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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published Weekly on Friday AM
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
Welcome everyone to HBS.
It’s good to have y’all back this week. I give thanks to God for your faithful attendance and diligent work (2 Timothy 2:15).
We’re making steady progress through Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church. As I recall, we left off last week at Ephesians 2:10, so this lesson begins at verse 11. Accordingly, I start with the peace with God. Why? Paul mentions peace four times (verses 14, 15, and x2 in 17), which makes it the major theme of this passage.
Per God’s Second Law of Thermodynamics everything has a beginning and an end. The second law builds on the First Law of Thermodynamics. It states although there is a constant amount of energy in a given system, it is merely transforming into different states, i.e. that energy is becoming less usable. A wood burning fireplace is one example. After the wood is burned up as fuel, the total amount of energy is still the same, but transforming into different states. Those energy states (ash, and dissipated heat into the environment) are now less retrievable and less accessible. This process is irreversible. Meaning, the universe is steadily becoming more disorderly. If you cleaned your living room of all the clutter, dusted, and vacuumed the carpet and left it to itself it will become a mess again. Even if you never enter it again, it will become dusty and stuffy. That new car or truck you purchased not only loses that “new car fragrance” in short order, it’s wasting away bit by bit despite the regular oil changes and maintenance. Everything, including our bodies, is deteriorating progressively.
Therefore, time is running out on this world and on each one of us. This deterioration process began in the Garden of Eden. After the man’s fall from grace, death and sin entered the world through Adam’s seed. Thus not only would the man and the woman die one day because of sin, unity with God also died. We now have division in the world. There’s division in our government, in our homes, in the church, at work, and at play. We all deal with and endure the consequences of division.
Again, there’s always a beginning. We see this in Genesis 3:6-10. The man and the woman once fellowshipped with their Creator but after their transgression we find them ashamed and hiding from the YHWH, i.e. the LORD God. We see division in their marriage because from that moment on, Eve would always try to usurp her husband’s God given authority and Adam would try to dominate his wife (Genesis 3:16). Division is visible in the corporate “glass ceiling,” the bias and hatred shared by many against different cultures and people of color, and between the rich and the poor? There’s atheism, culture superiority, political extremists, and racists. Everywhere you look there is animosity that produces division. Genuine unity is a thing of the past.
But God promised to send His Redeemer to crush the head of the serpent (Satan) who started the conflict (Genesis 3:15). The promised Seed would forever mend the division that exists in the world and bring peace and unity. Therefore, God wants us to know the only answer to this problem is Jesus Christ – the Peacemaker.
Sad to say, even folks who are in Christ Jesus are prone to division. Churches split due to disagreements over Church Doctrine or what the Bible says, more than 50% of Christian marriages end in divorce; the single parent home in America, which is now S.O.P. produces discord. Believers harbor deep seated unforgiveness towards those outside of Christ and one another, and sometimes towards God. This means God’s one Church is not the “Light” in this darkened world God intended it to be (Psalm 119:105).
“How can we as Believers live in peace and be Jesus Christ’s ambassadors on earth who encourage peace and unity? These questions were important to the Jews and Gentiles, the Ephesian Church, as discord became a problem in this congregation. Conflict raised its ugly head due to cultural superiority and animosity deeply rooted in their past. In this passage Paul speaks to the Ephesian church, struggling with division, and reminds them of their peace with God. True Believers have the peace of God (Philippians 4:7); and they enjoy peace with God (Romans 5:1-2). They are not the same thing.
Please open your Bible at Ephesians 2:11-13.
Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands – remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the covenants of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
This is where we learn division was present in this church. The Jews (who gloried in their religious position, marked by their Circumcision and their covenants with God) were claiming cultural superiority over the Gentiles (people outside of God’s covenants and having no right or claim to any of God’s blessings) the Uncircumsion. Verse 11-13 describe the hopeless state of the Ephesian Gentiles (and us) before they accepted God’s invitation to be saved, by faith, in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul proceeds to give them six characteristics of their life outside of Jesus Christ:
1: The Gentiles had a hostile relationship with the Jews.
