This morning we’re at the end of a long series on healthy relationships. We’ve covered a lot of topics over these past few months:
- why the gospel is the key to peace
- why unity is important
- why it’s important to get the log out of our own eyes before we focus on the speck in the eye of others
- why confession is important
- how to handle criticism
- the importance of challenging and confronting others
- what real community looks like
- how to forgive, and more
We’ve covered a lot of ground. I’ve been pleased to see some of the changes that have taken place as we’ve worked on this. I know that I’ve had to make some course-corrections in my own life. I’ve heard from a lot of people – especially those who have been part of the small groups – that this focus on peacemaking has been challenging and stretching.
I was trying to figure out how to close this. I think this morning I want to end with an acknowledgement that what we’re talking about is costly. When I was single, I could pretty much come and go as I pleased. Then I got married, and all of a sudden I had to communicate what I was doing. Not only that, but I discovered that my wife had ideas and plans that didn’t always matched up. The truth is that it’s costly to be in relationships. The deeper you get in, the more it costs, and often, the more pain you experience. So why are relationships so important?
In particular, why should we sign up for costly relationships in church? If we are to live out the peacemaking principles around here, it’s going to cost us big time. It’s a lot easier to show up and check out without really getting connected. Actually, it’s a lot easier to drop out altogether. A recent issue of Christianity Today had an article called “The Leavers: Young Doubters Exit the Church.” It says, “Among young adults in the U.S., sociologists are seeing a major shift taking place away from Christianity…” I’m sure there are many reasons why. I’m sure that many people here have wrestled through this issue, especially when the relational cost gets high. I have some friends who are very serious about Jesus but who have given up on the church.
This morning I want to invite you to look at a challenging passage of Scripture. And this morning I want to ask you to commit to entering deeper into relationship within this church for two reasons. The first reason is this:
1. The church demonstrates the reconciling work of God
Throughout almost all of human history there have been divisions between people. When I was in high school we had the jocks and the preps, the geeks and the nerds. Today we have the Wal-Mart crowd and the Holt-Renfrew crowds. We divide by location, race, education, social status, and politics. In Toronto right now people are worried about the growing divide between downtown and the inner suburbs, between the have-communities and the have-not communities. We divide in endless ways.
When Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians, one of the greatest divisions was between Jews and Gentiles. None of today’s distinctions are more exclusive or unrelenting than the separation between Jews and Gentiles that existed in that time.
The Jews believed the Gentiles were created to fuel the fires of Hell. It wasn’t lawful to aid a Gentile woman in giving birth, for that would bring another heathen into the world. Jews regarded Gentiles as sick and perverted pagans who engaged in idol worship and gross sexual immorality, and who had no regard for the true God.
The Gentiles weren’t so crazy about the Jewish people either. They conquered the Jewish nation, so it was easy to feel culturally and politically superior. The Roman Livy confirmed this in his day, saying, “The Greeks wage a truceless war against people of other races, against barbarians.”
There were all kinds of divisions: political, cultural, food, religious, and more. And these divisions were not just theoretical. They caused huge problems in the church as Gentiles became Christians and came to embrace the same faith as the Jewish believers who had also become Christians as well.
It’s in this context that Paul writes to the Ephesians. He’s just described how God has taken people who were dead in trespasses and sins, and made them alive together with Christ by grace through faith. So far, so good. We usually focus on how faith in Christ changes our vertical relationship with God. But then Paul begins to describe the horizontal implications of faith in Christ. Writing specifically to Gentiles, he says:
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)– remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-18)
Do you see what Paul is saying here? He’s saying a couple of things.
First: Becoming a Christian doesn’t just change our relationship with God. It also brings us into relationship with others. You don’t become a Christian simply to get right with God; you also become a Christian to join a community. You become part of the new humanity that God is creating.
Second: When you become a Christian, you become part of that new humanity, and your identity as part of that new humanity supersedes any other identity that you may have had before. That’s why Jews and Gentiles could become overcome all the barriers that divided them, because what they had in common in Christ was far more important than their nationality or anything else. In Christ, he has brought us together and made us one.
