William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
THE CHRISTLESS LIFE AND THE GRACE OF GOD (Ephesians 2:1-10)
2:1-10 When you were dead in your sins and trespasses, those sins and trespasses in which once you walked, living life in the way in which this present age of this world lives it, living life as the ruler of the power of the air dictates it, that spirit who now operates in the children of disobedience--and once all we too lived the same kind of life as these children of disobedience do, a life in which we were at the mercy of the desires of our lower nature, a life in which we followed the wishes of our lower nature and of our own designs, a life in which, so far as human nature goes, we deserved nothing but the wrath of God, as the others do--although we were all like that, I say, God, because he is rich in mercy, and because of his great love with which he has loved us, made us alive in Christ Jesus, even when we were dead in trespasses (it is by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Christ, and gave us a seat in the heavenly places with Christ, because of what Christ Jesus did for us. This he did so that in the age to come the surpassing riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus might be demonstrated. For it is by grace appropriated by faith that you have been saved. You had nothing to do with this. It was God's gift to you. It was not the result of works, for it was God's design that no one should be able to boast. For we are his work, created in Christ Jesus for good works, works which God prepared beforehand that we might walk in them.
In this passage Paul's thought flows on regardless of the rules of grammar; he begins sentences and never finishes them; he begins with one construction and halfway through he glides into another. That is because this is far more a lyric of the love of God than a careful theological exposition. The song of the nightingale is not to be analysed by the laws of musical composition. The lark sings for the joy of singing. That is what Paul is doing here. He is pouring out his heart, and the claims of grammar have to give way to the wonder of grace.
Life Without Christ (Ephesians 2:1-3)
2:1-3 When you were dead in your sins and trespasses, those sins and trespasses in which you once walked, living life in the way this present age lives it, living life as the ruler of the power of the air dictates it, that spirit who now operates in the children of disobedience--and once all we too lived the same kind of life as these children of disobedience do, a life in which we were at the mercy of the desires of our lower nature, a life in which we followed the wishes of our lower nature and of our own designs, a life in which, as far as human nature goes, we deserved nothing but the wrath of God, as the others do.
When Paul speaks of you, he is speaking of the Gentiles; when he speaks of us he is speaking of the Jews, his fellow countrymen. In this passage he shows how terrible the Christless life was for Gentile and for Jew alike.
(i) He says that that life was lived in sins and trespasses. The words he uses are interesting. The word for sin is hamartia (Greek #266); and hamartia (Greek #266) is a shooting word. It literally means a miss. A man shoots his arrow at the target; the arrow misses; that is hamartia (Greek #266). Sin is the failure to hit the target of life. That is precisely why sin is so universal.
We commonly have a wrong idea of sin. We would readily agree that the robber, murderer, the razor-slasher, the drunkard, the gangster are sinners, but, since most of us are respectable citizens, in our heart of hearts we think that sin has not very much to do with us. We would probably rather resent being called hell-deserving sinners. But hamartia (Greek #266) brings us face to face with what sin is, the failure to be what we ought to be and could be.
Is a man as good a husband as he might be? Does he try to make life easier for his wife? Does he inflict his moods on his family? Is a woman as good a wife as she might be? Does she really take an interest in her husband's work and try to understand his problems and his worries? Are we as good parents as we might be? Do we discipline and train our children as we ought, or do we often shirk the issue? As our children grow older, do we come nearer to them, or do they drift away until conversation is often difficult and we and they are practically strangers? Are we as good sons and daughters as we might be? Do we ever even try to say thank you for what has been done for us? Do we ever see the hurt look in our parents' eyes and know that we put it there? Are we as good workmen as we could be? Is every working hour filled with our most conscientious work and is every task done as well as we could possibly do it?
When we realize what sin is, we come to see that it is not something which theologians have invented. It is something with which life is permeated. It is the failure in any sphere of life to be what we ought to be and could be.
The other word Paul uses, translated trespasses is paraptoma (Greek #3900). This literally means a slip or a fall. It is used for a man losing the way and straying from the right road; it is used for a man failing to grasp and slipping away from the truth. Trespass, is taking the wrong road when we could take the right one; it is missing the truth that we should have known. Therefore it is the failure to reach the goal we ought to have reached.
Are we in life where we ought to be? Have we reached the goal of efficiency and skill that our gifts might have enabled us to reach? Have we reached the goal of service to others that we might have reached? Have we reached the goal of goodness to which we might have attained?
The central idea of sin is failure, failure to hit the target, failure to hold to the road, failure to make life what it was capable of becoming; and that definition includes every one of us.
Death In Life (Ephesians 2:1-3 Continued)
Paul speaks about people being dead in sins. What did he mean? Some have taken it to mean that without Christ men live in a state of sin which in the life to come produces the death of the soul. But Paul is not talking about the life to come; he is talking about this present life. There are three directions in which the effect of sin is deadly.
