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Oct 31, 2010

From Separation to Siblings

Passage: Ephesians 2:11-22

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Postcards from the Front: A Wartime Romance

Category: Ephesians

Keywords: alienation, isolation, church, peace, oneness, root causes


From nations to families, there is an extrordinary amount of alienation and isolation in our world today. This passage explains to us the causes and the solutions while introducing us to the role God's church has answering this most basic of human conditions and needs.


From Separation to Siblings

#7 in the series “Postcards from the Front:  A Wartime Romance”

October 31, 2010--Ephesians 2:11-22

Connect Question:  What does your group think are the 3 leading things that the following groups become divided or alienated over:

  • Nations (against other nations)
  • Families (against each other)
  • Our country (against itself)
  • Churches (between believers)

From the beginning of human experience, figuring out how to live without hatred, prejudice and destructive conflict has been one of our greatest challenges. 

  • Historians have calculated the from 1500BC to about 850 AD there were some 7,500 “eternal covenants” or peace agreements among various nations with the hope of bringing peach.  Most lasted no longer than 2 years. 
  • Closer to home, our own city has a serious “separation” problem.  National averages are: 
    • 40% of 1st-time marriages end in divorce (one of highest in the world)
    • 60% of 2nd-time marriages end in divorce
    • 75% of 3rd-time marriages
  • Last year there were 2,416 marriage licenses granted in Spokane County.  The same year there were 2,074 divorces.  That’s a “divorce rate” of 86%!

We don’t have to look very far to find alienation and separation being a major problem in human experience. 

So when God talks to his kids about how they are supposed to live with Him and live with each other, it’s no wonder that the topic of alienation surfaces.  Mankind’s fall (or better yet “dive”) into sin has left us being people who struggle at every turn to learn to live in peace.  Given free rein, we seem to manage to destroy everything from our earthly environment to our closest friendships.  We travel through life accumulating one hurt after another until our relational backpack is filled with painful experiences and our hearts are too often isolated and lonely. 

Every presenting problem in life has spiritual roots somewhere. In today’s text in the letter to the Ephesian church, Paul begins to explain the root cause of so much alienation and division between people and what he is doing within His own spiritual family, the church, to heal that alienation.  So let’s read Ephesians 2:11ff.

      “ 11Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)— 12remember 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. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”

Paul is telling us how many ways every person born in this world is born into alienation and isolation.

  1. Vs. 11—“Remember that…you were separate from Christ….”  We all enter this world Christless.  The Bible presents Christ as the one responsible for bringing the creation into existence.  He is the creative center of the Godhead as well as the one who sustains every living being in this amazing world. 

God is reminding us here that we are born into this life isolated from God himself by our own sinfulness. 

      ILL:  We are like a baby that has been separated from its mother at birth.  We have no close or sustaining relationship with the author of life. Studies on infants who are not given a loving, nurturing connection with an adult but who have all their physical needs for good food and clean diapers eventually often die.  Those who survive that loveless environment grow up with serious bonding and detachment issues that haunt them in every human relationship they may have in the future.  Christless really means “lifeless” when it comes to that heart-felt connection and bond we were created to enjoy with our Creator.   

  1. Vs. 11—“…excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise….” 

Anybody here ever been an immigrant—born in another country but living in the U.S.?

ILL:  Sandy’s parents—Assyrians (a persecuted minority race in Iran & Iraq), immigrated to the U.S. through Ellis Island in the first half of the 20th century.  They weren’t “excluded” from citizenship in this great nation of the U.S. of A.