I love what D.A. Carson says: “Christians are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.” That’s exactly right.
And this is the first reason why the effort required to be part of a church is worth it. It’s because the church is a demonstration of the reconciling work of God. It is the horizontal evidence of the work of God. You can’t be made right with God vertically without it also affecting you horizontally.
Remember that I said that this passage is challenging? This passage challenges us to remember why this is important. God has made us part of a new community. I love hearing how couples met; the bigger the story, the more I enjoy it. There’s no greater story for how we came together to be the church. We are part of the biggest story that’s ever happened. God has brought us together. When we come to Christ, he doesn’t just make us right with God. He also makes us part of a new humanity. You could say he makes us part of a new race.
This changes the equation. If this is optional, then I can opt out when it gets inconvenient or when I just feel like it. But this isn’t optional. This is a demonstration of the reconciling work of God. That’s why these relationships are important.
But that’s not all.
2. The church is actually the dwelling place of God
Paul uses three images of the church in verses 19-22:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his 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.
Each of these images is packed full of meaning.
First he uses the image of citizenry. I had no idea how much I should value my citizenship until I saw others trying to become Canadian citizens. Having been born a citizen, I took it for granted. I don’t anymore. And that’s nothing compared to the way that the Ephesians would have seen citizenship. Citizenship was a huge source of human pride. Your city provided your identity. If you traveled and met someone else from your area, there would be instant connection.
Paul here says that we’re fellow citizens with God’s people. We possess a citizenship far superior to any local citizenship and even the coveted Roman citizenship. We’re part of a supreme cosmopolitan community, a third city.
But it gets even more intimate. We’re not just fellow citizens; we’re actually family. We’re “…also members of his household” (Ephesians 3:19). This is an even deeper level of intimacy. Tony Evans says:
You’ve been called into something staggering. If Bill Gates were to adopt a child, that would be staggering. If the president of the United States were to adopt a child, the implications of that are staggering.
Because we’ve been adopted into the family of God, the implications are beyond comprehension.
We’re fellow citizens; we’re family. But it gets even more mind-blowing than this. We’re also God’s temple:
…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. (Ephesians 2:20-22)
For a thousand years, the temple in Jerusalem had been the focus of God’s presence in the world. But now, Paul says, God is doing a new thing. He’s building a new temple, this time located among people – more particularly, in his church. This building isn’t God’s house; together you and I are parts of God’s house, his holy temple. It’s a temple with three parts:
- the foundation of the apostles and prophets – those who brought the Word of God to us
- the chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ – He’s at the center; everything else fits around him
- building blocks – us! Gentiles used to be excluded from the temple; now we’re part of what God is building
This means that God actually inhabits his church. This is the focus of God’s presence in this world. If you wanted to go where God’s presence dwelt, you used to have to go to the temple. Now, if you want to go to where God’s presence dwells, you have to go among his people, his church. We are where God dwells.
You see how this gets more and more intimate. Fellow citizens is sort of close; family is a lot closer; blocks in the temple are connected millimeters apart. You’re supported by others, and you also support others. You are part of something much bigger than yourself.
If you want to ask the question, “Why church” you have to come to grips with the fact that God has chosen to create a new people, a new humanity, out of those who were once enemies. He’s chosen to dwell among his people.
Living in community in the church is a hassle. It’s inconvenient. But I hope you’ll see why it’s worth it. I hope you’ll also see that this is much more intense than you may have imagined. It’s about more than attending services. It’s becoming radically reoriented in your relationships; deeply committed to what God is doing in his church.
That sounds like a tall order. More than we might think we could possibly accomplish…a people at peace, a people reconciled to one another, a people who are a holy temple, a people who are a dwelling place for God? But Paul has a word for us there, too. Later in Ephesians, after his powerful portrait of the church and all that God calls it to be, he prays for the church, and then in 3:20-21 in the benediction to his prayer he says:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…
It is a tall order. We can’t do it, but He can. He can do immeasurably more abundantly than all that we ask or think – according to His power at work in us. “…to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”