Church is formed by reconciliation

Church is formed by reconciliation (2:1-3:13)

Our past status (2:1-3)

You hath he quickened, who were “dead” in trespasses and sins (2:1)

Another version (ASV) reads, “And you [did he make alive,] when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins.” The original text does not have the phrase “hath he quickened,” which is italicized in KJV. This phrase is probably copied from 2:5 where it said, “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us.” Paul is describing what state we were before we are God’s children. Dead is no life at all. Although we are still alive physically, we are dead spiritually. That is a spiritual separation from God, whereas physical death is separation of soul from our body. Before, we were dead like corpses in the spiritual graveyard. Now we are living in a graveyard full of dead people in spiritual sense. Before, God called us to rise from the dead; now we call the dead to rise in the cemetery.

“In time past” ye walked according to the “course” of this world (2:2a)

The phrase “in time past” appears 3 times in this chapter (2:1,3,11). All apply to our sinful beings before we were saved. 2:1 speaks of our sinful behavior; 2:3 speaks of our sinful mind and nature; 2:11 speaks of our sinful status. Paul is trying to make a comparison of our “self” between our past and present time.

The “course” of this world means the civilization or lifestyle of this world or society we are living in. In terms of civilization, the children in families of parents or ancestors who are superstitious may be worshipping idols of various gods. In fact, ancestral worship is highly regarded and promoted by Mainland officials as they broadcasted live the grand ceremony of worshipping the first ancestral emperor of Han Chinese (黃帝) in Zhengzhou of Henan Province (河南 鄭州). They remind the young generation not to forget the tradition of ancestral worship. The same applies to kids born in families of various false religions such as Buddhism and Muslim. The over-seven million population of Uyghur minority tribe (維吾爾族) in Mainland with Muslim background is still in the hands of the devil waiting to be rescued.

In regard to lifestyle, we tend to follow the life-pattern of the majority in our society. Our moral standard has been lowered in every hit of tide under the great banner “Life Style.” Modern people’s spirits are already buried deep underground as they keep on following the life pattern of the society.

The “prince” of the power of the air, the spirit that now “worketh” in the children of disobedience (2:2b)

“Prince” implies the existence of a kingdom. No doubt Paul refers to Satan’s kingdom in the spiritual realm. The prince is of course Satan himself. In John 16:11, Jesus names the devil “the prince of this world.”

I John 5:19 says “We know that we are God's children, and that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one.” (NRSV) We are the children of God but the rest are all the children of disobedience. They disobey God but obey the devil. As a matter of fact, the whole world is subject to the control of the prince of the evil kingdom of Satan.

“Children of disobedience” appears 2 times (2:2, 5:6). Satan “works” in the spirits of the children of disobedience. They become His followers and the devil is their leader. The devil works in their corrupted minds and hearts to disrupt the world. They are willing to be used by the devil. And so many people are being influenced and led by these “angels” of the devil in the form of life-styles or trends of the society. Why? Because they love the world. I John 2:16 says, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." Jesus said in Matt 6:24, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other... Ye cannot serve God and mammon (wealth).” However, the majority is running after the almighty dollar instead of our Almighty God. James 4:4 says, “whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” Don’t be Satan’s followers but be Jesus’ followers.

An example of children of disobedience (a real case of family assault):

“A 10-year-old boy, Primary 3 student, became upset when he wanted to play computer games in his sister's bedroom but she had locked the door so she could do her homework. When his mother returned home and tried to solve the dispute, the boy grabbed a chopper from the kitchen and attacked his mother. Her arm was injured and police were called by his sister to arrest the boy. Later her mother said that whenever she tried to punish the boy for his naughty behavior or disobedience, he drew out a chopper, wielding the weapon and she surrendered each time. Police had decided to apply for the court order because the boy had repeatedly threatened his mother.”

Disobedient children will sooner or later receive penalty.

Notice that Paul mentioned about the “exceeding greatness” of God’s power that prevails over all forms of power in 1:19-21. With that in mind, Satan’s power has no effect at all in God’s children, only in children of disobedience.