Paul said, “Therefore, remember formerly that you the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands…”
The Jews commonly referred to the Gentiles as Uncircumcised. They weren’t stating a medical fact; this was a racial slur. David called Goliath an “uncircumcised Philistine” before he killed him (1 Samuel 17:26). Circumcision is the sign of the LORD’s covenant with the Jews. This permanent covenant (command) was given to Abraham (Genesis 17:10-14; Leviticus 12:3) and then to his offspring. Every Jewish male descendent had their foreskin surgically removed from the male child’s reproductive organ eight days after their birth. It’s worth noting here the number eight in scripture denotes “new beginnings.” Out with the old; in with the “new,” kind of thing (no pun intended).
Circumcision (Brit Milah) was more than an outward, physical sign proving someone was a Jew. There was more to this ritual than surgically removing the male foreskin. It demonstrated one’s faithfulness to God and they desired a “change of heart” towards JHWH. The Hebrew word uncircumcised (Arel) means “obstructed.” It describes the lips of a person whose speech is not fluent (Exodus 6:12, 30) or the heart of a person who will not listen to reason (Jeremiah 6:10, 9:25).
The prophet Jeremiah declared all the nations were uncircumcised in the flesh, but the whole house of Israel were of uncircumcised heart (Jeremiah 9:25).
Jesus remarked on the state of the Jewish heart in Matthew 15:8-9 saying, ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THE LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME, BUT IN VAIN THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’”
Our Apostle Paul wrote: For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter (of the Law), and his praise is not from men, but from God (Romans 2:28-29).
Paul’s saying the Jews were proud of the exclusive rite of circumcision (an act of the flesh) and their covenantal relationship with the LORD. They also sought the praise of men rather than the righteousness of God. Jesus revealed this truth in a parable. Please turn to Luke 18:10-14.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Praying aloud wasn’t the problem. We know this because both these individuals prayed audibly. But here’s the thing, the tax collector’s prayer was accepted because it originated from a humble heart. The sin of the Pharisee was his prideful spirit.
This helps us understand the mindset of most Jews back then and the reason for the division in the Ephesian church. Instead of becoming a nation of priests, salt and light, to the Gentiles (Exodus 19:6), the Jews despised the Gentiles and exalted themselves instead. Jews commonly called the Gentiles “dogs,” (Kuon), meaning wild cur (Matthew 7:6; Philippians 3:2). Even Jesus used this expression referring to the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28). Gentiles were considered so “unclean” that being in the presence of one could make a Jewish person unclean (John 18:28; Acts 10:1-48).
One example which comes to mind is Jonah. The LORD called Jonah to preach repentance to the Ninevites (Gentiles), but instead of obeying Him, he ran off in the opposite direction. When Jonah repented and did preach God’s message to these Gentiles, instead of giving the LORD honor and glory for what He had accomplished, Jonah became angry with the JHWH for saving them. You starting to “get the picture?” There was deep seated animosity between these two groups and pride fueled that hatred. Antisemitism still exists throughout the world today, which reminds me YHWH said: And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse (Genesis 12:3a).
William Barclay (1907-1978), who was professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at the University of Glasgow, helps us understand this division and hostility, especially from the Jews viewpoint.
The Jew had an immense contempt for the Gentile. The Gentiles, said the Jews, were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell. God, they said, loves only Israel of all the nations that he had made… It was not even lawful to render help to a Gentile mother in her hour of sorest need, for that would simply be to bring another Gentile into the world. Until Christ came, the Gentiles were an object of contempt to the Jews. The barrier between them was absolute. If a Jewish boy married a Gentile girl, or if a Jewish girl married a Gentile boy, the funeral of that Jewish boy or girl was carried out. Such contact with a Gentile was the equivalent of death (you see this fact brought to life in the movie, “Fiddler on the Roof.”)
So, Paul called the Ephesian Gentiles to remember the discord and hostility that existed before they were united with Christ.
2: These Gentiles were outside of Christ.
Paul said, “…remember that you were at that time separate from Christ (v12). How were they separated from Christ? I’m glad you asked. The promise of the Redeemer, the Messiah, was given to the nation of Israel (Genesis 22:18). Most of the Gentiles, at that time, had no knowledge of God or His Messiah. This book explains when Jesus stepped out of time into our world He was sent to the “lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-7, 15:24), demonstrating the Gentiles were truly without Jesus Christ.
3: The Gentiles were without citizenship (commonwealth) in Israel.
