Paul, in these verses, completes the picture he began in the first 10 verses of this chapter that we covered earlier by tying together the picture of God’s redemption and reconciliation of all people.
It is important to bear in mind that he is addressing Gentiles here, those who were not included in God’s covenants in the past. They were excluded from relationship with God and to a great extent even from social relationships with the people of God. In fact, the people of God, the Jews, looked down upon the Gentiles, calling them dogs and treating them as second-class people. The Jews bore a sign of their covenant relationship with God that the Gentiles did not, a sign that would forever keep them separate; the sign of circumcision that denoted the offspring of Father Abraham. No, a Gentile man couldn’t “fake it.”
Then came Jesus Christ.
Jesus brought the two groups together through His death on the cross in which He bore the sins of all in His own body, putting their sins, along with the very Law itself to death. After that, there is no more hostility between Jew and Gentile, for all who follow Christ are members of one Body; this is the theological truth. It was not, however, the practical truth. Paul knew only too well of the hostility that so many Jews still had for Gentile Christians… even within the church, and I have little doubt that there were some hard feelings among the Gentile believers as well. In the centuries that have followed, this has, sadly, remained the case in many places, not only between Jew and Gentile, but between rich and poor, black and white, aristocrat and common, social divisions that carry into the Body of Christ. Yet we must be reminded that secular cultural social divisions have no place whatsoever within the Body of Christ, for there is no Jew and no Gentile, there is no rich or poor, aristocrat or common, black or white… or any other social distinction in the Body of Christ, for in Him we are one people, bound together by the bonds of His love.
Of course, all too often, sin remains in our midst, as we are dwelling in a fallen world.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Thus Paul states the eternal reality that is the church, the reality as God Himself sees reality. Now, with that eternal reality set before us, let’s consider whether or not we might carry forward our own earthly notions of “proper” social distinctions, and ask ourselves if this is pleasing in God’s sight. Take your time, consider carefully…
As you consider, consider an example from history. After the Civil War in the U. S., slaves in the American South were emancipated. Slave owners, by and large, had encouraged their slaves to be Christians, and now those slaves were free, churches were established outside of the plantations with both black and white congregations, but of course they were normally segregated, as were most other things in that society. The writings from that and succeeding generations left behind have some very creative justifications for this, and for a hundred years it continued, and even today the trend remains in many places. So that begs another question, don’t you think?
What sort of testimony for the Gospel would we create (or have created) if we would live the gospel of Jesus Christ, rather than just talk about it, and actually, really and truthfully treat one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, even if it means incurring the wrath of the rest of the community?
Yes, it is surely something to think about… and possibly something to act upon.