We all had…in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind (2:3a)

The reason why Satan has power in us is due to our sinful nature. Romans Chapter 7 is an in-depth analysis of Paul’s internal struggle in his own body. According to his personal experience, our flesh and mind are governed by the law of sin. Rom 7:22-23 states that law: “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” Governed by the law of sin, we follow our evil desires to sin. “I am carnal , sold under sin,” admitted Paul (Rom 7:14b). That’s why he used the pronoun “we” in 2:3a to include himself. There was no way out for anybody prior to being saved.

“Children of wrath” (2:3b)

A similar term used by Paul to describe Satan’s children is “children of wrath” (2:3). The reason why they are called children of wrath is “for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience” (5:6). In contrast, children of God are called “children of light” (5:8) because they walk in God’s light.

God's saving grace (2:4-7)

“But” God…rich in mercy…his great love (2:4)

We had no way out of death and sin. The transitional phrase “but” changes the whole setting. But, due to God’s nature of mercy and love, there is a way out. Love is His nature; mercy is compassion. Compassion is activated by seeing or hearing something and then reacting. Without compassion, no action is prompted. God saw our miserable condition and reacted out of His mercy and compassion.

Notice the word “rich” is used 6 times in the Book. The word is used positively to describe God’s grace (1:7, 2:7), mercy (2:4), glory (1:18, 3:16), wealth (3:8). What a great encouragement to the believers!

“By grace” ye are saved (2:5)

This profound statement is repeated again in 2:8 ended with “through faith.” In 2:8, Paul emphasizes the means of our being saved—through faith. Here in 2:5, Paul emphasizes the basis of our being saved—God’s grace. It is the gift of God (2:8b)—“he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16)—out of his rich mercy and love.

In the ages to come (2:7)

God’s saving grace in us is a life testimony to the next generations so that they know God has rich grace for them too. Notice in 2:5-7, Paul speaks of our past, present and future:

  • In our past, we were dead but raised with Christ to heaven.
  • In our present, we are sitting in heavenly places in Christ.
  • In our future, we shall bear witness of God’s rich grace.

Grace, not works (2:8-10)

“By grace” are ye saved “through faith”; and that “not of yourselves”, it is the gift of God; “not of works” (2:8-9a)

Not of ourselves. Salvation is granted us due to God’s grace, not of ourselves—meaning not because of us. In God’s eyes, there is nothing good in us that deserves salvation. 2:1-3 has already described our sinful nature. Psalm 14:2-3 says,

"The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God…they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one."

Not of our works. Nor is salvation because of our works--nothing out of our own effort. Effort requires someone to sacrifice something out of himself. On God’s side, salvation is the free gift of God and it is the work of God. On our side, we are to exercise our faith—just to believe the fact that God has saved us by sacrificing His Son. Faith is solely trusting in God’s plan of salvation. God does not require us to sacrifice anything to exercise our faith. He has sacrificed His son already--that is God’s work, not our works. We have done nothing to make this happen.

Lest any man should boast (2:9b)

Boasting of man is something that God dislikes most. God forbids that any man should boast. In Romans Chapter 3, Paul explained the doctrine of our righteousness by faith, not by works:

Rom 3:24 “They are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (NRSV)

Rom 3:27 “Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith.” (NRSV)

As mentioned in the study notes on Chapter 1 regarding the work of salvation, we have nothing to boast of ourselves. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (I Cor 1:31, NRSV)

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works…that we should walk in them (2:10)

God’s work. We have done nothing regarding salvation. So what has God done? “We” are God’s production. We are His new creation in Christ.

Ephe 4:24 says, "And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness."

II Cor 5:17 says, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."

Our work. Our work or job as a new creation is to do good works, to walk in ways that are pleasing to God. In the second major portion of the Book (Chap. 4-6), Paul gives instructions concerning the acts of our daily life—what we should do after being saved.