      [Today’s persecuted Assyrians aren’t so fortunate.   Take Sweden, for example.  Some 50,000 have immigrated to Sweden in recent years.  But this past year, Sweden started the largest expulsion of any nationality that has ever taken place in Sweden.  These actions are occurring after the Supreme Court of Migration in Sweden decided 2 years ago that there was no "inner armed conflict" in Iraq.  That occurred despite the FACT that today there are only ½ the number of Christian Assyrians and other non-Muslims in Iraq that there were in 2003.  Last year alone, 6 churches in Bagdad were destroyed in 1 day and scores of people killed and wounded.  Since the beginning of the Iraqi war, over 5 dozen churches have been completely destroyed. ]

      Do we have any real appreciation for what it is like to be “excluded from citizenship”?  Our own nation has a serious immigration problem with from 20-30 million illegal refugees living in America. Most are here because of the opportunities that exist to escape the grinding poverty present in Latin America.  Some are undoubtedly here to escape the horrible drug cartel wars that have claimed the lives of 30,000 people through violent deaths by beheading, assassination, firing squads and sex traffickers. 

      Being “excluded from citizenship” in any number of peaceful and prosperous nations like the United States or Sweden can be akin to a death sentence for thousands. 

      How much worse to be “excluded from citizenship” in God’s chosen people, made to remain foreigners to all God’s amazing promises, to His protection given to God’s children for both this life and the life to come? 

      Citizenship in a country where the laws are just, the leaders are good, kind and loving, and the citizens are growing up into more responsible and solid citizens every day is a wonderful place to live.  But to be excluded from that kind of life and to be citizens of a country that tortures, abuses, oppresses and destroys its own citizens is a horrible place to be. 

      That IS where God says every one of us either has been or still is today.  If you know Christ as your own Lord and sovereign, never forget what he has rescued you from.  If you are still outside his kingdom family, why?  What is keeping you from crossing that boarder from darkness to light, from being slaves to sin and Satan to being sons and daughters of THE most just, righteous, good, kind, loving and gracious Person in the universe?   

  1. The next form of isolation and alienation Paul singles out for every human being outside of Christ is this:  “…foreigners to the covenants of the promise….”

      What are “the covenants of the promise” mentioned here?  Since the term “promise” is singular, it is probably talking about the first and over-arching promise God gave to Abraham.  It was an unconditional promise to bring blessing to Abraham and his offspring in Genesis 12.  God’s promise was to a place (the Promised Land), a people (become the people of God), offspring, the opportunity to be a blessing to all nations and all people. 

      While the church of today is, I believe, distinct from Israel as the chosen people of God, God’s world-wide church has been given even greater promises that reach into eternity itself. 

  • We will have a homeland (heaven) no one can take away…ever.
  • Those who follow Christ and abide in Him will become people with spiritual offspring that extend the world over.
  • Every nation in this world will be blessed by the church.  Those nations who bless the people of God will be blessed as well while those who curse them and seek to destroy them will suffer God’s judgment. 
  1. The next contributor to isolation and alienation for people outside of Christ is that they are “without hope.”  I dealt with the power of hope several weeks ago and the power a hopelessness in life has to rob anyone of life itself.  That is why suicide is the #2 killer of our youth, youth who have more wealth, more entertainment, more educational opportunities, more sports, more of so much…but they don’t have hope for their futures, not to mention hope for their eternities. 

      It is truly tragic how many people in our culture are drifting into absolute hopelessness about both this life and certainly the life to come.  The Father of Lies, the Devil, has turned the lie given to Adam and Eve on its head.  Rather than telling people today that “you won’t really die”, he has changed it to, “There’s no life after this one.  You won’t really live after this life.  This is the only life you will ever experience so go ahead and live it as selfishly and self-focused as you want.” 

      The certain and assured “hope” of a much better life than this in a sin-free world under the governance of the Perfect Ruler changes how one lives this life.  So does being “without hope” of anything different from what we are already experiencing. 

  1. Lastly, Paul sums our isolation and alienation up with this all-encompassing terror: “…without God in the world.”  To people who have never know our amazing God on a personal, life-changing, heart-moving level, that doesn’t sound like such a horrible thing.  But to someone who has a handful of deep, meaningful, truly loving relationships with a few other people in life, it is like saying to them, “There was a time when you truly didn’t have a single friend in this world.” 

      Think of it this way.  If you had to choose to experience complete and total, irreversible alienation, isolation and separation from one of the following four loving relationships, which would you choose…and how would you feel?

