We hear a lot today about “citizenship” and “Immigration,” both in the United States and around the world. People want a better life, and they want to be part of a state that provides freedom and benefits. Some of these people will enter by any means, hoping that, somehow, they will be able to enjoy the benefits with their illegal status undetected.
Ephesians, in this passage, speaks of an immigration of sorts, one that was formerly impossible or, at best, limited, in the physical kingdom of Israel. Although ancient Jewish law provided for the alien in its midst, there were limitations on participation in the worship of God. For example, Gentiles, even if they were converts, could enter the Temple no farther than the Court of the Gentiles. This is the extreme outer court past which no Gentile could pass.
The best that a Gentile God-fearer could do was to worship at the outside of the Temple. Even if one’s spirituality and commitment exceeded that of a Jewish worshiper, the Gentile convert would always be outside of the spiritual circle. The writer of Ephesians understands this.
READ: Ephesians 2:11,12.
In the Mosaic covenant, males were circumcised according to the covenant relationship. Gentiles who were circumcised, as their commitment to God, were still recognized to be of the “uncircumcised.” They were still separated intrinsically because of birth, not because of country, necessarily, but because of blood line
In the 1800s and early 1900s, immigration was still on the rise. In fact, most of the heavy industrial work in Eastern cities was done by immigrants, first from Ireland and Scotland, then from Eastern and Southern Europe. Until their “nationalities” reached a certain status in life—citizen or not—they lived at the poorest end of the spectrum and did the hardest and most dangerous jobs. Gradually, however, they assimilated into the culture and began to rise through the ranks to become fully vested citizens of this great country. One writer believes the key to their acceptance was their willingness to assimilate, to literally “become” Americans.
I have heard, as well, although I’m not sure of it, that even in Dade County there is a sort of “hierarchy” of belonging, limited to those who are “from” the County, as opposed to those of us who have entered from elsewhere. Somehow, the long-term residents are just a little bit more “Dade-County-ians” than the rest. True? You didn’t hear it from me!
We were separated from Christ, excluded from the deepest benefits of faith in God. But Paul’s words here limit not only the Gentiles from this relationship, but also recognize the truth that the old covenant was limited in what it could do: “who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (which is done in the body by human hands” (NIV). Although many Jews had the outward sign of the people of God, they were still, in their hearts, uncircumcised.
The point of this passage, then, becomes clearer, as the writer states, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (vv .13). He eliminates bodily circumcision as the rule of citizenship in the kingdom of God, stating that this occurs through faith in God. See Romans 8:28,29: “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.”
QUESTION: How do we, as Christian believers in the present time, react like the circumcised believers spoken of here?
QUESTION: What is our “circumcision” that we hold over the heads of “newcomers” to faith? Some possibilities might include long-time church membership, family history in the church, our “service” given to the church.
QUESTION: Do we exclude new believers based on these or other “bodily” or “experiential” circumstances?
The Process of Citizenship: Read Verses 14-18
Not only did the confirmed Jewish teachers and followers exclude Gentiles from faith, but even those who had come to know Christ. These believers were among those who demanded that converted Gentile males be circumcised, not understanding the fullness of Jesus’ sacrifice.
On one hand the law and its commands required circumcision, an outward testimony (not too outward, that is), of commitment to Yahweh, but in the new covenant, no physical sign or offering is necessary, as Christ’s death alone brings us into this covenant, into the Kingdom as full citizens. Now, since everyone, even those were formerly “God’s people,” must enter through the same gate, there was no room for pride or arrogance, no place for hostility between the groups. It was only by the Cross that any of us were reconciled to God, through which we have “access to the Father by one Spirit.”
The Evidence of Citizenship: Read Verses 19-22
To be a citizen of the United States you must have spent a certain amount of time in the country and pass a test concerning our government and its founding, knowing enough English to do so. The applicant, then, professes his or her allegiance to the principles of this new country. My grandparents, all four of them, learned English so they could participate in their new country and its benefits.
In the household of faith in Christ, we became citizens when we professed our faith in Him, when we confessed our sins and accepted for ourselves the sacrifice made by Christ on the Cross. We became citizens of a new country, not because of border, nationality, heritage, or ancestry. We are ONE in Christ in God’s family without regard to family, locality of birth, and without any regard to denomination! It is Christ’s sacrifice that makes us one with him. To quote the song, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy Cross I cling.”
We are part of a building, one that cannot be shaken by the New Madrid fault, one that cannot be toppled by the strongest tornado or hurricane, built on the foundation of Christ our Lord.
Mary Kay Glunt, Pastor
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church
P.O. Box 393, Greenfield, MO 65661