Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Ephesians 2:11-13

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

It's easy to read these verses and gather the impression that Paul is pointing out the low class of the Gentiles and how it's only by God's good graces that they would be considered for inclusion into God's kingdom with the Jews.  And, all of that is true, only not in the sense that you might think.

The Gentiles, those not born of Jewish descent, you and me, were simply that -- not born of Jewish descent.  That's the only real difference between us as human beings . . . different from the Jews, that is.  Once again Paul is drawing the distinction that because that is the only thing that separates, there is really nothing that separates us.  In Bible times, circumcision was the outward sign that set you apart as a member of the Jewish race of people.  God had Abraham circumcise himself and his entire household, sons, grandsons, servants, slaves and foreigners and aliens that were among them as a sign of the covenant between him and God.  The covenant was this: for Abraham's part, the Lord alone would be his God, whom he would trust and serve; for God's part, He would be with Abraham and his descendants and make them a great nation because of Abraham's faith and that He would be with them and be their God. (Genesis 17:1-14)

As time went on, the Jews used the term "uncircumcised" in a very contemptuous way, believing and pointing out the Gentiles lowly state of their soul.  Paul, on the other hand, is simply using the term here to make his point (hence the quotation marks) that "circumcised" or "uncircumcised" doesn't matter because circumcision is only something that is done to the flesh . . . by human hands.  What matters is if our hearts, not our bodies, bear the mark of the covenant promise . . . of the Eternal One who brings us near to Him and gives us citizenship in His kingdom. 
Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:16-19, NIV
A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God. Romans 2:28-29, NIV
It's true, there was definitely a distinction between Jew and Gentile, but not in a spiritual sense.  The distinction was made through Abraham.  Because Abraham had faith in God, God chose him to bring the blessings of God to the rest of the world, to the foreigners and aliens . . . those outside of Abraham's descendants.  Abraham's descendants became the Jewish nation.  God chose Abraham's descendants to do a special work. 

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.  Romans 3:1-2, NIV
. . . the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! AmenRomans 9:4-5, NIV
The Jews were given the special tasks of bringing God's word through history, they were the picture of adoption into God's family and they enjoyed the glory of God's presence (like with the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night as in Exodus 13:21-22).  God made his covenant with them to bless all the peoples of the earth through them.  In the receiving of the law He gave to them the standard of living for all people, and He didn't just speak the law to them, He wrote it on stone tablets.  These tablets became prize possessions to the Jews symbolizing their relationship with God.  He gave to them the standard for worship and the precious promise of a Savior.  And, not at all least of these, is the patriarchs.  God was pleased to be the Father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and it was through these faithful few that we trace the human ancestry of Jesus.
So, yes.  There was a distinction between being Jew and being Gentile in terms of responsibility to the human race.  BUT, that in no way means that there is a distinction between Jew and Gentile in terms of the spiritual condition of our souls.  The Jews were chosen for the task of showing the rest of the world, the foreigner and the alien, the non-Jew, who this living God was, but they still had to circumcise their heart.  Being chosen by God to do this work did not negate their own need for God's grace and mercy.  They still had to come to God the same way the Gentiles had to, in faith . . . like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Being a Jew did not gain them access into God's presence.  Faith did.

These verses go on to tell us that the Gentile was separated from Christ and excluded from citizenship in Israel, going through life unaware of the covenants and promises and without hope of really knowing the God who created them.  Again, that was Israel's job.  They were to love the foreigner and alien and, in the Old Testament, if the foreigner and alien were willing to be circumcised, then they were to be counted as part of Israel.  It's no different now, New Testament life.  Those outside of the knowledge of salvation, those who haven't yet believed, go through this life unaware of God's love and hope and knowledge of the God who loves them.  Paul tells us that now, through Christ's work on the cross, through His blood, those outside do not need to remain outside, unaware.  The work of Christ is for us all.  We no longer depend on Israel to be God's messengers.  They did their job.  We have God's word and it tells us everything we need to know about who we are, who God is, how we should live, whom we should love, how much God loves us, the message of the cross and blood that leads us to life.

The message is this:  there is no difference between us or anyone else -- Jew, European, African, Indian, Middle Easterner, or American.  In God's economy no one is any lower class than the other.  And, God is not begrudgingly allowing us the opportunity to gain eternal life with Him.  He is GLADLY holding out the promises to you and to me!  He has gone to the most extreme lengths to insure our salvation.  His grace is extravagant and it lavishly ushers those on the outside in as soon as they desire it.  We all must come to the same place the same way: to the cross in faith (like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) believing that through Jesus' blood we are brought near to the throne of God, the Ruler of all who live, who will live and have ever lived.
In Christ's family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ's family, then you are Abraham's famous "descendant," heirs according to the covenant promises.  Galatians 3:28-29, MSG

In faith,

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