21 May 2019
A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 2:19-22. 3). The portrait of God’s new society or what we have now become.
*So then*, Paul begins his summing up. He has explained step by step what Christ has done to ‘bring near’, to God and to his people those in the Gentile world who were previously ‘far off’. Christ has abolished the law of commandments, created a single new humanity in place of the two, reconciled both to God, and preached peace to those far and near. *So then*, what is the result of Christ’s achievement and announcement of peace? It is this: *you (Gentiles) are no longer* what you used to be, *strangers and sojourners*, ‘aliens in a foreign land’ (NEB), visitors without legal rights. On the contrary, your status has dramatically changed. Now you ‘belong’ in a way you never did before. You used to be refugees; at least now you have a home.
In order to indicate the richness of their changed position and their new privileges in Christ, Paul resorts to three familiar models of the church, which are developed in many other passages in Scripture. He pictures the new Jew-Gentile community as God’s kingdom, God’s family and God’s temple.
a). God’s kingdom (verse 19a).
According to verse 12 the Gentiles used to be stateless and disenfranchised outsiders, ‘alienated from the commonwealth (*politeia*) of Israel’. But now, he says to them, *you are fellow citizens (*sumpolitai*) with the saints*, which here seems to mean the Jewish people, the ‘saints’ or ‘holy nation’. Only a few years previously the word *politeia* had been used of Roman citizenship in Paul’s conversation with the tribune in Jerusalem (Acts 22:25-29). Now he writes of another citizenship. Although he does not develop the metaphor, he appears to be alluding to citizenship in God’s kingdom. The kingdom of God is neither a territorial jurisdiction nor even a spiritual structure. God’s kingdom is God himself ruling his people, and bestowing upon them all the privileges and responsibilities which his rule implies. To this new international God-ruled community, which had replaced the Old Testament national theocracy, Gentiles and Jews belonged on equal terms. Paul is writing while the Roman empire is at the zenith of its splendour; no signs had yet appeared of its coming decline, let alone of its fall. Yet he sees this other kingdom, neither Jewish nor Roman but international and interracial, as something more splendid and more enduring than any earthly empire. (Similarly, in 1 Cor,10:32 Paul refers to ‘the church of God’ as a third community, distinct from both ‘Jews’ and ‘Greeks’. It was doubtless on the basis of such texts as these that Clement of Alexandria could distinguish Christians from Greeks and Jews as those who worship God ‘in a third form’ and ‘the one race of the saved people’, while in the second-century *Letter to Diognetus* calls Christians ‘a new race’). And he rejoices in its citizenship more even than in his Roman citizenship. Its citizens are free and secure. The words *no longer strangers and sojourners but…citizens* emphasize the contrast between the rootlessness of a life outside Christ and the stability of being a part of God’s new society. ‘We no longer live on a passport, but…we really have our birth certificates…we really do belong’.
b). God’s family (verse 19b).
The metaphor changes and becomes more intimate: *you are…members of the household of God*. A kingdom is one thing; a household or family is another. And in Christ Jews and Gentiles find themselves more than fellow citizens under his rule; they are together children in his family. Paul has just written in the previous verse of the new and privileged access ‘to the Father’ which Jews and Gentiles enjoy through Christ (verse 18), and earlier in the letter he has enlarged on the blessings of ‘adoption’ into his family (1:5). Soon he will have more to say about God’s archetypal fatherhood (3:14-15) and about the ‘one God and Father of us all’ (4:6). But here his emphasis seems to be less on God’s fatherhood than on the brotherhood into which, across racial barriers, the Father’s children are brought. ‘Brethren’ (meaning ‘brothers and sisters’) is the commonest word for Christians in the New Testament. It expresses a close relationship of affection, care and support. *Philadelphia*, ‘brotherly love’, should always be a special characteristic of God’s new society.
Tomorrow: c) Ephesians 2:20-22. God’s temple.
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|