Unity A Divine Or Human Accomplishment

God's Message on the Web - My earliest podcasts.

After considering the last two sermons, some of you might think this preacher is completely crazy. It is possible that you have been challenged to consider some things you have never considered before.

Generally, in religious matters, we do not like to consider thoughts that we have never considered before. We find great comfort in believing that someone or some group within our religious movement has everything all figured out. All we have to do is “plug in” and we are okay. We do not have to think, or to ask questions, or to understand–all we have to do is to “plug in” and we are fine. It is not a matter of “believing” but a matter of “doing.” We just need to be very careful to “do” the correct things.

It is true that all we have to do is to “plug in,” but we “plug in” to Jesus Christ, not to human conclusions. “Plugging in” to Jesus Christ means we have to think, we have to ask questions, and we have to understand. In fact, thinking, questioning, and understanding are continuous pursuits as we increase our knowledge of Jesus Christ. We never stop focusing on Jesus Christ as a person reflected in the teachings of the Bible. We never stop learning what the crucified, resurrected Jesus did and does for us.

As we continue our pursuit of God’s concept and definition of Christian unity, let us begin by reading Ephesians 2:11-22.

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

I ask you to consider, accurately, this scripture, but with a perspective that may be different to you.

  1. Let’s begin by acknowledging that the Roman world of the first century was a very different world from our world of today.
    1. Things we take for granted did not even exist then.
      1. Individuals did not have personal Bibles.
        1. Printing had not even been invented yet.
        2. Throughout the first century, the New Testament was being written–some Christians died before it was all written.
        3. No one, including Paul, could ask his audience to turn to a book, chapter, and verse and follow his reading.
    2. Do you realize what that means?
      1. There were no English translations–in fact, English did not yet exist as a language!
      2. There were no commentaries, no concordances, no church bulletins, and no brotherhood papers.
      3. The printing press had not yet been invented and paper as we know it did not exist.
      4. Everything had to be learned in a congregation basically by verbal communication.
    3. Common concepts of deity were different.
      1. At first, all Christian converts were Jewish or converts to Judaism (consider Acts 2:10)
        1. The first clear spread of Christianity to the gentile world is in Acts 10.
        2. The first gentile congregation we read of was in Antioch in Acts 11:19-24.
      2. At some point in the first century, there were more gentiles than Jews who were Christians.
        1. Remember Jews did not have social contact with gentiles (see Acts 10:28).
        2. Thus when there were more gentiles who were Christians than there were Jews who were Christians, it created an extremely interesting dynamic of intercultural exchanges.
      3. Most converted gentiles came from an idolatrous background.
        1. Some believed there were many gods, and many of those gods came from families of gods.
        2. Some believed in fate–what was going to happen would happen, and the gods were unlikely to change it.
        3. Many believed gods were more likely to harm people than help people, so people had to be very cautious in getting a god’s attention.
        4. Often the morality teachings of a god were quite different to Jewish or Christian moral teachings–one god was worshipped by getting drunk, and fertility gods were often worshipped by sexual intercourse.
    4. The Jewish concepts of deity were commonly quite different to gentile understandings.
      1. A devout Jew said only one God existed and was to be worshipped.
      2. A devout Jew believed the actions of God could be changed by repentance and prayer.
      3. A devout Jew understood God was to be profoundly respected, but He cared about His people.
      4. A devout Jew understood things such as drunkenness and fornication did not worship God, but offended God.
    5. Jews and gentiles worshipped in differing ways, ate different foods, and lived different lives that followed different teachings and traditions.
      1. Can you imagine how difficult it was to get Jews who became Christians and gentiles who became Christians to respect each other?
      2. If you define unity as alikeness, can you understand the major challenge to alikeness in those circumstances?
      3. And we think it is a major challenge to achieve a sense of unity when we have African-American Christians, Hispanic Christians, Laotian Christians, Native American Christians, and Caucasian Christians right here, right now in one city, in one building, and basically in one society!
    6. If unity is alikeness produced through human achievement, unity is an unlikely challenge!
  2. Now look closely at the text we read at the beginning–Ephesians 2:11-22.
    1. Paul began by acknowledging the enormous gulf that separated Jews and gentiles prior to Jesus’ death.
      1. One of the main contributors to that gulf was the Jewish practice of circumcision.
        1. Jewish circumcision was commanded of the Jewish people by God as a symbol of the covenant God established with the descendants of Abraham through Isaac.
          1. God said to Abraham in Genesis 17:9-12:
            God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants.
