Community Glorifies God
Passage: Ephesians 2:11–3:13
I would imagine that many of you have heard the line, “To dwell above with the saints we love will be grace and glory but to live below with the saints we know, that’s a different story.” It’s a funny line, because sometimes it’s all too true. We love each other, but sometimes we bug each other. Sometimes we have to shake our heads and laugh at people are so that we don’t ring their necks.
But sometimes it’s hard to laugh. People say things that really hurt. They are insensitive to our burdens, or they don’t seem to care. Sometimes we have strong differences of opinion over convictions or priorities that drive a wedge between us. Sometimes the church falls far short of God’s ideal, and it is very disheartening.
Now I’ll interject that usually a jaded attitude toward the church, says as much about me as it does about the church. I’m struggling, but it’s much more comfortable to be critical of others and to focus on what they need to change than it is to be critical of myself and how I need to grow and serve. It’s amazing how often people who aren’t walking with God can, as Jesus said, see the splinter in someone else’s eye but can’t see the beam in their own eye.
Regardless, the fact is that life with God’s people oftentimes doesn’t resemble heaven. And while we need to be patient with other sinners, we also need to align our vision with God’s vision. Therefore, we are going to see from Ephesians 2–3 that while the church is made up of broken people it is also a beautiful creation of God. And through the theatre of the church, God intends to display his glory, not only on earth but also to the angelic host as they observe what God is doing among us.
I pray that we will leave today with a greater love for the church and a greater motivation to help it be all that God desires. We are going to be jumping around today in a rather lengthy passage of Scripture. Let’s set the table by first reading Ephesians 2:11–3:13. This is a very important passage regarding the doctrine of the church, and like our text last week, everything it has to say about the church is rooted in the gospel. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection created this wonderful new institution.
My outline consists of three works the gospel is doing through the church. First…
The gospel has made all peoples equal recipients of grace.
This is one of those ideas that are hard for us to appreciate because we have never lived in a context where the gospel was not available to any who will call on the Lord. But Paul lived at the crossroads of two drastically different periods of redemption, and he had a different appreciation of how much had changed.
Notice in 2:11–12 that…
During the Age of the Law, God was only accessible through Israel (2:11–12).
The age of the Law is the period from when God gave Israel the Law on Mt. Sinai until Jesus died. The OT is clear that one of the primary purposes of the Law was to set Israel apart as God’s special possession. The food laws and clothing laws, and, especially as is noted in v. 11, circumcision served to make Israel distinct from every other nation in the world.
God did this so that Israel would appreciate their special relationship with God; however, in the hands of sinners, these markers became the source of deep racial animosity. The term that Paul uses here for “uncircumcision” was a derogatory term the Jews used for Gentiles.
They looked down on Gentiles because they were uncircumcised, and Gentiles looked down on the Jews because of how they remained separate from society. Just a few years before Paul wrote Ephesians the Roman Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from the city of Rome for a time. And so in Paul’s day there was deep animosity between Jews and Gentiles.
But v. 12 notes that during the age of the Law, the issue was far more significant than racial prejudice. Verse 12 gives five disheartening descriptions of the Gentiles’ spiritual state prior to Christ. The point of these descriptions is to say that for the most part the Gentile peoples were cut off from God.
Now that’s not to say that Gentiles couldn’t be saved. They could, but to access God, they had to become Jews and take on the restrictions of the Law. And they could only meet with God by coming to the temple in Jerusalem. Of course they rarely wanted to take on such a burden. And Israel was to be a light to the nations, but they struggled to remain faithful to God themselves, let alone to attract others to God.
And so for all intents and purposes, the Gentile nations had no access to God. They knew nothing of the promises about Messiah, and they had no hope of eternal life.
But Christ changed all of that.
During the Age of Grace, all people in all places have equal access to God (2:13–16; 3:6–8).
Verses 13–16 declare that the blood of Christ changed everything. Verse 13 says that the Gentile nations who had been far away from God have now been brought near. And v. 16 states that through the cross the Gentile nations have been reconciled to God. Reconciliation is an incredible picture. The OT Law was good and just in itself, but in the hands of sinners all of those laws served to create hostility between the nations and God. They was no way they were going to become Jewish proselytes and go to the temple in Jerusalem to meet with God.
But when Jesus died, the veil in the temple was torn in two indicating that Jesus had dawned a new age of access to God. It was now God’s desire to go out to the nations and reconcile them to himself.
Ephesians 3 goes on to describe how God called Paul to begin the process of taking the message of reconciliation to the nations (3:6–8). The heart of his message is there in v. 6. The Gentiles are now “fellow heirs” of God’s blessing. They belong to the “same body” of God’s people, and they are also “partakers of His promise.” We enjoy the same blessings and promises of God.
And notice as well that rather than calling the nations to come to Jerusalem and conform to Jewish culture in order to meet with God, v. 8 says Paul’s mission was to go out among the Gentiles and preach this incredible gospel within their cultural context.