(i) Sin kills innocence. No one is precisely the same after he has sinned. The psychologists tell us that we never forget anything.
It may not be in our conscious memory, but everything we ever did or saw or heard is buried in our subconscious memories. The result is that sin leaves a permanent effect on a man.
In Du Maurier's novel Trilby there is an example of that. For the first time in his life Little Billee has taken part in a drunken debauch and has himself been drunk. "And when, after some forty-eight hours or so, he had quite slept off the fumes of that memorable Christmas debauch, he found that a sad thing had happened to him, and a strange! It was as though a tarnishing breath had swept over the reminiscent mirror of his mind and left a little film behind it, so that no past thing he wished to see therein was reflected with quite the same pristine clearness. As though the keen, quick, razor edge of his power to reach and re-evoke the by-gone charm and glamour and essence of things had been blunted and coarsened. As though the bloom of that special joy, the gift he had of recalling past emotions and sensations and situations, and making them actual once more by a mere effort of will, had been brushed away. And he never recovered the full use of that most precious faculty, the boon of youth and happy childhood, and which he had once possessed, without knowing it, in such singular and exceptional completeness.
The experience of sin had left a kind of tarnishing film on his mind and things could never be quite the same again. If we stain a garment or a carpet, we may send it to be cleaned, but it is never again quite the same. Sin does something to a man; it kills innocence; and innocence, once lost, can never be recovered.
(ii) Sin kills ideals. In the lives of so many there is a kind of tragic process. At first a man regards some wrong thing with horror; the second stage comes when he is tempted into doing it, but even as he does it, he is still unhappy and ill at ease and very conscious that it is wrong; the third stage is when he has done the thing so often that he does it without a qualm. Each sin makes the next sin easier. Wordsworth in the Intimations of Immortality wrote:
"The youth, who daily from the east
Must travel, still is Nature's priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day."
Sin is a kind of suicide, for it kills the ideals which make life worth while.
(iii) In the end sin kills the will. At first a man engages in some forbidden pleasure because he wants to do so; in the end he engages in it because he cannot help doing so. Once a thing becomes a habit it is not far from being a necessity. When a man has allowed some habit, some indulgence, some forbidden practice to master him, he becomes its slave. As the old saying has it. "Sow an act and reap a habit; sow a habit and reap a character; sow a character and reap a destiny."
There is a certain murderous power in sin. It kills innocence; sin may be forgiven but its effect remains. As Origen had it: "The scars remain." Sin kills ideals; men begin to do without a qualm the thing which once they regarded with horror. Sin kills the will; the thing so grips a man that he cannot break free.
The Marks Of The Christless Life (Ephesians 2:1-3 Continued)
In this passage Paul makes a kind of list of the characteristics of life without Christ.
(i) It is life lived in the way this present age lives it. That is to say, it is life lived on the world's standards and with the world's values. Christianity demands forgiveness, but the ancient writers said it was a sign of weakness to have the power to avenge oneself for injury and not to do so. Christianity demands love even to our enemies, but Plutarch said that the sign of a good man was that he was useful to his friends and terrible to his enemies. Christianity demands service, but the world cannot understand the missionary for instance, who goes away to some foreign land to teach in a school or heal in a hospital for a quarter of the salary he or she might obtain at home in some secular service. The essence of the world's standard is that it sets self in the centre, the essence of the Christian standard is that it sets Christ and others in the centre. The essence of the worldly man is, as someone has said, that "he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." The world's motive is profit. the Christian's dynamic is the desire to serve.
(ii) It is life lived under the dictates of the prince of the air. Here again we are at something which was very real in the days of Paul but which is not so real to us. The ancient world believed strenuously in demons. They believed that the air was so crowded with these demons that there was not room to insert a pinpoint between them. Pythagoras said: "The whole air is full of Spirits." Philo said: "There are spirits flying everywhere through the air." "The air is the house of the disembodied spirits." These demons were not all bad, but many were, out to propagate evil, to frustrate the purposes of God and to ruin the souls of men. The man who is under their domination has taken sides against God.
(iii) It is a life characterized by disobedience. God has many ways of revealing his will to men. He does so by conscience, the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking within us; he does so by giving to men the wisdom and the commandments of his book; he does so through the advice of good and godly men. But the man who lives the Christless life takes his own way of things, even when he knows what God's way is.
(iv) It is a life which is at the mercy of desire. The word for desire is epithumia (Greek #1939) which characteristically means desire for the wrong and the forbidden thing. To succumb to that is inevitably to come to disaster.
One of the tragedies of the nineteenth century was the career of Oscar Wilde. He had a brilliant mind, and won the highest academic honours; he was a scintillating writer, and won the highest rewards in literature; he had all the charm in the world and was a man whose instinct it was to be kind; yet he fell to temptation and came to prison and disgrace. When he was suffering for his fall, he wrote his book De Profundis and in it he said: "The gods had given me almost everything. But I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease.... Tired of being on the heights I deliberately went to the depths in search for new sensation. What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber, one has some day to cry aloud from the house-top. I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace."
