By Gretchen Potma
Ephesians 2:11-22 (MSG)
“It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.
The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.
Christ brought us together through his death on the Cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.
That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.”
This passage is describing how both Jews and Gentiles are reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus Christ alone and not only that, how they are reconciled to each other. I really like the way this passage is paraphrased in The Message because it brings the concepts much closer to our context when it describes “the circumcision” and “the uncircumcised” as “insiders” and “outsiders”. Those terms strike a chord with me after living half of my life in other countries. I know what it feels like to be an outsider, especially in the early years of our life in the Czech Republic. There were a lot of things I “didn’t know” — like how to tell the nurse at the doctor’s office that I was there for my appointment when the door didn’t open from the outside and the sign on the door said “Don’t knock!”. Often, I “hadn’t the faintest idea” what the punchline was that everyone at the small group was laughing about. I “hadn’t a clue” why that clerk was angry with me. I often felt “out of it altogether” because of language and culture. If you’ve ever felt like that, felt like a stranger and alien, you know that words like “in on everything”, “no longer strangers”, “belong”, and “home” sound really attractive.
As I’ve thought about that passage, I’ve realized that our job as missionaries is to willingly become cultural outsiders so that others can become spiritual insiders. The Message paraphrases Paul as saying in Ephesians 3:1, I’ve “taken up the cause of you outsiders,” and goes on to say in Ephesians. 3:6: “The mystery is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I’ve been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board.” (MSG)
Even after living for years in the Czech Republic, I still often feel like an outsider, but the place I can easily feel at home is at church among believers, while a Czech unbeliever can easily feel like they are in foreign territory, listening to a foreign language when it comes to anything having to do with the church, or the Bible, or God.
Here is what one commentator, Albert Barnes, wrote about the phrase from Ephesians 2:12 which we are used to hearing as “without God in the world”: “Greek “ἄθεοι” “atheoi” – “atheists;” that is, those who had no knowledge of the true God. (The pagan) lives, and feels, and acts, as if there were no God. He neither worships him in secret, nor in his family, nor in public. He acts with no reference to his will. He puts no confidence in God’s promises and fears not when he threatens; and were it announced to him that there “is no God,” it would produce no change in his plan of life, or in his emotions.…And, if so, what is man in this beautiful world without a God? A traveller to eternity without a God! Standing over the grave without a God! An immortal being without a God! A man with no God to praise, to love, to confide in; with no altar, no sacrifice, no worship, no hope; with no Father in trial, no counsellor in perplexity, no support in death! Such is the state of man by nature. Such are the effects of sin.”
That is such a sad, but fitting description of the vast majority of Czech people—God just doesn’t figure into their lives and worse, they are hopeless, fatherless and alone. This is becoming a more and more accurate description of Canadians and Americans, as the culture around us continues down the same road to losing any knowledge of the Bible or the biblical foundations of our countries that post-Communist, post-modern Czechs have already travelled.
Whatever our nationality or ethnicity, those of us who are insiders in the kingdom of faith (and especially those of us who have spent our whole lives in the kingdom), can find ourselves increasingly separated and on opposite sides of a wall used to keep us at a distance from those who have no knowledge of the true God. We consider them to be outsiders who will always remain outsiders. I’d like to suggest to you that our job as believers is to remember (or imagine) what it feels like to be an “outsider” spiritually, so that we’re motivated to show people who are far away how satisfying it is to be at home and at peace with God, to belong and to no longer be strangers and aliens to God’s kingdom. We need to take the first step to bring them near and help them learn what it means to be an insider with God. This month before Easter is an excellent time to be asking the Holy Spirit to show us what that step will be, and to give us the determination to follow through with it. What can we do in our neighbourhood and at our church to welcome outsiders so that they can be new bricks and stones in the temple God is building? Here is one suggestion: https://www.goodseed.com/what-are-christmas-and-easter-all-about.html
We need to each take up the cause of a spiritual outsider, even if that means feeling like an outsider in some way ourselves, or giving up some familiar ways of doing things, in order to show them that they, too, will find the most fulfilling sense of “at homeness” and belonging only in a personal relationship with Jesus.