A comparison between our past and present condition (2:1-10)

(Past)                                                                 (Present)

dead--unsaved                                     2:1      alive--saved                                 2:5

walk by world civilization and lifestyle  2:2      do good works that please God  2:10

subject to power of the devil                2:2      subject to Christ                          2:10

disobey God but fulfill our desires       2:2-3   obey what God has ordained      2:10 

children of God's wrath--                     2:3       saved--                                        2:5-7
awaiting judgment                                           raised, sit in heaven and enjoy
                                                                        God's kindness toward us

Both reconciled and built into one body, the church (2:11-22)

The Uncircumcision vs the Circumcision “in the flesh” (2:11)

The Uncircumcision in the flesh refers to the Gentiles whereas the Circumcision in the flesh refers to the Jews. In Romans 2:25-26, Paul regards the Jews as the uncircumcision because they do not obey God’s law. And in contrast, the Gentiles, by keeping the righteousness or “spirit” of God’s law, are considered the circumcision.

2:25 "For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.

2:26 Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?"

And he further explains in Rom 2:28-29 that the “genuine” Jew is circumcision not in the flesh but in the spirit.

2:28 "For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:

2:29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."

By human standard, the Jews who are circumcised outwardly are the Circumcision and the Gentiles are labeled as the Uncircumcision. However, by the standard of God who looks into the hearts of men, those who truly obey Him are circumcised inwardly and become the true Circumcision. That’s why Paul has to emphasize in Ephe 2:11 that he is talking of those in the flesh.

Ye being “in time past” (2:11)

This passage of Ephe 2:11-22 is similar to the previous passage of Ephe 2:1-10, where Paul compares our past and present condition. Here Paul is making a comparison between our past and present status or identity. Our past status is mentioned in Ephe 2:11-13, whereas our present status is mentioned in Ephe 2:13 & 19. Ephe 2:14-18 & 2:20-22 talks of the work of Christ to attain the unity of both Jews and Gentiles and form the body of the Church.

A comparison between our past and present status (2:11-13 & 19)

(Past)                                                                       (Present)

Gentiles in the flesh                                   2:11
"Uncircumcision                                         2:11
without Christ                                             2:12
aliens from the commonwealth of Israel    2:12     fellow citizens with the saints         2:19
strangers from the covenants of promise  2:12     no more strangers and foreigners  2:19
no hope                                                      2:12
without God                                                2:12    of the household of God                 2:19
far off                                                          2:13    made nigh (near)                            2:13    

But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were “far off” are made “nigh” by the blood of Christ (2:13)

“But” emphasizes a new hope is created. The change is made possible in Christ and by the blood of Christ. Christ has done the work and we have to be in Christ in order to enjoy the new status. “Far off” means no access to God; “nigh” (or “near”) means we now have access to God. And this is made possible by the blood of Christ. The moment Jesus died on the cross,  “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” (Matt 27:51, NRSV) In Heb 10:19-22a, we are encouraged to access the throne of God because Jesus has provided a new avenue for us:

10:19 "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,

10:20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;

10:21 And having an high priest over the house of God;

10:22a Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith."

For he is our peace, who hath made both “one” (2:14a)

The Jews and the Gentiles were both saved in Christ and became one body, the Church. Paul is chosen by God to “preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” (Ephe 3:8)

Broken down the middle wall of partition between us (2:14b)

Before, the Jews had the spiritual pride of being God’s people, separating themselves from the Gentiles. The people of Israel had the covenants of God who promised them land and king for the nation.

Having abolished…the enmity, even the law of commandments (2:15a)

What made the Jews so proud of their “godliness” is the law of Moses God passed to the people of Israel. Paul spoke of the pride of the Jews in Rom 2:17, “But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God.” (NRSV) The Gentiles do not have the law of Moses to govern their lives. But Christ “abolished” the law, meaning he replaced the means of salvation from ‘obeying the law’ (legalism) to ‘righteousness by faith’ alone. Paul explained fully this doctrine of “righteousness by faith” in the Book of Romans. In Rom 1:16-17, Paul says

1:16 "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

1:17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith."