Desire is a bad master, and to be at the mercy of desire is to be a slave. And desire is not simply a fleshly thing; it is the craving for any forbidden thing.
(v) It is the life which follows what the King James Version calls the desires of our flesh. We must be careful to understand what Paul means by the sins of the flesh. He means far more than sexual sins. In Galatians 5:19-21 Paul lists the sins of the flesh. True, he starts with adultery and fornication, but he goes on to idolatry, hatred, wrath, strife, envyings, seditions, heresies. The flesh is that part of our nature which gives sin a bridgehead and a point of attack.
The meaning of "the flesh" will vary from person to person. One man's weakness may be in his body and his risk may be sexual sin; another's may be in spiritual things and his risk in pride; another's may be in earthly things and his risk unworthy ambition; another's sin may be in his temper and his risk in envyings and strife. All these are sins of the flesh. Let no man think that, because he has escaped the grosser sins of the body, he has avoided the sins of the flesh. The flesh is anything in us which gives sin its chance; it is human nature without God. To live according to the dictates of the flesh is simply to live in such a way, that our lower nature, the worse part of us, dominates our lives.
(vi) It is life which is deserving only of the wrath of God. Many a man's life is embittered because he feels that he has never had what his talents and his work deserve; but in the sight of God no man deserves anything but condemnation. It is only his love in Christ which has forgiven men who deserved nothing but punishment from him, men who had grieved his love and broken his law.
The Work Of Christ (Ephesians 2:4-10)
2:4-10 Although we were all like that, I say, God, because he is rich in mercy and because of his great love with which he has loved us, made us alive in Jesus Christ, even when we were dead in trespasses (it is by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Christ, and gave us a seat in the heavenly places with Christ, because of what Christ Jesus did for us. This he did so that in the age to come the surpassing riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus might be demonstrated. For it is by grace appropriated by faith that you have been saved. You had nothing to do with this. It was God's gift to you. It was not the result of works, for it was God's design that no one should be able to boast. For we are his work, created in Christ Jesus for good works, works which God prepared beforehand that we might walk in them.
Paul had begun by saying that, as we are, we are dead in sins and trespasses; now he says that God in his love and mercy has made us alive in Jesus Christ. What exactly did he mean by that? We saw that there were three things involved in being dead in sins and trespasses. Jesus has something to do about each of them.
(i) We saw that sin kills innocence. Not even Jesus can give a man back his lost innocence, for not even Jesus can put back the clock; but what he can do is take away the sense of guilt which the lost innocence necessarily brings with it.
The first thing sin does is create a feeling of estrangement between us and God. Whenever a man realizes that he has sinned, he is oppressed with the feeling that he dare not approach God. When Isaiah received his vision of God, his first reaction was to say: "Woe is me! for I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5). When Peter realized who Jesus was, his first reaction was: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8).
Jesus begins by taking that sense of estrangement away. He came to tell us that no matter what we are like the door is open to the presence of God. Suppose there was a son who did some shameful thing and then ran away, because he was sure that there was no use in going home, because the door was bound to be shut. Then suppose someone came with the news that the door was still open and a welcome was waiting at home. What a difference that news would make! It was just that kind of news that Jesus brought. He came to take away the sense of estrangement and of guilt, by telling us that God wants us just as we are.
(ii) We saw that sin killed the ideals by which men live. Jesus reawakens the ideal in the heart of man.
The story is told of a negro engineer in a river ferry-boat in America. His boat was old and he did not worry over much about it; the engines were begrimed and ill-cared for. This engineer was soundly converted. The first thing he did was to go back to his ferry-boat and polish his engines until every part of the machinery shone like a mirror. One of the regular passengers commented on the change. "What have you been up to?" he asked the engineer. "What set you cleaning and polishing these old engines of yours?" "Sir," answered the engineer, "I've got a glory." That is what Christ does for a man. He gives him a glory.
It is told that in the congregation in Edinburgh to which George Matheson came there was an old woman who lived in a cellar in filthy conditions. After some months of Matheson's ministry, communion time came round. When the elder called at this old woman's cellar with the cards, he found that she had gone. He tracked her down. He found her in an attic room. She was very poor and there were no luxuries, but the attic was as light and airy and clean as the cellar had been dark and dismal and dirty. "I see you've changed your house," he said to her. "Ay," she said, "I have. You canna hear George Matheson preach and live in a cellar." The Christian message had rekindled the ideal.
As the old hymn has it:
"Deep in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore."
The grace of Jesus Christ rekindles the ideals which repeated failing to sin has extinguished. And by that very rekindling, life is set climbing again.