Gentiles from birth were idolatrous and anti-God. They were “far off” from the civil and religious privileges of the Jewish people:
He declares His words to Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; And as for His ordinances, they have not known them. Praise the LORD! (Psalm 147:19-20)
Paul wrote: “(you Gentiles were) excluded from the covenants of Israel.” For the first 2000 years there was only one group of people on this planet, i.e. the Gentiles (Genesis 1-11; 1 Corinthians 10:32). When the people chose to disobey God at the Tower of Babel, the LORD decided He would redeem fallen man a new way, i.e. through a man named Abram (Genesis 12:1-3). This is where you’ll find the Abrahamic Covenant. Abram (of Ur) was commanded to go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house (Genesis 12:1a). This may appear strange until you consider Abram’s relatives and his father’s house (like the rest of the world) were idolaters. Abram’s offspring would become the nation of Israel; God’s chosen people.
Let’s all turn to Romans 9:4-5 to see what Paul said about this. I think it’s best that we start at 9:1: I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Jeremiah 33:20-21).
This passage clearly says the Gentiles had no part in God’s covenants (plural).
4: The Gentiles were without hope.
The Gentiles of Paul’s day were idolatrous and superstitious. They either believed life ended at death or the dead were left to roam the nether regions aimlessly forever.
The Greek philosopher Diogenes said, “I rejoice in sport in my youth. Long enough will I lie beneath the earth bereft of life, voiceless as a stone, and shall leave the sunlight which I love, good man though I am. Then shall I see nothing more. Rejoice, O my soul, in thy youth.”
Since there was no hope, most Gentiles lived for the day, cramming as much pleasure as humanly possible into their lives. They made false gods in the image of men and creatures (Romans 1:18-24). Since men were corrupt (evil), their gods mirrored this trait. The gods they fashioned or imagined were most often evil, lustful, and wicked; they often warred with people. These idolaters lived in fear – not hope.
Since the Gentiles did not know God; and had no way of approaching Him, they had no hope of a relationship, i.e. salvation, leading to eternal life.
5: The Gentiles were without God.
As I just pointed out the Gentiles believed in many gods, however they did not believe in the One, true God. Our Apostle Paul addresses this issue in His sermon on Mars Hill. Let’s all turn to Acts 17, starting at verse 22:
So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. "The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.' "Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
The Gentiles had many gods. The Romans worshipped the Greek gods: Jupiter, Neptune, Mars, Venus, Cupid, Apollo, Pluto, Saturn, Janus, Diana, Mercury, Minerva, Ceres, Uranus, Vulcan, and Vesta and they built elaborate temples for worship. My visit to Pompeii revealed they also erected shines of their favorite god in their homes.
The Romans believed their spirit went into the underworld when they died. To get there the dead had to cross the river Styx. Coins were placed on eyes of the deceased before burial or cremation to pay the “ferryman, Charon.”
Paul informs Believers the worship of other gods is actually saying there is “no God.”
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; there is no one who does good (Psalm 14:1).
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them (Romans 1:21-24).
The Gentiles experienced conflict with the nation of Israel; they were without Christ, without citizenship, without the covenants, without hope, and without God in this world.
What brought about the change and why? Verses 13-15 give us the answer:
But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off (outside of Christ) have been brought near by the blood of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ united these two groups of argumentative people by His shed blood. When Paul wrote: “they were brought near,” he means to say near God. God reconciled these two groups through the death of Christ (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18; Colossians 1:19-20).
Christ made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall. Said differently, Jesus Christ unified both groups; He brings them near to God. There’s simply no other way for this to occur.
Jesus Christ also brought unity through His death, burial, and resurrection for sin. Jesus’ shed blood made unity with God and these two groups possible. Paul wrote: “He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25).
For the Lord Jesus Christ to unite all people He had to deal with their main problem, the very thing that separated them, which is sin. Adam’s sin brought separation in human relationships and with God. Jesus Christ died for all our sin to deliver us from its power so we could be united to God and one another (Romans 6:6).
The root of division is sin. We want what we want when we want it! Our anger, envy, jealousy, insecurity, pride, and selfishness promote division in our relationships and with God. But now, through the Lord’s death, Believers are no longer enslaved to sinful urges that bring about discord. This thought naturally leads us into verse 14.
