There has been a lot of talk, protests and hashtags which all attest to the fact that our society is fragmented. While the shootings in America and the xenophobic attacks in the South have made the news, closer to home, there is still a lot of class differentiation and consequent unequal treatment which may not make the news. Having crossed tribal boundaries as I serve at a university in Bulawayo, I have seen this from a close range, and Scripture has both challenged and convicted me to see my bias in the way I treat others who are different from me.
As a society, we have become so skilled at building walls that separate us from each other and at worst we have become violent and ruthless to those different from us. You may think that this only happens outside the church. Well, tribalism and racism are issues of concern for the church and, our campus ministries. Faced with this, we need to ask how the gospel addresses this issue. This article will seek to draw some gospel implication from Ephesians 2:11-22, where Paul shows us how we united as one in Christ.
The need for peace
In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus, which was composed of Jews and Gentiles. He begins by reminding them of the division and hostility that was there between Jews and Gentiles. At this stage, he seems to have the Gentile Christian in mind. He reminds them that they were separated from Christ, they had no hope for the Messiah to save them, and they were excluded from God’s people. They were strangers to the covenants of promise. This reminder made an enormous difference whether you were a Jew or Gentile.
There were enmity and animosity against each other. It is said that the enmity was so strong such that if a Jew married a Gentile, a funeral was held for the Jew because such contact with a Gentile was the same as death. In verse 14, Paul talks of the “wall of hostility”. Well, this phrase was not just a metaphor. In the Jewish Temple, there was a wall in the outer court, beyond which Gentiles could not enter. As Jews and Gentiles heard the gospel and joined the church at Ephesus, how were they fellowshipping with one another? How were they to deal with such enmity and hostility which existed?
Friends, I think the same question is true for the church today. There are many churches that are run in a way that serves the interests of one group of people while excluding others from different races (though the concept of races is not a biblical category, scripture speaks of one race which humanity), tribes, languages or even dialects within one language. A quick look at social media can reveal the scary and unhealthy tribal hate language between Shona and Ndebele, black and whites, rich suburbs and poor suburbs. I remember hearing the strife in the selection of songs for an all-night prayer meeting at one campus group made up of Shona and Ndebele students. How do we cultivate genuine peace and unity in such a situation? The answer to the church at Ephesus is an answer we need today.
The means for our peace
Let us start right at the beginning with creation. Whether or not someone is a Christian, we know that God created every human being was created in His image (Genesis 1:27). Therefore, it is only right for us to treat everyone with respect and dignity, no matter how different they are from us. In Ephesians 2, Paul points us to the ultimate way to break the wall of hostility. He points us to the gospel.14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. Jesus came to destroy the wall of enmity between us and God by dealing with our sin. As a result, he has also destroyed the walls between us and other people. How did he achieve this?
He made peace through his death
The root cause of our lack of peace is our sin. It has its roots right back in the garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve rejected God’s authority, they started blaming each other, and with each generation that followed, the hostility only increased. Jesus dealt with that through his body, which was broken for our sin (Eph 2:14). On the cross he carried our sin, he took the punishment that we deserve. On the cross, he changed our status from being enemies of God to be children of God. Have you known this kind of peace that Jesus brings? If you do, it will change the way you relate to others, no matter how different they are from you.
He made peace through his Word
Jesus did not just come to die silently. He spoke preached peace to those far and those near. His team of 12 Apostles was made of individuals from diverse backgrounds i.e., fisherman, tax collectors and even zealots, yet when he left, he exhorted them to love another (John 13:35) and this exhortation still stands for any believer.
He made peace through his Spirit
Through the power of his Spirit, we have access to God as our Father and we all cry Abba, Father (Romans 8). So, because of the gospel we now have one Father, we belong to the same household with other believers no matter what their race, tribe or dialect. Jesus has united us. So how do we live out this unity and peace we have in Christ? How do we live as one new man in Christ?
No longer strangers
Our unity in Christ does not mean that we ignore our ethnicity or tribal identity or even some other differences we may have from others. We still maintain our differences, but we share something together that is stronger than our differences. We are now one in Christ; we are now children of the same Father and we share the same Spirit. We are no longer strangers!
If we truly understand our new identity in Christ, we will rejoice in that identity. If we understand the unity of the gospel and its cost, we will pursue that unity.