(iii) Greater than anything else, Jesus Christ revives and restores the lost will. We saw that the deadly thing about sin was that it slowly but surely destroyed a man's will and that the indulgence which had begun as a pleasure became a necessity. Jesus recreates the will.
That in fact is always what love does. The effect of a great love is always a cleansing thing. When a person really and truly falls in love, his love compels him to goodness. He loves the loved one so much that the love of his sins is broken.
That is what Christ does for us. When we love him, that love recreates and restores our will towards goodness. As the hymn has it:
"He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free."
The Work And The Works Of Grace (Ephesians 2:4-10 Continued)
Paul closes this passage with a great exposition of that paradox which always lies at the heart of his view of the gospel. That paradox has two arms.
(i) Paul insists that it is by grace that we are saved. We have not earned salvation nor could we have earned it. It is the gift of God and our part is simply to accept it. Paul's point of view is undeniably true; and for two reasons.
(a) God is perfection; and, therefore, only perfection is good enough for him. Man by his very nature cannot bring perfection to God; and so, if ever man is to win his way to God, it must always be God who gives and man who takes.
(b) God is love; sin is therefore a crime, not against law, but against love. Now it is possible to make atonement for a broken law, but it is impossible to make atonement for a broken heart; and sin is not so much breaking God's law as it is breaking God's heart. Let us take a crude and imperfect analogy. Suppose a motorist by careless driving kills a child. He is arrested, tried, found guilty, sentenced to a term of imprisonment and/or to a fine. After he has paid the fine and served the imprisonment, as far as the law is concerned, the whole matter is over. But it is very different in relation to the mother whose child he killed. He can never put things right with her by serving a term of imprisonment and paying a fine. The only thing which can restore his relationship to her is an act of free forgiveness on her part. That is the way we are to God. It is not God's laws against which we have sinned; it is against his heart. And therefore only an act of free forgiveness of the grace of God can put us back into the right relationship with him.
(ii) That is to say that works have nothing to do with earning salvation. It is neither right nor possible to leave the teaching of Paul here--and yet that is where it is so often left. Paul goes on to say that we are recreated by God for good works. Here is the Pauline paradox. All the good works in the world cannot put us right with God; but there is something radically wrong with the Christianity which does not issue in good works.
There is nothing mysterious about this. It is simply an inevitable law of love. If someone fine loves us, we know that we do not and cannot deserve that love. At the same time we know with utter conviction that we must spend all life in trying to be worthy of it.
That is our relationship to God. Good works can never earn salvation; but there is something radically wrong if salvation does not produce good works. It is not that our good works put God in our debt; rather that God's love lays on us the obligation to try throughout all life to be worthy of it.
We know what God wants us to do; God has prepared long beforehand the kind of life He wants us to live, and has told us about it in his book and through his son. We cannot earn God's love; but we can and must show how grateful we are for it, by seeking with our whole hearts to live the kind of life which will bring joy to God's heart.
B.C. AND A.D. (Ephesians 2:11-22)
2:11-22 So then remember, that once, as far as human descent goes, you were Gentiles; you were called the uncircumcision by those who laid claim to that circumcision which is a physical thing, and a thing produced by men's hands. Remember that at that time you had no hope of a Messiah; you were aliens from the society of Israel, and strangers from the covenants on which the promises were based; you had no hope; you were in the world without God. But, as things now are. because of what Christ Jesus has done, you who were once far off have been brought near. at the price of the blood of Christ. For it is he who is our peace; it is he who made both Jew and Gentile into one, and who broke down the middle wall of the barrier between, and destroyed the enmity by coming in the flesh, and wiped out the law of commandments with all its decrees. This he did that in himself he might make the two into one new man, by making peace between them, and that he might reconcile both to God in one body through the Cross, after he had slain the enmity between them by what he did. So he came and preached peace to you who were afar off, and peace to them who were near, because, through him, we both have the right of entry into the presence of the Father, for we come in the one Spirit. So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners resident in a land that is not their own, but you are fellow citizens with God's consecrated people and members of the family of God. It is on the foundation of the prophets and the apostles that you have been built up; and the corner stone is Christ himself. All the building that is going on is being fitted together in him, and it will go on growing until it becomes a holy temple in the Lord, a temple into which you too are built as part, that you may become the dwelling place of God, through the work of the Spirit.
Before Christ Came (Ephesians 2:11-12)
2:11-12 So then remember, that once, as far as human descent goes, you were Gentiles; you were called the uncircumcision by those who laid claim to that circumcision which is a physical thing, and a thing produced by men's hands. Remember that at that time you had no hope of a Messiah; you were aliens from the society of Israel, and strangers from the covenants on which the promises were based, you had no hope: you were in the world without God.
Paul speaks of the condition of the Gentiles before Christ came. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, but he never forgot the unique place of the Jews in the design and the revelation of God. Here he is drawing the contrast between the life of the Gentile and of the Jew.
