Ephesians Bible Study ~ Week 4

Tonight we discussed the body of Christ and the reconciliation provided by the cross as part of Grace Chapel’s larger discussion currently going on about community. Ephesians describes how this reconciliation is both “horizontal” and “vertical,” which can help us recognize the many ways that God is reconciling the whole of creation to Himself. Praise the Lord!

Ephesians 2:11-22

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A.      Digression #1

1.       First part (1:20-2:10) – discussed in Week 3

a.        Focus on God’s power at work in Christ and in Christians

2.       Second part (2:11-22)

a.        Focus on Christians reconciled through Christ

  • A result of God’s power
  • Joy in being part of God’s people
  • Realization of hope in Christ
  • The realization of the intercession in 1:16b-19

b.       Christ: “the bringer of peace”

  • Readers of Ephesians in Asia Minor would have been very familiar with the idea of a “bringer of peace” considering the fame of Caesar Augustus who claimed to have brought peace to the entire Roman world. In this portion of Ephesians, “Paul” is intentionally presenting Christ the King as superior to the Caesar.

B.      The Text

Salutation (1:1-2)

Prayers: using the language of worship to reinforce Christian identity (1:3-3:21)

Berakah: blessing God for blessings bestowed on believers (1:3-14)

Thanksgiving: thanking God for the readers’ faith and love (1:15-16a)

Intercession: asking God for the readers’ enlightenment, especially that they might know God’s power at work in them (1:16b-19)

Digression 1: God’s power at work in Christ and in Christians (1:20-2:22)

Raised through Christ: victory over sin and evil powers (1:20-2:10)

Reconciled through Christ: victory over alienation (2:11-22)

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[11] Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands –

In the years of the early church, there was a very clear distinction between Jews and Gentiles. Jews viewed Gentiles as “the nations” (see also Gal 2:15) and the distinction was based on the physical act of circumcision. “Paul” is emphasizing that this was the case “at one time” (also “formerly” in some translations).

However, we know that Paul sees a difference between the circumcision of the flesh and the circumcision of the heart (Rom 2:25-29).

[12] remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. [13] But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Before Christ, the Gentiles lacked 5 spiritual privileges that were unique to the nation of Israel:

  • separated from Christ
    Before becoming Christians, Gentiles did not share Israel’s expectation of a Messiah.
  • alienated from the commonwealth of Israel
    Gentiles were not part of the people of God.
  • strangers to the covenants of promise
    Gentiles before Christ could not rely on the Abrahamic (Gen 12:1-3), Mosaic (Ex 20:1-21), or Davidic (2 Sam 7: 12‑17) covenants.
  • having no hope
    Gentiles had no hope of anything after death (cf. 1 Thess 4:13)
  • without God in the world
    Gentiles did not have a relationship with Yahweh, the one true God (Deut 6:4)

All of this has changed with the blood of Christ, which is the seal of the new covenant (cf. I Cor 11:25) that reconciles all humanity to God.

[14] For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility [15] by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,

How has Christ Jesus brought us “who once were far off” near to him? The action is two-fold.

In vv 14-15 we see that the action is horizontal:  he has “broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…” Most scholars regard this dividing wall as the Mosaic law, which caused the Jews to live in direct opposition to the nations in terms of customs and way of life. God intended for Jews to be set apart from the nations in this way.

Christ abolished this Mosaic law through the sacrifice of his flesh, thereby making peace between Jew and Gentile “in himself.” Talbert notes that in this new way, Jews don’t become Gentiles and Gentiles don’t become Jews. A third option is created that both Jews and Gentiles enter into to achieve reconciliation.

[16] and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. [17] And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. [18] For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

In vv 16-18 we see that the action is also vertical: he is able to “reconcile us both to God in one body…” (cf. Col 1:20) This reconciliation was preached to the Gentiles who were considered “far off” as well as the Jews who were considered “near.”

We have access to the Father by means of the “one Spirit” and we have access to the Spirit “through him” (Christ). Talbert notes that v 18 doesn’t say that Gentiles have somehow gained an access that earlier belonged to Jews alone, but rather that both Jews and Gentiles have a new access.

[19] So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, [20] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, [21] in whom the whole structure, being joined together grows into a holy temple in the Lord. [22] In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

We can now understand that, by virtue of the cross, the Gentiles (plural “you”) are now both 1) citizens with the redeemed (“the saints”) and 2) members of a family (“the household of God”).

This household of God is further compared to a building in the following ways:

  • built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets
    (cf. 3:5, 4:11)
  • Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone
    In antiquity, the cornerstone was the first stone laid and every other stone was lined up to it.
  • the whole structure being joined together grows into a holy temple in the Lord
    It is important to note here that the word for temple in Greek is naos does not refer to the entire temple complex, but instead to the inner sanctuary where God Himself dwells.

In v 22, the attention seems to shift from the present to the future. Talbert says, “One is led to envision a completed sanctuary indwelt by God’s presence…This is but the beginning of the summing up of all things through Christ. (1:10)” (Talbert, p. 86)

C.      The Major Issues

1.       How are we to understand the “body of Christ”?

a.        According to Ephesians:

  • Jew and Gentile are reconciled “in one body” to God (2:16)
  • Christ is head over everything for the church “which is his body” (1:22-23a)
  • Gentiles have become “members of the same body” (3:6)
  • Ephesians tells us that there is “one body” (4:4)
  • Christ equips believers for “building up the body of Christ” (4:12)
  • Christ is the head of the church, “his body” (5:23)
  • Christians are members of “his body” (5:30)

Talbert says, “In summary, in Ephesians, the ‘body of Christ’ is to be taken as a corporate entity, the people of God, the whole church.” (Talbert, p. 88)

2.       The concepts of “alienation” and “reconciliation”

a.    What can we take from this portion of Ephesians and apply to the current conversations going on at Grace about community?

  • Grace Chapel’s vision specifically mentions outreach to the “marginalized” in our community. What do you think we mean by this?

Here are a couple of blurbs from the Grace Chapel website:

“While Grace Chapel is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, we welcome all kinds of people regardless of beliefs, appearance, lifestyle, and/or socio-economic status.”

“We welcome people from all walks of life, whether they agree with our particular beliefs or not. We love a good discussion and are seekers of Truth.”

Homework for Week 5:

Read Ephesians 3:1-21 and consider the following questions:

  • Paul was evaluated differently by both Jews and Gentiles. To Jews, he was hated as a traitor. To some early Christians, he was more important than the Twelve. In other circles, he was virtually ignored. Does reading Ephesians influence your view of Paul in any way?
  • What do you think is the aim of the prayer in 3:14-21?
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One thought on “Ephesians Bible Study ~ Week 4

  1. Hey Meg,
    I haven’t forgot about the article on predestination; Stefan decided he wanted to share it with David and Sam, too, so he actually typed it up and will send it to you and everyone else sometime this week! Wahoo–less work for me! :)
    Sarah

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