Saturday 25 January 2020

I am turning to the Epistle to the Ephesians, which is before you. 
     Our epistle looks at the hostility that existed between Jew and Gentile in Paul’s time.  The Jews hated the Gentiles, so much so, that if a Gentile woman fell into difficulty during labour, they would not help her, in order to stop another Gentile being born into the world; and the Gentiles were not too fond of the Jews either. 
      The Jews saw themselves as God’s chosen people, which gave them the right to hate others; they had been promised the Messiah; and they alone had been part of God’s Covenant.  Anyone else did not belong to God’s people, which meant judgement with hell as the natural consequence.
     The Jew had a national home in Palestine but were scattered around the Mediterranean area.  Wherever they went they took with them a high moral standard and pure faith in a holy and righteous God in contrast to the Gentile gods.  They did not want to be dragged down morally by those who lived in a world of moral and spiritual corruption.  For them the Mosaic law was the solution, for it regulated every aspect of life.  So it was this law which separated Jew and Gentile.  The Jew was determined to maintain this separation and not let the Gentile have any share in the promise of salvation, unless he accepted and obeyed every line of the law
     The Jews considered the Gentiles had rejected God, which in fact they had, so causing a dividing line of hostility.  In the Temple Courts there were separate Courts, and there was an inscription on the wall which stated that any Gentile caught within the Temple area would face death.  The Temple was at the heart of Judaism and was a symbol of all the law stood for,    
      The Gentiles had their own gods. It was a multi-faith society, and like those today who have their own gods of money, property, etc, all of which do not give the spiritual satisfaction of belief in the one true God, they without hope, for there is no fulfilment in an empty product.
      `  The Gentiles had a mixed reaction to the Jews.  Some returned the hatred; others were attracted by the moral outlook of Judaism.  They saw in the Jewish Synagogue fellowship and brotherhood that contrasted with the disintegration of their own society.  They saw noble standards.  The barrier was the acceptance of 613 laws plus any Rabbinic additions.     
     The Gentiles felt like many people today in that they did not seem to belong to anything and had no clearly defined belief.  They knew there must be something better within their grasp and wanted to find it.
     We can see a parallel situation within the main line Churches to day.  People see clearly defined doctrine being ignored and re-interpreted to suit and embrace modern culture, and to make the Church appear worldly friendly, but  which lacks a clear moral basis.  So each year there is a decrease in the number of members, whilst people go to the small evangelical churches or just drop away, which is extremely sad and very worrying for the future.      
                The evangelical wing has formed an association called the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, which is campaigning for a return to orthodox doctrine and biblical integrity, yet whilst everyone is entitled to an opinion, some of the remarks from the liberal establishment, you would think they were trying to destroy the Church and deprive people of their liberty.  It may be significant the Queen has sent two letters of support to the leaders. 
     Paul was trying to explain the loss of not being Jews. The Gentiles were seen as foreigners, and as such were excluded from all the benefits of Israeli citizens, namely the promises made by God to Moses and David. 
       Whilst Paul was an Apostle to the Gentiles, he still had great concern for the Jews and is striving to bring the two together.  He talks of the dividing wall which prevents them from mixing, and says we all have to get right with God, and until we do so we will not get right with other people.  We get the answer by Jesus death on the Cross who brings reconciliation for us to be right with God and people. Jew and Gentile can now sit down together as one and form what became known as the third race, Christians.
     Paul uses illustrations which would be vivid to a Jew, to show hatred can be ended and unity achieved.  He said those who were far off had been brought near.  When Rabbis spoke about receiving a convert into Judaism, they said he had been brought near.  He assures the Gentiles and Jews that they can be followers of Jesus and end the resentment because of the peace earned for them by His death on the Cross.
     You Ephesians," he says, "are no longer strangers and foreigners. Once you were strangers, says the apostle. You did not know what God could do for you. Now that you have come to Christ you are no more strangers.
     And you are no longer foreigners, either. A foreigner is different than a stranger. A foreigner may be very familiar with the country in which he lives. He may have lived there for years, but he has no ultimate rights. He is living on a passport.   
     So as we come to Church, perhaps even on a regular basis, we have to be careful we come not like the foreigner with a passport, but as one who has the full rights of a citizen of the Kingdom of God.          
     Paul is writing as a Jew to a largely Gentile people and wants to show how wonderful it is to be a Christian and to belong to a Church. He sees the Christian as part of a great building each Christian a stone built into the Church.  Jesus is the corner stone and if you take the cornerstone away the building will collapse.  Unity comes from Jesus not from any organisation, ritual or liturgy.   When we are able to understand how God sees the Church, we will want to do all we can to make others want to become part of it
     We have to accept that our world has divisions, the clashes of interest are real.   Despite all the wonderful advanced technology and aids we have today, we haven’t advanced that much in relationships.  We have wonderful medical operations which perform heart transplants, yet many hearts are without compassion. 
     In every walk of life we find hostility, even regrettably within the Church.    We don’t have to go back 2000 years however to find racial or cultural hostility. There is still a wall in place in Belfast, erected during the troubles to keep Protestant and Catholic apart.  Such rivalry in the name of religion was appalling, but even more shameful was the fact that such rivalry could have been cut out if the Church leaders of both faiths had got together and told their peoples to stop, for clergy in Northern Ireland have more influence and are listened to more than here, but on either side there was support for their own factions, one especially so.   
     There are differences between people, which God no doubt intended.  We are not, despite the efforts of the equality zealots in Parliament, all equal or the same.  Those inequalities and differences can be an asset.  You don’t have a body which is all hands or heads. If the body of Christ is to be complete and functional, it needs to have various qualities.  And each sex performs some functions in life in a better way than the other and should be allowed to get on, without interference.
     Christians should be able to rise above strife. People sometimes see others through their own eyes.  Two ladies who had not tasted champagne one day decided to try some. It ended with one accusing the other of being drunk.  She said I know you are drunk I can see you have two noses.  We allow the emotional differences people have to be given greater significance than what they have in common.
     In the concluding verses of our passage Paul wants to encourage us to come into a living relationship with God.  We are children of God who cares for us and has a purpose for our life.  As Christians we belong to the heavenly family with one Father, and with Jesus, and we have a common spirit.  This means we meet not with strangers but as brothers and sisters of God’s family.

No comments:

Post a Comment