(i) The Gentiles were called the uncircumcision by those who laid claim to that circumcision which is a physical and man-made thing. This was the first of the great divisions. The Jew had an immense contempt for the Gentile. They said that the Gentiles were created by God to be fuel for the fires of Hell; that God loved only Israel of all the nations that he had made; that the best of the serpents crushed, the best of the Gentiles killed. It was not even lawful to render help to a Gentile woman in childbirth, for that would be to bring another Gentile into the world. The barrier between Jew and Gentile was absolute. If a Jew married a Gentile, the funeral of that Jew was carried out. Such contact with a Gentile was the equivalent of death; even to go into a Gentile house rendered a Jew unclean. Before Christ the barriers were up; after Christ the barriers were down.
(ii) The Gentiles had no hope of a Messiah. The King James Version has it that they were without Christ. That is a perfectly possible translation; but the word Christos (Greek #5547) is not primarily a proper name although it has become one. It is an adjective meaning the anointed one. Kings on their coronation were anointed; and thus Christos (Greek #5547), the literal Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah (Hebrew #4886), came to mean the Anointed One of God, the expected King whom God would send into the world to vindicate his own and to bring in the golden age. Even in their bitterest days the Jews never doubted that that Messiah would come. But the Gentiles had no such hope.
See the result of that difference. For the Jew history was always going somewhere; no matter what the present was like, the future was glorious; the Jewish view of history was essentially optimistic. On the other hand, for the Gentile history was going nowhere. To the Stoics history was cyclic. They believed that it went on for three thousand years; then came a conflagration in which the whole universe was consumed in flames; then the whole process began all over again, and the same events and the same people exactly repeated themselves. To the Gentile history was a progress to nowhere; to the Jew history was a march to God. To the Gentile life was not worth living; to the Jew it was the way to greater life. With the coming of Christ the Gentile entered into that new view of history in which a man is always on the way to God.
Hopeless And Helpless (Ephesians 2:11-12 Continued)
(iii) The Gentiles were aliens from the society of Israel. What does that mean) The name for the people of Israel was ho hagios laos (Greek #2992), the holy people. We have seen that the basic meaning of hagios (Greek #40) is different. In what sense were the people of Israel different from other peoples? In the sense that their only king was God. Other nations might be governed by democracy or aristocracy; Israel was a theocracy. Their governor was God. After his triumphs, the people came to Gideon and offered him the throne of Israel. Gideon's answer was: "I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you" ( 8:23). When the Psalmist sang: "I will extol thee, my God and king" (Psalms 145:1) he meant it literally.
To be an Israelite was to be a member of the society of God; it was to have a citizenship which was divine. Clearly life was going to be completely different for any nation which had a consciousness of destiny like that. It is told that when Pericles, the greatest of the Athenians, was walking forward to address the Athenian assembly, he used to say to himself: "Pericles, remember that you are an Athenian and that you talk to Athenians." For the Jew It was possible to say: "Remember that you are a citizen of God, and that you speak to the people of God." There is no consciousness of greatness in all the world like that.
(iv) The Gentiles were strangers from the covenants on which the promises were based. What does that mean? Israel was supremely the covenant people. What does that mean? The Jews believed that God had approached their nation with a special offer. "I will take you for my people, and I will be your God" (Exodus 6:7). This covenant relationship involved not only privilege, but also obligation. It involved the keeping of the law. Exodus 24:1-8 gives us a dramatic picture of how the Jewish people accepted the covenant and its conditions--"All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do" (Exodus 24:3; Exodus 24:7).
If God's design had ever to be worked out, it must be worked out through a nation. God's choice of Israel was not favouritism, for it was choice not for special honour but for special responsibility. But it gave to the Jews the unique consciousness of being the people of God. Paul could not forget, because it was a fact of history, that the Jews were uniquely the instrument in God's hand.
(v) The Gentiles were without hope and without God. People often speak of the Greeks as being the sunniest people in history; but there was such a thing as the Greek melancholy. At the back of things there was a kind of essential despair.
Even as far back as Homer that is so. In the Iliad (6: 146-149) Glaucus and Diomede meet in single combat. Before they close in fight, Diomede wishes to know the lineage of Glaucus, and Glaucus replies: "Why enquirest thou of my generation? Even as are the generations of leaves such are those likewise of men; the leaves that be the wind scattereth upon the earth, and the forest buddeth and putteth forth more again, when the season of spring is at hand, so of the generations of men one putteth forth and another ceaseth." The Greek could say:
"We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish"
But he could not triumphantly add:
"But nought changeth Thee."
Theognis could write:
"I rejoice and disport me on my youth; long enough beneath the
earth shall I lie, bereft of life, voiceless as a stone, and shall
leave the sunlight which I loved; good man though I am, then
shall I see nothing more."
