What the World Needs Nowby Ed de la Cour on August 9, 2016
Ephesians 2: 11 – 18
July 31, 2016
“WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW”
Do you enjoy a feeling of community in your church? Do you believe your church gives you a close sense of fellowship? Do you personally enjoy a deep sharing of life with others in this body? Is everyone welcome there? What happens if some people in your church fail in life in some way? What does Christian community mean to you?
The Lord wants us to grow up in our understanding of Christian community. As recent events in our country unfolded, we have been seeing the crying need for Christian community. The racial unrest and violence we are seeing across the nation is unsettling and frightening. I believe America needs a fresh and extra-large dose of Biblical Christian community.
The Beatles used to sing that all we needed was love, but in truth, that kind of love is nothing more than a hackneyed cliché. Clichés have a huge presence on Facebook, but to be effective, love needs to put on flesh. If you are going to love, you need to be willing to get to work and get dirty. Love needs to be perceived as real in the eye of the one being loved. No one honestly believes that holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” will be much help. Love requires that people invest themselves in the outcome, or else anarchy and destruction will overtake our society.
Watching our Bourne on the Fourth of July Parade made me feel very good about the place we call home. In the sense of living in a town, there was a feeling of neighborliness and warmth in the general atmosphere of the day, even though I had met very few of those people before that moment. There was little to no depth in any of my feelings for the people around me. There was no indication that anyone in the crowd would go out of his way for anyone else. It was just a really nice day, which was all well and good, but being nice does not mean community is happening.
When gunfire erupts and law enforcement officers as well as civilians die due to racial conflict, people who are wise are able to understand just how thin is the fabric of our society and just how slim is the veneer that protects our “community.” It has become apparent that whatever is holding our culture together is pretty fragile and very weak.
News networks like CNN or Fox News cannot make peace. Presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton cannot make peace. The only people who have the capacity to create peace in our country are those people in whom the Prince of Peace has come to live and establish His Kingdom, and that’s the Church of Jesus Christ. In other words, it’s up to you and me because the buck stops here.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote to a church full of Gentiles who had just been incorporated into a belief system that had previously been the unique province of Jews for well over two thousand years. Imagine how difficult it was for Gentiles to “break into” the local church! So Paul pulled no punches to impress us with some very serious truths.
The first paragraph we read is divided by the words “formerly” and “but now.” In verse 11, “formerly” means what used to be true of you and me is no longer true. Paul was saying that at one time, you were there, but now you are here. “Formerly,” you were cut off from God. Formerly, you were foreigners, separated from God. At one time, you were aliens excluded from the promises of God. You were cut off from any hope in God. You were far away from God. You were alienated from God. All those words are joined together by a common thread of hopelessness. If you were a Gentile, there was no sense of any future for you. That was a sad and tragic state of affairs – a situation no Gentile could escape. It is the situation for millions in our own country today, people who find themselves trapped in hopelessness and despair, whether that trap is economic, moral, racial, or spiritual.
“But now,” verse 13, there’s good news. God has changed everything. Instead of still being cut off and alienated, you and I have been brought near to God through the blood of Jesus by His death on the cross. That which had served to keep you out, that which had served to block you from ever having peace with God, that which had disqualified you from having a wholesome relationship with God and, frankly, a wholesome relationship with anyone, has been taken away. God declares that Jesus is your peace. God has taken out all the trash and God has brought the peace and the presence of God into our lives.
God has also declared peace between Jew and Gentile. God says that these two separate and warring bodies have been made one. The dividing wall of hostility between them has been destroyed. In verse 15, Paul says there is now one new man, one reconciled body of Christ. We call that the Church of Jesus Christ. The blood Jesus shed is powerful and effective! Formerly there was this horrible fence between God and us. I think of it as if it were a wall of impenetrable razor wire. I don’t want to climb over razor wire. As far as I am concerned, razor wire is an insurmountable obstacle. But now that which was insurmountable has been cut through and pushed aside. It’s gone, cut down and rendered useless, thanks to what was accomplished at the cross of Jesus. The result is that God has made peace. Whatever reasons there may have been for anxiety, nervousness, distrust, and conflict between us are gone.
The application to our lives is obvious and powerful. There are so many areas of life around which we have erected barriers: the color of your skin, your ethnic background, your culture, your language, your religion, and your socio-economic status, not to mention your political position. Into those impediments and into those barriers, man has further sowed all kinds of discontent, suspicion, rivalry, fear, hatred, and discord. But God has sown peace, and that by a sovereign act of God. You don’t want to be caught arguing with one of those! God changed the population of the Church of Jesus Christ in one fell swoop. By the cross, God abolished every barrier that keeps people from God and every barrier that keeps people from people. God made peace, and He made peace singlehandedly. If there are barriers in this church, you created them, not God.
In verse 16 Paul says that God has brought the warring factions together, and has made us to be at peace. The cross is God shaking hands with you and me and declaring the war between us is over. Making peace is reconciliation and that is what happened when Jesus hung on the cross. God was making peace between us and Him.
Now God intends that the Church learn how to live as peacemakers and how to live as reconcilers on the streets of our cities and towns. Reconciliation is a truth that is in desperate need of being recovered in the church today. The church is not about the ministry of reconciliation or of peacemaking. We are excited to see souls saved, but we are not so keen on seeing relationships healed. Friends, we are not coming to church to argue and bicker and get our own way. We are here to learn how to live at peace with God. We are here to learn how to live at peace with one other.