It’s hard to overstate the practical change that has taken place. Imagine being a Gentile in the OT, and you want to have a relationship with God. But to do so, you have to be circumcised; you have to change how you dress and how you eat. And you have find a way to get to the temple 3 times a year.
But the church is entirely different. God’s purpose for this age is to take the gospel to every corner of the globe. And when we call people to Christ, they are free to keep every cultural custom that is not sinful, and they can gather with other Christians anywhere on the globe and know that Christ promises to meet with them.
And so if you are a Gentile, which most of us are, you should thank God that his will for this age was to bring the gospel to you without the cultural hindrances of the OT.
And we should also be motivated to take the gospel to every kind of person on earth. When we hear about large sections of the planet where there is hardly any gospel witness, our hearts should grieve, and we should pray that God would send laborers into his harvest.
And we should also be motivated to take the gospel to the people right here in our corner of the world who come from very different cultures than we do and to help them feel at home at Life Point.
Now it’s easy for us to nod our heads in agreement about that, but where the rubber meets the road is when one of these people walks into Life Point. If someone entered our service wearing a turban, would you immediately think, “terrorist” or “gospel opportunity”? What about someone with gang markings? What would you do if two men entered our church holding hands?
Obviously, the gospel will need to change some things in each of those people, but we must have a vision for reaching all of them, and we ought to plead for God to bring them into our fellowship through the power of the gospel. This is because God’s purpose for this age is to save people from every culture and to see their lives transformed by the power of grace.
But God isn’t just interested in changing individual lives. He also wants to bring them together in a new kind of community. The second work of the gospel in this passage is that…
The gospel is creating a new temple in the Spirit (vv. 19–22).
These verses use 3 images to describe the new community of God’s people. We are a nation (v. 19), a household/family (v. 19), and a temple (vv. 20–22). And all of these images assume that the gospel doesn’t just bind people to God; it binds them to each other.
And within this new community…
All Christians are equal citizens (v. 19).
In the OT, Gentiles could come to the temple complex, but they could only go so far. There was an actual section of the complex called “the court of the Gentiles.” But v. 19 states that Gentiles “are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens.” And they are no longer merely servants of the master but “members of the household of God.” In other words, we are part of the family and enjoy all of the benefits that come with that.
Praise God that there is no favoritism in God. He loves every Christian the same, and we need to strive to have that same spirit. When someone walks into the doors of church, we shouldn’t care if they are rich or poor, if they have life together or if they are a wreck, if they are charismatic or dull, or if they look like us, talk like us, and think like us. If they know Christ, they are equal members of God’s family, and we should love them and be motivated to serve them.
All Christians are equal citizens, and maybe the most incredible aspect of this passage is that…
God now dwells among us by the Spirit, not through a physical temple (2:21–22).
These verses picture each believer as a stone, and they picture God as using each stone to construct a new temple. Every time someone gets saved, God adds them to this temple, and he will continue to do so until the end of the church age.
It’s worth noting that there are two primary Greek terms that are translated temple. One refers to the entire temple complex, but the second term, which is the one Paul uses here, refers to the inner sanctuary, the place where God dwelt and where the priest met with God. And so Paul says that God no longer dwells in a building; rather his people are his inner sanctuary, the very place where God is and where man fellowships with him.
John 4:19–24 is very helpful for understanding this change. In vv. 19–20 the Samaritan woman asks Jesus what is the proper location to worship God. This was a legitimate question for her to ask in the OT era, because God had said that Israel was to worship God from a central location. And the right answer to her question would have been to say Jerusalem.
But Jesus takes the opportunity to declare that he was bringing about a new age. And in this new age, worship will not be tied to a location. This is because God is Spirit, and his Spirit will come to live inside his people. And since God’s Spirit indwells us, we can worship God anywhere that genuine Christians are gathered.
Folks, this is an incredible gift of grace because the Law had very rigid requirements for everything related to temple worship. All of it served to remind man that he is a sinner and that sin separates us from God. And so the fact that the blood of Christ makes it possible for God’s Spirit to live inside me is incredible. And the idea that the church is God’s temple ought to be very humbling. Who are we that God would look at us with such grace and favor?
Now, some of you are probably wondering what church Paul has in mind. Is he talking about the universal church, meaning all Christians everywhere, or is he talking about the local church? Ephesians 2 is primarily talking about the universal church, meaning all Christians everywhere. The idea is that all Christians together are a temple to God. But we also need to recognize that the universal church can’t actually express this unity to the world. I don’t have any practical way to partner with Christians all over the world and that certainly wasn’t possible in Paul’s day where travel and communication were much more limited.
Therefore, we also need to understand that…
The local church is an expression of this temple (Matt 18:19–20).
It’s very important that we understand v. 20 in light of its context because sometimes we think Jesus is saying I can do church anywhere, anytime I am with another Christian. But that’s clearly not what he means in context. The context is about the local church exercising discipline over its members, and I shouldn’t be doing that out in a field somewhere with a couple of buddies.