  • Never seeing or enjoying or knowing the love of your spouse again?
  • Your family?
  • Your country and every one of the people you count as a friend here?
  • Your God? 

Anybody really thrive on alienation and distance in the relationships that matter most to you in life?  Of course not.  We weren’t wired to be that way.  We were wired for close relationship because we’re made in the image of God who is THE most relational being in the universe. 

So it is no wonder that the whole next paragraph speaks of what the death of Jesus Christ DID to make life for each one of us so very different. 

Ephesians 2:14-18

14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

According to vs. 15, Christ “abolished in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.”  But Jesus himself said in Mt. 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  SEE, the Bible is nothing but a bunch of contradictions!  J

      Well, since God doesn’t lie…or contradict himself…Jesus must have been right and so must Ephesians 2:15. 

      Remember that the “Law” had both the moral law portion (laws about morality) and the ceremonial or Levitical law that prescribed certain worship rules and ceremonies.  Christ kept both perfectly, but his death did away with the ceremonial law that was specific to the Jews and the Old Covenant with Israel.  That’s why we still hold to “Thou shalt not kill…steal…commit adultery…etc.” while not being obliged to honor the ceremonial law with prohibitions like “don’t cook a kid/goat in its mother’s milk” or “don’t wear clothing with a mixture of different kinds of materials.” 

      Why wouldn’t God want to continue to make this big kosher/ non-kosher distinction between Jews and non-Jews? 

      There is a little five-letter word that keeps occurring in this paragraph.  What is it??? (PEACE)

      What God is after in this world is not a phony political “peace” that gets signed one year and broken the next.  He’s not wringing his hands in heaven over “world peace.”  Because He’s already done ALL that needs to happen for the kind of peace he wants on the human plain to happen. 

      Vs. 14 tells us that “he [Jesus] is our peace.”  He’s our peace with God and he’s our peace with each other.  He has already torn down any and every “barrier” and “dividing wall of hostility” between people.  There is not one reason why, in Christ, there should be ANY sense of division or divide between people in this world. 

      In the ancient world at the time that Paul wrote this, the Temple in Jerusalem had different “courts” that were open only to certain individuals.  There were walls aplenty!

  • The innermost court on what is today the Temple Mount was called the Court of the Priests, because only male members of the priestly tribe of Levi were allowed entrance there and that only at certain times. 
  • The next court was the Court of Israel;  it could be entered by any male Jew.
  • After this was the Court of the Women, which any Jew could enter.  It was as far as a Jewish woman could go in this hierarchy.

All these courtyards were on the same level.  From the Court of the Women, one descended 5 steps to a level area in which there was erected a five-foot stone barricade that went around the temple enclosure.  Then after another level space, there were 14 more steps that descended to the Court of the Gentiles.  According to Josephus, the Jewish historian at the time, the wall dividing Jews from Gentiles was marked at intervals by stone inscriptions stating that no foreigner was permitted to enter the Jewish enclosures upon penalty of death.  Archeologists in the 19th and 20th centuries have found several of these inscriptions.  They read, “No foreigner is to enter within the balustrade and embankment around the sanctuary.  Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his death which follows.” 

      Talk about a “dividing wall of hostility”!  Yet Paul goes further by 4 times using the term “one” when he talks about what God’s people are to be “in Christ.” 

  • Vs. 14—“he…made the two one
  • Vs. 15—“one new man out of the two”
  • Vs. 16—“…in this one body to reconcile both to God….”
  • Vs. 18—“…by one Spirit.” 

This IS the miracle of the church of Christ Jesus.  No matter what your background, nationality, race, former religion, gender, educational level, economic means, political convictions, or favorite fast-food joint, we ARE one in the church. 

      In the last 30 years, I’ve been privileged to travel to every continent of the world except S. America and Antarctica.  I’ve seen believers in over 2 dozen countries of the world.  They’ve been black-skinned and white-skinned, yellow and red, straight blond hair and curly black-afro hair…and no hair.  They’ve been extremely rich and extremely poor.  They’ve been young and old, tall and short, skinny and stocky, multi-lingual and mono-lingual.

