Our default position is in direct hostility with God and with each other - Paul does not let us forget this fact. We were more than separated from God, but at odds with him. Often we view this default opposition as simply separation - like leaving your parents for college, and on our own terms we get to reconnect after a time we deem fit.
Paul says this line of thinking is nonsense for a few reasons:
First, our sinfulness did not just separate us from God, but made us enemies with him and his holiness - so much so that only he could make a way for us to reengage him.
Second, it was God, not us, that initiated this saving, redemptive work at bringing about peace. Remember Pauls' words earlier in this chapter:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-6 ESV)
So this relationship with God, is not a simple separation to be ended when we are ready, but rather an outright rebellion that needed the grace and mercy of a much more powerful opponent to kill the hostility and turn us from opponent and enemies to friends and children.
God made a way for us. Jesus is the peace that reconciles us with God and each other, because of his finished work on the cross.
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. (Ephesians 2:14-17 ESV)
We have some loaded language here. Which means as (probably) non-Jewish, or non-marginalized gentiles, people living in the 21st century, we don't read the same level of value or importance into Paul's language as his audience may have. Let's look at a few:
- Peace - This word, to Paul's readers would have read "shalom" which simply means all things as they should be. It brings about pictures of perfect harmony, and even recalling the beginning of time when God walks with Adam and Eve in the garden. This word is a weighty one.
- Dividing wall - Also a weighty one, but not for it's positive connotations, but for it's largely alienating and disenfranchising connotations. This is a reference to the wall that divided the worship and sacrifice space in the temple for the Jewish men and everyone else. There was a literal wall the separated where Jewish mean could worship, and where everyone else had to - and the space for those Jewish men were closer to the Holy of Holies, meaning, more valuable, more important, and more holy. Placement and position mattered.
- Commandments - Here, with this reference to Mosaic law, once a beacon for right living in the family of God, had been twisted by the Pharisees to be a set of rules that must be followed perfectly for religious uprightness.
Here, we see Paul specifically dealing with Jew/Gentile relationships, but without taking the text out of context, we can also read the contrast between those who are far from God and those who are near. Because at one time, Jews were near, and everyone else was far. With Jesus killing the division, Christians are those who are near to God, and our job is to not alienate those far, but aid in their return to their maker and creator.
Peace is not only the opposite of hostility, but accordingly to Paul, peace kills hostility. Once again, we often take this stance far too lightly, and see peace as another option to hostility. But Paul tells us they are in direct opposition, and one overcomes, kills, the other. The good news? Peace is the one that wins.
Thus, in every relationship, Jesus is the remedy for reconciliation - with God and with each other. Why is a holy God able to be in relationship with sinful humans? Because of Jesus' redemptive work. Why are people from different background, ethnicity, cultures, economies, and preferences able to come together? Because we are untied under the banner of Jesus, not ourselves.
What is mind-blowing about this does not stop with who God is and what he's done to bring us back to himself, but what we are celled to do in light of this: We are trusted tot take this ministry of reconciliation to the world.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20 ESV)
Our job, as believers, is to preach peace with our lives, to those near and to those far.
Meditating / Journaling
In light of our calling to preach peace, who are those in your life near to God? Far from God?
Spend some time meditating through these texts and ask the Lord how he might be equipping you, right now, to be a minister of reconciliation:
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16 ESV)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:15-23 ESV)
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:16-21 ESV)