Having looked at the section of chapter 2 which states that we are dead to God, we now proceed to the section that shows we are distant from God.
Once again, Paul is taken up with the position that Gentiles were in before conversion. He is not now dealing with our moral state but with what we were religiously as Gentiles. These verses teach us how God has made provision to bring us into blessing, alongside the promises made to Israel. The section has two basic divisions:
- our position in Christ, vv. 11-18;
- the privileges we now enjoy in Christ, vv. 19-22.
In the former section we see how we who once had no place before God have now been made nigh.
In verses 11-13, we are made nigh to blessing. In verses 11-12, he recalls the past when there was definite national animosity, and the predicament that Gentiles faced. Our position as uncircumcised Gentiles was, as far as the Jew was concerned, one of definite pollution. This also manifested the spiritual poverty we were in, for all that the nation of Israel meant to God could not be applied to Gentiles. We were without Christ – Christless! Being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, we were homeless. As strangers from the covenants of promise, we were hopeless. Without God in the world, we were godless!
As Gentiles, we had no messianic hope; as aliens there was no privileged community to be part of. God never made any promised covenants to Gentiles, and we were, in fact, atheists, for the words ‘without God’ translate the word atheos from which comes our English word atheist. Thus, an atheist is not merely a man who does not believe in God, but one who is without God, and not saved.
How thankful we are in verse 13 for the transforming work of salvation! Now we are brought into those things that we did not have in our former lives. If, over verses 1-3, we write ‘but God’, now it is ‘but now in Christ Jesus’.
We need to pay close attention in particular to the covenants of promise. We have not taken over Israel’s blessings! However, what they will enjoy in a coming millennium has already become the portion of the saints today. Among those covenants of promise was new birth, Ezek. 36. 15-17. Another covenant of promise is the giving of the Holy Spirit, Joel 2. 28. Israel is promised a kingdom, and, as those born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we are now brought into the kingdom of His dear Son, Col. 1. 13. The new covenant of Jeremiah 31 will be enjoyed by Israel in the coming kingdom, but Paul declares he has been made a minister of the new covenant, see 2 Cor. 3; Heb. 10. 15-18. Genesis chapter 49 verse 10 relates to Israel’s future expectation, ‘unto Him shall the gathering of the peoples be’, yet, in Matthew chapter 18 verse 20, is this not the honour we have as we gather to His name? Well might verse 13 state that we who were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
In verses 14-15 we are made nigh to men. The discord between Jew and Gentile has now been removed in the church, and we are both one. The Lord has demolished the wall that separated us. This was seen in the Temple to make the court of the Gentiles. Now, not only is the wall demolished but the enmity has been abolished. That is, the law with its dogmas and statutes was abolished in the flesh of the Lord Jesus, and He has made in Himself ‘one new man’ with Jew and Gentile. This is not a union with the old but something completely new. The word ‘new’, kainos, always relates to that which is new in character and constitution. None can advocate covenant theology without ignoring the present work of Christ to bring in something vastly different from what was seen in the Old Testament. The church has not taken over Jewish blessings, for the nation will still enjoy the promised covenants in the coming kingdom.
In verses 16-17, we now find that both parties, Jew and Gentile, are ‘made nigh to God’. This is the third way in which we are made nigh, not now to blessing, nor to men, but made nigh to God. Though the Jewish nation had great privileges, sadly they were still far from God in heart. We see that both parties needed reconciliation. Having been brought nigh to blessing through the blood of Christ, and the means of our peace being His flesh, we see that reconciliation is by means of the cross. We are not reconciled personally, or individually, but ‘in one body’. We find reconciliation on the ground of unification, and it is only made possible by the crucifixion of Christ. This has brought the execution of the enmity that marred any possibility of fellowship, either with man or God. The Pulpit Commentary expresses it as ‘making emphatic the fact of reconciliation to God on the same footing, and by the same means, both were to be reconciled in one body and by the cross’.1 The cross is the means God has used to reconcile opposing parties, and now establishes fellowship with Himself.
Thank God for the preaching of peace! The message of peace is, of course, a divine word and here it speaks of the Lord preaching peace, clearly by the Spirit through the disciples. This was carried out by those who heard the Lord, and brought the gospel to the ‘far off’ Gentile, and also to the privileged Jew. It is evident that the peace of God was needed by both!
Our access to the Father can only be by the Spirit, the Godhead is before us in this verse, and all parties of the Godhead are needed to bring us into the divine presence.
In the closing verses, we are now brought face to face with our privil- eges. In verse 19, we are brought into favour, and accepted into the family. What a transformation has taken place: as strangers we were deprived of any rights to a relationship with God, and as foreigners, sojourners, we had no privileges. Now we are ‘fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God’. This gives us a national, and spiritual standing, as we are brought into the divine domain, and have rights as those who are part of the household of God. Thayer defines the household of God as ‘belonging to one’s household, related by blood, kindred’.2 We are there in company with the saints, the holy ones of God, and with it there is the responsibility, as with any household, to maintain the honour and dignity of such a place.
We are not only brought into favour, and into the family, but we are also built into the framework of the temple that has been formed through the apostolic teaching.
The apostles and prophets are the foundation of the building, and were evidently the prime gifts in the early church. 1 Corinthians chapter 12 verse 28 states that God has set them first in the church, and the word ‘first’ indicates ‘first in rank’. They are seen here as being in the foundation and are foundation gifts; they do not exist throughout the church age. We have no apostles and prophets today. The ministry of these men was of God and none should despise their teaching. Sadly, some would deny the apostolic word that is left to us. As far as the building is concerned, the Lord Jesus has the supreme place, being the chief corner stone. This stone does two things: first, it unites both Jew and Gentile, not now into one body but into one building; second, all the lines of that building must run from the corner stone – He determines the character this building takes. It is the stone that binds the building together, and has the prime function in the building.
Every believer has a part in the structure of this building. In this lovely epistle, all is of God, the hand of man is not allowed to build this habitation of God. In the building of 1 Corinthians chapter 3, the local assembly of God’s children, we find that man has a prominent place to play in its well-being, and we are warned to be careful as to what we build, otherwise the judgement of God will fall upon us. In this building, God does not leave anything to man, and well may it be said to be ‘fitly framed together’. No stone is out of place, and all work together as a cohesive unit to form a holy temple to the Lord. This is a place where the God of heaven has His habitation. If every believer forms a part of this temple, the Ephesian saints are encouraged to know that they also belong to it.
These saints would be very familiar with the great Temple to Diana, over which the uproar was made when Paul was in Ephesus. The people spoke of it as something not to be spoken against saying, ‘the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised and her magnificence should be destroyed’, as they saw the effect of the gospel in that city. But here is a far greater temple, not made with hands but as a result of the work of Calvary, and of which all believers have part in its structure. What an inspiration to these Ephesian saints!
All we have in this chapter is of grace, and it brings before us how we were when God took dealings with us as sinners. This does not negate the truths of chapter 1, where all is seen from the divine standpoint, but it does manifest the material that God took up to make us what we are, and to bestow such great blessings upon us. Understanding this chapter should bring forth great praise for the goodness of God toward us!
1 H. D. M. Spence, Joseph S. Exell, Pulpit Commentary – Ephesians, Funk and Wagnalls, pg. 66.
2 J. G. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Harper and Brothers, 1889.