"Rejoice, O my soul, in thy youth; soon shall other men be in life,
and I shall be black earth in death."
"No mortal is happy of all on whom the sun looks down."
In the Homeric Hymns the assembly of Olympus is charmed by the Muses who sing "of the deathless gifts of the gods and the sorrows of men, even all that they endure by the will of the immortals, living heedless and helpless, nor can they find a cure for death, nor a defence against old age."
In Sophocles we find some of the loveliest and the saddest lines in all history.
"Youth's beauty fades, and manhood's glory fades.
Faith dies and unfaith blossoms as a flower;
Nor ever wilt thou find upon the open streets of men.
Or secret places of the heart's own love,
One wind blows true for ever."
It was true that the Gentile was without hope because he was without God. Israel had always had the radiant hope in God which burned clearly and inextinguishably even in her darkest and most terrible days; but in his heart the Gentile knew only despair, before Christ came to give him hope.
The End Of Barriers (Ephesians 2:13-18)
2:13-18 But as things now are, because of what Christ Jesus has done, you who were once far off have been brought near, at the price of the blood of Christ. For it is he who is our peace; it is he who made both Jew and Gentile into one, and who broke down the middle wall of the barrier between, and destroyed the enmity by coming in the flesh, and wiped out the law of commandments with all its decrees. This he did that in himself he might make the two into one new man, by making peace between them, and that he might reconcile both to God in one body through the Cross, after he had slain the enmity by what he did. So he came and preached peace to you who were afar off, and peace to them who were near, because, through him, we both have the right of entry into the presence of the Father, for we come in the one Spirit.
We have already seen how the Jew hated and despised the Gentile. Now Paul uses two pictures, which would be specially vivid to a Jew, to show how that hatred is killed and a new unity has come.
He says that those who were far off have been brought near. Isaiah had heard God say: "Peace, peace to the far, and to the near" (Isaiah 57:19). When the Rabbis spoke about accepting a convert into Judaism, they said that he had been brought near. For instance, the Jewish Rabbinic writers tell how a Gentile woman came to Rabbi Eliezer. She confessed that she was a sinner and asked to be admitted to the Jewish faith. "Rabbi," she said, "bring me near." The Rabbi refused. The door was shut in her face; but now the door was open. Those who had been far from God were brought near, and the door was shut to no one.
Paul uses an even more vivid picture. He says that the middle wall of the barrier between has been torn down.
This is a picture from the Temple. The Temple consisted of a series of courts, each one a little higher than the one that went before, with the Temple itself in the inmost of the courts. First there was the Court of the Gentiles; then the Court of the Women; then the Court of the Israelites; then the Court of the Priests; and finally the Holy Place itself.
Only into the first of them could a Gentile come. Between it and the Court of the Women there was a wall, or rather a kind of screen of marble, beautifully wrought, and let into it at intervals were tablets which announced that if a Gentile proceeded any farther he was liable to instant death. Josephus, in his description of the Temple, says: "When you went through these first cloisters unto the second court of the Temple, there was a partition made of stone all round, whose height was three cubits. Its construction was very elegant; upon it stood pillars at equal distances from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek and some in Roman letters that no foreigner should go within the sanctuary" (The Wars of the Jews, 5, 5, 2). In another description he says of the second court of the Temple: "This was encompassed by a stone wall for a partition, with an inscription which forbade any foreigner to go in under pain of death" (The Antiquities of the Jews, 15, 11, 5). In 1871 one of these prohibiting tablets was actually discovered, and the inscription on it reads: "Let no one of any other nation come within the fence and barrier around the Holy Place. Whosoever will be taken doing so will himself be responsible for the fact that his death will ensue."
Paul well knew that barrier, for his arrest at Jerusalem, which led to his final imprisonment and death, was due to the fact that he had been wrongly accused of bringing Trophimus, an Ephesian Gentile, into the Temple beyond the barrier (Acts 21:28-29). So then the intervening wall with its barrier shut the Gentile out from the presence of God.
The Exclusiveness Of Christless Human Nature (Ephesians 2:13-18 Continued)
It is not to be thought that the Jews were the only people who put up the barriers and shut people out. The ancient world was full of barriers. There was a time, more than four hundred years before this, when Greece was threatened with invasion by the Persians. It was the golden age of the city state. Greece was made up of famous cities--Athens, Thebes, Corinth and the rest and it very nearly encountered disaster because the cities refused to cooperate to meet the common threat. "The danger lay," T. R. Glover wrote, "in every generation, in the same fact of single cities, furious for independence at all costs."
Cicero could write much later: "As the Greeks say, all men are divided into two classes--Greeks and barbarians." The Greek called any man a barbarian who could not speak Greek; and they despised him and put up the barriers against him. When Aristotle is discussing bestiality, he says: "It is found most frequently among barbarians," and by barbarians he simply meant non-Greeks. He talks of "the remote tribes of barbarians belonging to the bestial class." The most vital form of Greek religion was the Mystery Religions, and from many of them the barbarian was excluded. Livy writes: "The Greeks wage a truceless war against people of other races, against barbarians." Plato said that the barbarians are "our enemies by nature."