No Jesus’ point is that when genuine Christians who are indwelt by the Spirit assemble in the local church, he is in their midst. In the language of Ephesians 2, we create a temple to God.
I opened today by describing how we oftentimes get frustrated with each other. We get impatient with each other’s faults and with the imperfections of the church. Sometimes that’s all we see.
But let’s also not forget that Life Point is also a temple of Holy God that Jesus has and continues to build as a dwelling place of God. Isn’t that humbling? It makes me feel very small to think that God would choose to dwell among a bunch of wicked sinners like us.
But it also ought to make us love the church and honor it for what it truly is. If you sit around and gripe about the church, or if you slander the church to others, you are slandering God’s temple. I’m not saying we shouldn’t notice faults and work constructively to fix them, but we need to guard our hearts and our mouths. And we need to be amazed at what God has made by his grace and love it and honor it accordingly.
This brings us to the third work of grace that God is doing through the church.
God glorifies himself through his new creation.
I want to make a statement that may strike you as strong, but I believe it is biblical. God’s greatest demonstration of his glory in this age is the church of the redeemed.
This passage highlights two ways that God glorifies himself in the church. First, the church reveals that…
God is gracious (2:15–18, 3:11–12).
These verses highlight the incredible results of Christ’s work on the cross. Both passages note the cross has provided all Christians with access to God, which again is truly marvelous considering our sin and God’s holiness. But notice that our reconciliation with God is not just about God and me. No, 2:16 says God reconciled us to himself in one body.
The gospel breaks down the barriers that normally divide people, and it brings them together. And together we have access to God. Therefore, God is glorified in the church when it is unified despite the fact that it includes people who wouldn’t normally be friends. God is glorified when the church is a mixture of people of all ages, races, social classes, and cultures. God is glorified when the church is a mixture of people with varying theological views or standards of holiness. God is glorified when people who wouldn’t normally get along, enjoy a deep bond because the gospel has changed them. It is their greatest joy, and they love people across normal barriers because the gospel has bound them together.
And so when we enjoy this kind of unity through diversity, it testifies to the mighty grace of God and of the fact that we love all people because God is gracious to all people. As such we fulfill the words of John 13:35. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” What a blessing that we can glorify the grace of our God through the life of our church.
But notice as well that church reveals that…
God is wise (3:10).
This verse pictures the church as a theatre of sorts, and the angelic host, both good and bad, is intently watching what God is doing in the church. And when they look at the church, they see an incredible display of the “manifold wisdom of God.” The idea behind manifold is “many-sided.” Think of a rug or a coat made of many colors intricately woven together. The term speaks of care and intricacy.
And so the church reveals to the angels the intricacies of God’s wisdom. It does so because it is such a beautiful produce of God’s redemptive plan. When the evil angels got Jesus to the cross, they thought they had won, but instead, they had set the stage for the defeat of sin. Christ won, and through his blood he created this new and incredible institution we call the church. It is a mighty new creation because God now dwells in his people and through them, the gospel is going out to every corner of world and bringing them together in a living temple of God.
Praise be to God that the angels are watching us right now, and we are a testimony to them of the grace and wisdom of God. What an incredible gift and privilege. So…
What’s the Point?
I would like to summarize the challenge of this text as being that, “We must work together to glorify God by building Life Point into a beautiful testimony of the grace and wisdom of God.” So how do we do that?
We must highlight the gospel.
If we want to glorify God in Apple Valley, we can’t have anyone thinking that we are what we are by our own strength. We need to take every possible opportunity to let people know that we are just humble sinners who serve a great Savior. The gospel has changed our lives, and it can change theirs too.
And maybe there is someone who has joined us today who has never received Christ. I want to be clear to you today that you are not sitting with a bunch of great people who have reformed their lives through discipline alone. You are sitting with sinners who have experienced the power of grace. That grace can be yours if you will come to Christ today acknowledging your sin and your need of a Savior. If you have questions about the gospel, we would love to talk with you today about how you can have your sins forgiven and about how Christ can come to live in you. Second
We must pursue diversity.
This passage is clear that God is glorified when the gospel brings together different kinds of people. Therefore, we should pray that God would make us more diverse and then we should work to build the kinds of diversity that I mentioned earlier. And I think it needs to be said that this does take intentional work. We’ve all been in settings where we are obviously in the minority, whether racially or economically. Maybe it’s just that you are dressed very differently from everyone around you. When you are in the minority, it’s uncomfortable because no one likes to stand out.
Therefore when someone walks into our church that is different, we have got to go after them and make them feel comfortable. We’ve got to make it clear that they are loved and accepted and that we want them here. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of American Christianity is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” Unfortunately, this is true all too often. Let’s work to make sure that this is not true of us.
We must walk in holiness.
The fact that we are a temple to God means that we need live worthy of that calling. We need to confess where we are dominated by anger, bitterness, and strife. We need to put off the works of darkness so that when we come together our lives and our conduct reflect the mighty work of grace that God has done for us.
Let’s be a community that clearly demonstrates the hand of God and brings glory to his name.