to God and to a desperately needy world.

May it be so...

And now may the Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;

The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.

Now and forever, in Jesus' name

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The Brian Monzon Ministries



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