Great divides exist in the church just as they do in society at large. So much of the church lives in disobedience to the doctrine of the new man in Christ. We are reconciled to God at the cross and we are supposed to be reconciled to each other, but that’s far from true in real life. We create distinctions much like the one that separated Jew from Gentile, distinctions that have become unhealthy and dangerous. To give three examples, we will fight over spiritual gifts, over the kinds of worship music we will have in church, and over views about the end times. It’s not a sin to have a different opinion. What is sinful is separating, pulling away from, and refusing to enjoy fellowship with fellow believers who have different opinions. There is one new man in Christ, not fifteen or twenty – and certainly not a hundred!
You and I are the Gentiles to whom Paul was speaking. The Gentiles were a messy bunch of people. They represented every tribe and tongue and nation in the non-Jewish world. If you weren’t Jewish, you were a Gentile. The Jews saw themselves as the sons of God and everybody else was a barbarian. The Greeks saw things pretty the same way, so the division between them was mutual. They hated each other. Plus, the Gentiles worshiped an impressive array of gods. The Gentiles were also very different from each other as well as very different from the Jews. There was absolutely no reason for any of them to get along. How would there ever be peace?
When I speak with people, I am struck by how few have any sense of peace in their lives. They usually find it hard to admit, but peace is not at home in their hearts. Here in Ephesians 2, God has brought everyone to the table and He has declared that you and I have equal access to God by the Holy Spirit. God has made a way for everyday people to know real peace in their lives. God has made a way for peace to come into your home and for peace to reign in your church, and peace to bless your community. God has made a way for bickering to stop and for the divisiveness to end.
Here is where Christian community is born. So far, we’ve spent years enjoying the theory of being reconciled to God and to each other. But where is it that you can actually experience Biblical community? Where is it where you can fall flat on your face and then be helped up again? That is what God designed the church to do.
In many towns or villages, “big fish” struggle for power and control over those “small ponds,” which is exactly what happens in a lot of churches. Plus, many of us want our churches to remain nice and small so we can lap up all the attention we feel we need or so we can exert the power we feel is our due. For many Christians, everyday life and life in the church is all about me and mine. That is American individualism and it only serves to make it so we really are alone and really cut off from the community of the Body of Christ. How many people who used to attend worship have cut themselves off from the church? That’s individualism run amok, and it is very wrong. It is, in fact, spiritually immoral to remain alone because you cannot get along with others. It is intolerable because that is not a picture of redemption nor is it the will of God being lived out. Instead, it is a picture of people who are continuing to be alienated from God and from one another. It’s a picture of what we were without Christ. Remember? We used to be cut off from God. We used to have to live alone, without hope and without a supportive community. That’s not who we are anymore.
Just like first century synagogues, American churches are mostly a white bread and highly homogenous bunch of congregations. While there are exceptions, by and large, churches in this country are pretty much all the same. Contrast that with the view the church we find in theBook of Acts. In Acts 2: 9 – 11, we see the seed bed from which the Church of Jesus Christ was birthed. Then in Acts 10, the Gentile church was born, and that meant even more people of all kinds of dissimilar shapes, sizes and colors coming together.
Imagine each one of all those groups insisting that the church meet their needs and take care of them! When we insist that our church fix its focus on us to the exclusion of people around us, we are preventing ourselves from experiencing Biblical community.
In a Christian community, we get to see Jesus in the middle of all our relationships because being part of a Christian community is a conscious choice. You may be tempted to see someone in your church as a nasty, hard-to-get-along-with person. But if you take your relationship with God seriously, you will see that person who rubs you the wrong way as your opportunity to see God make peace, rather than as one more chance to go to war. We can actually choose not to give up on a difficult relationship. We can choose to love and not to write someone off. It’s here, in the church, where we do not have to pretend we are perfect. We can try and fail. And then we get up and try to get it right once more. It is in the community of the church where we learn how to live together, where we make a solemn decision that we shall not surrender this precious gift God has given. It’s here where we learn how to forgive. It’s here where we learn how to get along. We learn that we do not always have to be right. Your church could become a living laboratory in how the Gospel transforms lives.
When we were younger, we looked at our parents and our teachers and we said, we are never going to be like them. But then we grew up and we became the very people we’d said we would never be! Paul warned his Gentile readers to remember where they’d come from. Formerly (verse 11), this is who you were. You used to be considered less than nothing. But now (verse 13), you have been raised up. You’ve been brought near to God. You have received a warm welcome from God Himself! Therefore, let there be peace in the church and let that peace change the way you relate to people outside the body of Christ as well as inside the church.
What the world needs now is to see churches that do not live only for themselves. What the world needs now is to see the church consciously decide to love itself, and not to exult in failures in keeping fellowship. What the world needs now is to find communities that are built consciously on God’s transforming love. A community that loves like Jesus would welcome people who are different and would not turn them away. The community that loves like Jesus would be a place where very different people – people who are Gentiles just like us – can find a home. What our nation needs now are lots of communities where relationships can be healed, where skin color truly does not matter, where the Cross of Jesus means real peace can be found and it’s not just something spiritual to sing about.
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