Ephesians 2:14-18 True religion builds bridges, not dividing walls
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 expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 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.
The purpose of religion is to unite, not alienate; it builds bridges, not dividing walls. The law given to Jews that was meant to draw them near to God became a dividing wall of hostility with other races; what was meant to bring people of other races near to God became a point of alienation and prejudice. The ceremonial law that caused the hostility was no longer required as reconciliation with God is fulfilled through the cross. The law that requires Jews to separate themselves from Gentiles, that which is for a season is now permanently abolished. Through the cross, God unites Jews and Gentiles by creating a new person out of the two. Hence, it is not either Jews or Gentiles should change, but rather both must be changed for reconciliation to take place. Reconciliation with God necessarily involves change of the individual and reconciliation with fellow men. The cross not only brings peace between God and man, it destroys the bondage of animosity between people of different races and heritage.
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
Here are two groups of people with very different paths to salvation. The Jews were given the law that contains ceremonial purification rituals and sacrifices: law of commandments expressed in ordinances, through which they draw near to God. Even as the Jews observe the law, the sacrifices therein points them to Christ through which they receive salvation. On the other hand, the Gentiles did not have the law, but were co-beneficiaries (with the Jews) for salvation through Christ. However, the law functions as a dividing wall in order to set the Jews apart from the rest of the nations. The law serves to protect the Israelites from the impurity of the Gentiles by stipulating purifications in matters of food and drink, it forbade eating or intermarrying with Gentiles. The law, meant for good, led the Jews (because of human weakness) to develop contempt for the Gentiles. In response, the Gentiles regard Jews with suspicion, considering them inhospitable and indulge in anti-Jewish prejudice.
Christ’s death and suffering in his flesh broke down this dividing wall of hostility by doing away with the ceremonial part of the law that stipulates temple purification rituals and sacrifices. Jews are no longer required to observe temple rituals as Christ’s blood has forever forgiven the sins of both Jews and Gentiles. Therefore, with the ceremonial part of the law abolished, the root of animosity between Jews and Gentiles no longer exist: has broken down… the dividing wall of hostility.
The tearing down of the dividing wall effectively unites and reconciles Jews and Gentiles into one people of equal standing before God: who has made us both one. Christ is in fact that peacemaker, who unites all humanity under God: For Christ himself is our peace. There arises one new man in place of the two; it is not an amalgamation of the two, but a third group who is neither Jew nor Gentile, which is a new creation. Therefore, reconciliation with God necessarily involves change of the individual and reconciliation with people who may be different: and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross. Divine revelation of the law brings one near to God, but at the same time hostility and conflict arises because of human weaknesses. However, the cross reconciles man to God and at the same time reconciles different races to become one new creation.
And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
Christ came to call Gentiles: you who were far off, and Jews: those who were near, to be at peace with each other. Jews draw near to God through the ceremonial law of temple sacrifices, whilst Gentiles did not know God. However, both receive the same Spirit through which they have access to the Father. The ceremonial law that serves as a path towards God, that also serves as a dividing wall is no longer valid. But by a whole new way of the Spirit, both groups have access to one Father. As the Spirit indwells the people, the Spirit inevitably makes them brothers and sons under one God.
1. Our religious rituals while instrumental in reinforcing our faith in God should not act as a point of conflict and alienate others from us. Religious rituals are expressions of our relationship with God and should not be used to judge others. For example, among believers, one who does not baptize himself in water should not be immediately judged as one without faith as each is accountable to God. I have known of true believers who decide to refrain from baptism for a season so that their families may have opportunity to know the gospel while maintaining an open channel. For families who are steep in traditions, baptism is seen as betrayal of their family heritage and would result in severance of family ties.
2. True religion unites, creates harmony and builds bridges, not dividing walls. Religious rituals and form must not become a distinctive feature among its members, but rather values of love and tolerance. James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” The sign of a true believer is observed by the things he say and does in truth and love; not in the religious rituals and form.
Non-believers should not be seen in a less favorable light than believers as many of them made sacrifices that dwarf those of the average Christian. Experience tells me that a person’s religious beliefs do not contribute to an objective judgment of a person’s character. One may have a view that Christians are more likely to be involved in charitable works or show integrity at the work place. But not every Christian is charitable and honest. I have also come across many Buddhists friends as being more helpful in my times of need. Hence, when choosing a business partner, his religious belief is not the prime consideration, but his character and values system is. However, this does not include the process in choosing a spouse as the Bible is very clear about marrying within the faith.
3. Our standing before God as sons does not make us any more valuable than those who do not know God. The fact that Christ gave His life for all shows the infinite value of each person. Hence, we must respect each person as being made in God’s image and having infinite value whatever their religious beliefs may be. As believers, we may have a special relationship with God, that however does not make us more superior than non-believers. Instead, we have to honor them for their virtues and their contributions to society.
1. Do not form perceptions of others by their religious beliefs, but by their actions and value systems. Try to appreciate them for their friendship and integrity.
2. When relating to people in general, make values system the main bridge of your friendship, not religious beliefs. You will be surprised to find some of your most enjoyable moments are spent with those who don’t share the same religious beliefs as you do.
Dear Lord, help me to become a better friend in building bridges into the lives of others. As I grow in the knowledge of the word, help me translate it into becoming a uniting factor in my family and the work place. Help me to cherish others and to respect them despite the differences. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.