          2. Circumcision was a physical act that symbolized Israel’s solemn agreement with God.
            1. If a Jew was not circumcised. he was not a part of God’s covenant people (Genesis 17:14).
            2. A devout Jew in the first century could not imagine anyone being in relationship with God without being physically circumcised.
            3. Therefore devout Jews could not see any way uncircumcised gentiles could be in relationship with God.
        2. Before God’s accomplishment in Jesus Christ, gentiles were in a horrible situation. Look at verse 12.
          1. They had no Messiah.
          2. They were not a part of the nation of Israel.
          3. They had no covenant with God.
          4. They had no hope.
          5. There was an impossible gulf between them and God.
        3. However, that all changed with Jesus Christ. (verse 13)
          1. Because of what God did in Jesus Christ, gentiles are near God.
          2. Because of what God did in Jesus Christ, gentiles have a choice to make that can produce relationship with God.
        4. Why? What is it that God did in Jesus Christ that makes this powerful difference to gentiles?
          1. Through Jesus Christ God created peace between Jews who believe in Jesus Christ and gentiles who believed in Jesus Christ.
          2. God made Jewish and gentile believers one new man in Christ.
          3. God did not establish this new peace between Jewish and gentile believers through the application of the Law and God’s covenant with the Jews–God did it through Jesus Christ.
        5. What was God’s objective in Jesus Christ for Jewish and gentile believers in Jesus Christ?
          1. He wanted to reconcile both of them into one spiritual body to God through Jesus’ cross.
          2. Did gentile believers have to become Jewish or did Jewish believers have to become gentile? No!
          3. Would believing in Jesus Christ make Jewish and gentile believers alike in all things? No!
        6. Then what was God’s objective?
          1. God’s objective in Jesus Christ was to produce peace between Jewish and gentile believers.
          2. It was to give both of those groups the same Spirit of the same God.
          3. It was to make gentile believers in Jesus Christ a full part of God’s family.
          4. It was to give gentile believers a foundation in the apostles and prophets.
          5. It was to give gentile believers Jesus Christ as the spiritual corner stone of their spirituality just as God did Jewish believers.
          6. It was to make both, Jewish and gentiles believers, into God’s living temple so they, together, could be the place where God’s Spirit lived.
  3. The point I want you to see: did gentile believers (or Jewish believers) understand what God had done in Jesus Christ? No!
    1. Gentile converts to Jesus Christ did not have to do things in the ways Jews did those things in order to be Christians–see Acts 15:1-29.
      1. Did all Jews who believed in Jesus Christ understand that? No!
      2. Did all gentiles who believed in Jesus Christ understand that? No!
      3. Did the people to whom Paul wrote in Ephesians understand that? No!
      4. Did the fact that these Christians did not understand (and, in many instances, refuse to accept what God did in Christ) prevent God from doing what He intended to do in Jesus Christ? No!
    2. Pay careful attention to what Paul wrote:
      1. In verse 13, gentiles “have been brought near.”
      2. In verse 14, Jesus “is our peace.”
      3. Verse 14. God “made both groups one.”
      4. Verse l5 speaks of the peace God made between Jewish believers and gentile believers as a divine achievement.
      5. Verse 16 speaks of the reconciliation into one body as an accomplished fact.
      6. Verse 18 speaks of access to God’s Spirit as an accomplished fact.
      7. In verses 19 through 22, all that God achieved for gentiles and Jews in Jesus Christ is spoken of as accomplished fact.
    3. Even though Jewish and gentile believers did not comprehend all that God did in Jesus Christ, God still did it.
      1. Making one new man out of both groups of believers was not dependent on their full understanding.
      2. The one new man God made existed even if they did not understand.
      3. It was and is a divine accomplishment because of what God did in Jesus Christ; it is not a human achievement.
      4. The human challenge was NOT to wait until both groups reached a full understanding and alikeness, but the human challenge was to place their confidence in what God did in Jesus Christ.
      5. Even though they were different, placing their trust in Jesus Christ unified them through God’s act, not through their alikeness!
      6. Thus people who were different in many ways were united in Christ.

We conclude by reading two statements from Paul.

To the Roman Christians, Paul wrote:
For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:4-8)

To the Corinthian Christians, Paul wrote:
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)

The only two things your two feet and your two ears have in common is that they are parts of the same body, answerable to the same head.

David Chadwell

Author: Greg

Welcome to Gods Message on the web. My name is Greg and I want to welcome you. I started doing these Podcasts, MP3, and Audio Books back in 2007. Stay awhile and make yourself at home. The Christian Podcasts here are free and for everyone to enjoy. I’m doing a complete series on David Chadwell who is a retired minister from Fort Smith, Arkansas. I’ve also done an Audio Book for Wayne Jacobsen’s the Naked Church. Plus a series of MP3s for Pastor Billy Crone and his The Final Countdown series.

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