This problem of the barriers is by no means confined to the ancient world. Rita Snowden quotes two very relevant sayings. Father Taylor of Boston used to say: "There is just enough room in the world for all the people in it, but there is no room for the fences which separate them." Sir Philip Gibbs in The Cross of Peace wrote: "The problem of fences has grown to be one of the most acute that the world must face. Today there are all sorts of zig-zag and criss-crossing separating fences running through the races and people of the world. Modern progress has made the world a neighbourhood: God has given us the task of making it a brotherhood. In these days of dividing walls of race and class and creed we must shake the earth anew with the message of the all-inclusive Christ, in whom there is neither bond nor free, Jew nor Greek, Scythian nor barbarian, but all are one."
The ancient world had its barriers. So, too, has our modern world. In any Christless society there can be nothing but middle walls of partition.
The Unity In Christ (Ephesians 2:13-18 Continued)
So Paul goes on to say that in Christ these barriers are down. How did Christ destroy them?
(i) Paul says of Jesus, "He is our peace." What did he mean by that? Let us use a human analogy. Suppose two people have a difference and go to law about it; and the experts in the law draw up a document, which states the rights of the case, and ask the two conflicting parties to come together on the basis of that document. All the chances are that the breach will remain unhealed, for peace is seldom made on the basis of a legal document. But suppose that someone whom both of these conflicting parties love comes and talks to them, there is every chance that peace will be made. When two parties are at variance, the surest way to bring them together is through someone whom they both love.
That is what Christ does. He is our peace. It is in a common love of him that people come to love each other. That peace is won at the price of his blood, for the great awakener of love is the Cross. The sight of that Cross awakens in the hearts of men of all nations love for Christ, and only when they all love Christ will they love each other. It is not in treaties and leagues to produce peace. There can be peace only in Jesus Christ.
(ii) Paul says of Jesus that he wiped out the law of the commandments with all its decrees. What does that mean? The Jews believed that only by keeping the Jewish law was a man good and able to attain to the friendship and fellowship of God. That law had been worked out into thousands and thousands of commandments and decrees. Hands had to be washed in a certain way; dishes had to be cleaned in a certain way; there was page after page about what could and could not be done on the Sabbath day; this and that and the next sacrifice had to be offered in connection with this and that and the next occasion in life, The only people who fully kept the Jewish law were the Pharisees and there were only six thousand of them. A religion based on all kinds of rules and regulations, about sacred rituals and sacrifices and days, can never be a universal religion. But, as Paul said elsewhere, "Christ is the end of the law" (Romans 10:4). Jesus ended legalism as a principle of religion.
In its place he put love to God and love to men. Jesus came to tell men that they cannot earn God's approbation by a keeping of the ceremonial law but must accept the forgiveness and fellowship which God in mercy freely offers them. A religion based on love can at once be a universal religion.
Rita Snowden tells a story of the war. In France some soldiers with their sergeant brought the body of a dead comrade to a French cemetery to have him buried. The priest told them gently that he was bound to ask if their comrade had been a baptized adherent of the Roman Catholic Church. They said that they did not know. The priest said that he was very sorry but in that case he could not permit burial in his churchyard. So the soldiers took their comrade sadly and buried him just outside the fence. The next day they came back to see that the grave was all right and to their astonishment could not find it. Search as they might they could find no trace of the freshly dug soil. As they were about to leave in bewilderment the priest came up. He told them that his heart had been troubled because of his refusal to allow their dead comrade to be buried in the churchyard; so, early in the morning, he had risen from his bed and with his own hands had moved the fence to include the body of the soldier who had died for France.
That is what love can do. The rules and the regulations put up the fence; but love moved it. Jesus removed the fences between man and man because he abolished all religion founded on rules and regulations and brought to men a religion whose foundation is love.
The Gifts Of The Unity Of Christ (Ephesians 2:13-18 Continued)
Paul goes on to tell of the priceless gifts which come with the new unity in Christ.
(i) He made both Jew and Gentile into one new man.
In Greek there are two words for new. There is neos (Greek #3501) which is new simply in point of time; a thing which is neos (Greek #3501) has come into existence recently, but there may well have been thousands of the same thing in existence before. A pencil produced in the factory this week is neos (Greek #3501), but there already exist millions exactly like it. There is kainos (Greek #2537) which means new in point of quality. A thing which is kainos (Greek #2537) is new in the sense that it brings into the world a new quality of thing which did not exist before.