For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups (Jew and Gentile) into one (v14a). Paul’s saying Jesus Christ did not simply bring peace, He became our peace. John MacArthur recited a story from the pages of WWII, which serve as an illustration to explain how Jesus Christ became our peace:
During World War II a group of American soldiers was exchanging fire with some Germans who occupied a farm house. The family who lived in the house had run to the barn for protection. Suddenly their little three–year–old daughter became frightened and ran out into the field between the two groups of soldiers. When they saw the little girl, both sides immediately ceased firing until she was safe. A little child brought peace, brief as it was, as almost nothing else could have done.
Discord in our families, in our marriages, and in our relationships is not coincidental. This is Satan at work undermining the very thing God made and loves – unity (Genesis 2:18-25; Mark 10:9). Prideful Satan is all about discord and disunity. He demonstrated this tactic in the Garden of Eden sowing the seeds of discord between a husband and wife. It was one of his greatest achievements. The family unit is a work of the YHWH. If Satan can “stir up” animosity and division in the family, then the rest of the world will follow suit bringing about disunity on a grand scale. It’s safe to say, Satan’s succeeding.
King Solomon wrote: There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife (discord) among brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19).
The Psalmist said YHWH hates the first six things on this list, but the seventh item was referred to as an abomination. That would be “strife,” and/or “discord.” Why? Sowing discord/strife reflects the cunning and conniving nature of YHWH’s utmost enemy – Satan. Here we find Satan has applied the adage, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”
This scheme has proven itself time and time again, so Satan continues to use it. Lucifer (Satan) sowed the seeds of discord in the third heaven, causing one-third of the angels to rebel against God (Isaiah 14:12-14; Revelation 12:4). In the Garden of Eden, Satan brought about division between the man and the woman and between their Creator.
Proverbs 6:14 reads: Who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil, Who spreads strife (discord).
Sowing discord splits relationships and causes factions to develop:
A perverse man spreads strife (discord), And a slanderer separates intimate neighbors (Proverbs 16:28).
There was only one way to bring about peace between those who were quarrelsome and divided. Jesus Christ became our peace. Considering what He had to go through to accomplish this feat, all true Believers should labor for peace in all our relationships. Paul serves as our example:
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntche to live in harmony in the Lord (Philippians 4:2).
In effect Paul is saying, “Y’all need to work things out in the Lord.” They needed to resolve their difference on the basis of Christ Jesus’ character, i.e. they needed to be Christlike: Have this same attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:5).
The Lord humbly served all; this is the pattern we are to follow (Romans 12).
And (Jesus Christ) broke down the barrier of the dividing wall by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.
The purpose of a dividing wall or a fence is to keep something in or out. In this case, these two groups were divided by the Mosaic Law. The Jews were commanded not to intermarry with Gentiles. They were commanded to be separate from the Gentile nations. The LORD God’s purpose for this was to prevent contamination by the Gentile’s sinful culture. The LORD knew His people would pick up their sinful habits and be drawn away from Him. The hope was that the pagans would observe the difference between righteous and unrighteous living and be drawn to God (Deuteronomy 4:6-8).
We find division in the Temple of the LORD itself as it was constructed with several dividing courts. There was the Court of Priests on the east, the Court of the Jews, the Court of the Women, and then the Court of the Gentiles. Between the Court of the Gentiles and the rest of the Temple complex was a wall with inscriptions in Greek and Latin saying: “No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for this ensuing death.”
This looks like a dividing wall to me and sounds serious. That’s because it was. You see, it was this very wall the Jews claimed Paul and his Gentile friend, Trophimus, crossed, when they attacked and threatened to kill Paul, leading to his first imprisonment (Acts 21:28-33).
The Lord Jesus Christ abolished the Law in these ways:
He paid the penalty required by God for our sins (Romans 6:23).
He fulfilled the righteousness required by the Law, which no one could ever fulfill (2 Corinthians 5:21).
He abolished the Law by His death, and our death with Him, to the Law delivering us from its wrath (Romans 4:13-25).
Jesus Christ’s death was the end of the Law. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes (Matthew 5:17-18; Romans 10:4). This doesn’t mean we live lawlessly. We aren’t to abandon the civil and moral laws outlined in this book or the rules and regulations of our government (Romans 13:1). For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (Johan 18:36). Here Paul’s saying the Lord’s death put an end to Law as a means of approaching God, uniting the Jews and Gentiles as one. For now there is no difference between Jew and Gentile (Romans 10:12; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11); we are all standing on equal ground.
(To be continued)
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