      And there has always been an amazing unity that I’ve felt and experienced.  I’ve experienced what this “one new man” is like…and it’s amazing! 

      We’re not “far off” from each other any more; we’re actually quite close in Christ.

      We’re not angry or hostile, not threatening to kill each other if you step over the line. 

We’re at peace with each other because we’re at peace with God. 

VIDEO CLIP: Gracia Burnham story video of forgiveness-- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4O6lF2VJQ1A

If our Lord Jesus Christ is in the business of making peace between people who formerly wanted to kill each other, why is His church so often divided?

If Jesus is all about “one new man” when it comes to the people of God, why is it that we have believers who won’t talk to each other and churches that won’t pray together. 

      I don’t think it’s so terrible that we have different churches and different denominations.  Diversity is a great thing in the Kingdom of God.  But DIVISION is not.  God isn’t after some organizational or ecumenical unity…one big world-wide melting together of theologies and beliefs.  But what he does care about is that we are living “at peace” with everyone who names Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. 

That’s why we must WORK AT genuine unity with those believers whom God has place in close proximity of our lives, be they in our family or in our church, in our workplace or in our school. 

The closing paragraph of this chapter uses 3 different metaphors to describe what WE now are together in Christ.  See if you can spot them as we read this together.

19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

O.K.  What are the three?

  1. We are fellow citizens, vs. 19
  2. We are members of God’s household, vs. 19.
  3. We are a holy temple being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit, vss. 21-22.

First, we are fellow citizens rather than foreigners and aliens. 

  • What do citizens have in common despite their many differences?
    • Same government over them.
    • Same land mass defines their country.
    • Same identity papers.
    • Same protection.
    • Same army/military.
    • Same rights and privileges.
    • Same responsibilities.

So what is the focus of shared citizenship?  What we have in common…shared experiences…similarities.  Despite all the differences, citizenship gives us a common bond, a common allegiance. 

APP:  What do WE have in common here in Mosaic despite our many differences?

Second, we are members of God’s household. 

All of a sudden we are taking our commonness to another level.  Paul uses the Greek term oikeios which can refer to everyone in a household from servants and houseguests to spouses and siblings.

      So what is the uniqueness that family has which simply being citizens of the same city or country doesn’t?  What is family supposed to experience that we may not experience anywhere else?

  • “Blood is thicker than water.”—loyalty, steadfastness, commitment.
  • Intimacy
  • Genuineness—family knows each other like no other relationship, right?  The good, the bad and the beautiful. 

STORY:  My only and older brother was a Captain in the Army when I was in junior high, serving in Vietnam.  One Christmas, he came home from an extended furlough before returning for his second tour of duty. 

      Now, you have to understand that my brother was 6’5”, 220lbs.  He was in the best physical condition of his life.  He was a fighting machine.  I, on the other hand, was a scrawny, late-to-mature junior high kid, about 5’3” and 120 pounds.

      My brother liked to, well, be a big brother.  What do big brothers like to do with little brothers?  Terrorize them, right?  About every other day, he would sneak into the bathroom with a big glass of ice-cold water and pour it over my head as I was showering.  I probably didn’t help that I screamed like a little girl!

      So one Saturday morning I awoke to the sound of his shower running downstairs.  A brotherly thought flashed across my mind that I should “bless” him in a similar fashion as he had been doing to me for days. 

      So I went into the kitchen, got a pot, put in some ice cubes and filled it with cold water.  I then proceeded down the main stairway to the long hallway leading to his bathroom.  I snuck into the bathroom and proceeded to dump a little bit of “payback” over the shower curtain. 

      The first clue that I had hit my target came in the form of some Army language that, to this day, I’m not sure I fully understood.  But having a keen sense of self-preservation, I knew it was time to make a hasty retreat.  I flew out of the bathroom and ran the 50 feet down the hall as fast as I could. 