The word that Paul uses here is, kainos (Greek #2537); he says that Jesus brings together Jew and Gentile and from them both produces one new kind of person. This is very interesting and very significant; it is not that Jesus makes all the Jews into Gentiles, or all the Gentiles into Jews; he produces a new kind of person out of both, although they remain Gentiles and Jews. Chrysostom, famous preacher of the early Church, says that it is as if one should melt down a statue of silver and a statue of lead, and the two should come out gold.
The unity which Jesus achieves is not achieved by blotting out all racial characteristics; it is achieved by making all men of all nations into Christians. It may well be that we have something to learn here. The tendency has always been when we send missionaries abroad to produce people who wear English clothes and speak the English language. There are indeed some missionary churches who would have all their congregations worship with the one liturgy used in the churches at home. It is not Jesus' purpose, however, that we should turn all men into one nation, but that there should be Christian Indians and Christian Africans whose unity lies in their Christianity. The oneness in Christ is in Christ and not in any external change.
(ii) He reconciled both to God. The word Paul uses (apokatallassein, Greek #604) is the word used of bringing together friends who have been estranged. The work of Jesus is to show all men that God is their friend and that, therefore, they must be friends with each other. Reconciliation with God involves and necessitates reconciliation with man.
(iii) Through Jesus both Jew and Gentile have the right of access to God. The word Paul uses for access is prosagoge (Greek #4318) and it is a word of many pictures. It is the word used of bringing a sacrifice to God; it is the word used of bringing men into the presence of God that they may be consecrated to his service; it is the word used for introducing a speaker or an ambassador into a national assembly; and above all it is the word used for introducing a person into the presence of a king. There was in fact at the Persian royal court an official called the prosagogeus whose function was to introduce people who desired an audience with the king. It is a priceless boon to have the right to go to some lovely and wise and saintly person at any time; to have the right to break in upon him, to take our troubles, our problems, our loneliness, our sorrow to him. That is exactly the right that Jesus gives us in regard to God.
The unity in Christ produces Christians whose Christianity transcends all their local and racial difference; it produces men who are friends with each other because they are friends with God; it produces men who are one because they meet in the presence of God to whom they all have access.
The Family And The Dwelling-place Of God (Ephesians 2:19-22)
2:19-22 So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners resident in a land that is not their own, but you are fellow citizens with God's consecrated people and members of the family of God. It is on the foundation of the prophets and apostles that you have been built up; and the corner stone is Christ himself. All the building that is going on is being fitted together in him, and it will go on growing until it becomes a holy temple in the Lord, a temple into which you too are built as part, that you may become the dwelling-place of God, through the work of the Spirit.
Paul uses two illuminating pictures. He says that the Gentiles are no longer foreigners but full members of the family of God.
Paul uses the word xenos (Greek #3581) for foreigner. In every Greek city there were xenoi (Greek #3581) and their life was not easy. One wrote home: "It is better for you to be in your own homes, whatever they may be like, than to be in a strange land." The foreigner was always regarded with suspicion and dislike. Paul uses the word paroikos (Greek #3941) for sojourner. The paroikos (Greek #3941) was one step further on. He was a resident alien, a man who had taken up residence in a place but who had never become a naturalized citizen; he paid a tax for the privilege of existing in a land which was not his own. Both the xenos (Greek #3581) and the paroikos (Greek #3941) were always on the fringe.
So Paul says to the Gentiles: "You are no longer among God's people on sufferance. You are full members of the family of God." We may put this very simply; it is through Jesus that we are at home with God.
A. B. Davidson tells how he was in lodgings in a strange city. He was lonely. He used to walk the streets at evening time. Sometimes through an uncurtained window he would see a family sitting round the table or the fire in happy fellowship; then the curtain would be drawn and he would feel shut out, and lonely in the dark.
That is what cannot happen in the family of God. And that is what should never happen in a church. Through Jesus there is a place for all men in the family of God. Men may put up their barriers; churches may keep their Communion tables for their own members. God never does; it is the tragedy of the Church that it is so often more exclusive than God.
The second picture Paul uses is that of a building. He thinks of every church as the part of a great building and of every Christian as a stone built into the Church. Of the whole Church the corner stone is Christ; and the corner stone is what holds everything together.
Paul thinks of this building going on and on, with each part of the building being fitted into Christ. Think of a great cathedral. Down among the foundations there may be a Saxon crypt; on some of the doorways or the windows there may be a Norman arch; one part may be Early English and another Decorated and another Gothic; some may have been added in our own day. There are all kinds of architecture; but the building is a unity because through it all it has been used for the worship of God and for meeting with Jesus Christ.
That is what the Church should be like. Its unity comes not from organization, or ritual, or liturgy; it comes from Christ. Ubi Christus, ibi ecclesia, Where Christ is, there is the Church. The Church will realize her unity only when she realizes that she does not exist to propagate the point of view of any body of men, but to provide a home where the Spirit of Christ can dwell and where all men who love Christ can meet in that Spirit.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017
the Third Week of Lent
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