      I happened to glance over my shoulder as I rounded the corner to the stairs, just in time to see the shower curtain go flying across the bathroom as my brother attempted to exit the tub.  However, he made a slight miscalculation in his trajectory, such that he tripped on the edge of the tub and went sprawling on the bathroom floor.

      Knowing from experience that my brother had a pretty well developed sense of anger at that point, I think I just prayed that I could make it to the first landing on the stairs before he reached the bottom.  (Adrenalin is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? J)  As I turned the corner at that first landing and began to head up the second flight of stairs, there he stood at the bottom, knee bloodied, stark naked and dripping wet, sharing some choice words of brotherly affection that I shall not repeat here today.

      About an hour later, we both met at the breakfast table.  I wasn’t quite sure what to do, whether to sit as close to the window as possible (in case I still needed to make a hasty exit) or to take the seat closest to Dad and pretend not to be scared. 

      The moment I saw his face, I knew what to expect.  He came to the table, shot me a little grin and said, “Well, I guess I had that coming, didn’t I?”  I knew I would live to see another day. 

Family…you got’a love them…and you got’a endure them.  Families that learn to grow up together, children and adults, all becoming more mature and less dysfunctional, are some of the best and most wonderful experiences of life. 

      But families that refuse to grow, refuse to change, refuse to become less selfish and instead become more determined to make everyone else conform to their likes and dislikes, can become nightmares. 

      The breakdown that is happening to marriages and families in our land (and particularly in our city) at present is one of the saddest evidences of a society gone haywire.  Where else will people experience unconditional love?  Where else will there be people who are so different who are so committed to each other?  Where else will we be forced to grow through so many stages of life with so many variables of personality? 

This is what God says WE ARE in Christ—members of God’s household.  This isn’t “MY household”; it’s GOD’S!  I shouldn’t be “in charge”…and neither should you.  We’re just siblings together in Christ, still growing up, still acting like immature little kids at times, still learning how to live and love in a group of people we will always…forever know as “family.” 

Let me ask you, “What makes for healthy families?”  And as you answer that, let’s ask ourselves, “Can we experience that as God’s family…this church…right now?”  “What will it take for us to really become a healthy, loving, ‘real’ “household of God” in this place?  [Take responses.]

Lastly, we are a “building” in Christ, a “holy temple” that is “joined together” and “being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”  The clear imagery here is of God’s eternal, heavenly, resplendent temple where the glory of God shines and there is no night since the presence of God is its light. 

So what does a temple, a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit focus upon?  What are the unique truths that God wants us to remember with this image of a temple?  [RESPONSES]

  • The glory of God
  • A meeting place with God
  • A place where people can make offerings of prayers, music, worship, sacrifices, service, etc. to God.

What started in the Old Testament with the Tabernacle in the wilderness displaying the presence of God to the people of Israel soon took the form of Solomon’s great temple in Jerusalem.  From there God moved on to creating a world-wide temple called “the Church.” God’s intent is that, all over the world, in every culture and city and nation, his people should be “joined together” in such a way that they “rise to become a holy temple…a dwelling in which  God lives by his Spirit.”  We, you and me, God’s people in this city, are to be the best and fullest demonstration of God’s presence in this age. 

      Someday this will change.  Someday WE will no longer have the privilege of being God’s dwelling place.  In Revelation 21, the Apostle John tells us what the final “temple” will look like when he says,

22I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.     

Until then, WE get to be the place where God’s glory resides.  WE get to be the people with among whom God chooses to make his presence known and experienced.  The church is not optional in God’s plan; it is central; it is critical; it is glorious…because HE dwells with us as WE are “joined together and rise to become a holy temple in the Lord.” 


  • HOW are you “joined together” with God’s temple, the church?
  • WHO are you in close connection as one of the “living stones” that Peter also talks about when he says, “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (I Pt. 2:5)

OR are you simply a “loose rock”, unconnected to others, rolling around in the tumbler of life rather than taking your strategic place in the building of people God inhabits in this world? 

  • What is GOD asking you to do or be in order to really be “nailed in”…set in place… to the present, visible temple of God in this world? 
  • How can we help?