He further explained in Rom 2:13,

2:13 "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified."

The Jews do have the law of Moses but they have to abide by the law to fulfill God’s demand of righteousness for salvation. Romans 3:21 is the point of change:

3:21 "But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested…

3:22a Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe"

Paul followed that both the Jews and the Gentiles share the same ground of the need for salvation—both are sinners.

3:22b "for there is no difference,

3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

3:24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

3:25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past."

Paul made the conclusion in Rom 3:28-30 regarding “righteousness by faith”:

3:28 "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

3:29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:

3:30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith."

Hence, both the Jews and the Gentiles are placed on the same basis: by faith in Christ, they were both brought into a new body, the Church. There is no more difference between the two.

However, Paul said in Rom 3:31 that God’s law is enhanced rather than nullified in terms of its function.

3:31 "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law."

What Paul means is that God’s law is still in effect, except that we do not rely on obeying the law to obtain salvation. The law leads us to come before Christ as sinners and to trust in His salvation by His blood alone.

To make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross (2:15b-16)

One new man is the one body, the Church. Jesus broke the partition and created the unity of peace between the Jews and the Gentiles. At the same time, He created peace between them and God by reconciling them with God. The partition between men and God is broken as well.

Built upon the “foundation” of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the “chief corner stone” (2:20)

The church is more than a physical building. Paul is speaking of the structure of the church totally in a spiritual sense.

Jesus said to Peter about building a church, “upon this rock I will build my church.” (Matt 16:18) Jesus is speaking of himself as the chief corner stone. In I Peter 2:6, the apostle Peter himself confirmed that Jesus himself is the chief corner stone of the church.

2:5 "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

2:6 Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.

2:7a Unto you therefore which believe he is precious."

In Peter’s words, the church is a spiritual house made of many stones (the believers) and he is one of these stones (The name ‘Peter’ or ‘Cephas’ means ‘stone’ and is the name given by Jesus to Simon. John 1:42: “And he (Andrew) brought him (Peter) to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.”)

The “foundation” of the apostles and prophets refers to their preaching and teaching about Jesus Christ.

In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit (2:21-22)

In Christ, a building or a holy temple is constructed. As mentioned above in I Peter 2:5, the church is depicted as a spiritual house in which God dwells through the Holy Spirit. God does not live in a physical temple made by hands. King Solomon confirmed this point right after he finished building the holy temple for God.(I Kings 8:27) Paul also confirmed it before the people of Athens: “God…dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” (Acts 17:24) It only serves as a meeting place for the priests on behalf of the Israelites. However, God dwells among us with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That’s why the church is regarded as a spiritual house or holy temple for God’s habitation. This is also made possible in Christ.

Paul's ministry (3:1-13)

This passage contains two main issues:

  1. Paul’s ministry (3:1-2, 7-8, 13)

  2. Christ’s mystery (3:3-6, 9-12)

Paul’s ministry

The “prisoner” of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles (3:1)

The reason why Paul became a prisoner is of course due to the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles. He mentioned this mission in 3:8, “I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” This mission is given by Jesus Christ way back on the road to Damascus when he met Jesus for the first time (Acts 9:3). The mission was given to Paul through another disciple Ananias in Acts 9:15-16:

9:15 "But the Lord said unto him (Ananias), Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

9:16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake."

Since his imprisonment is part of Christ’s mission, he asked them not to worry about his danger but to take it as their glory, as indicated in 3:13.

I was made a minister…who am less than the least of all saints, is this “grace” given (3:7-8)

Paul likes to mention how he became an apostle out of nothing by himself that deserved this post but solely by grace (3:2, 7). In I Cor 15:8-10, he recalled again his ministry of being an apostle and said,

15:8 "And last of all he (Jesus) was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

15:10a But by the grace of God I am what I am."

He had the grace of God in mind too about his calling in I Tim 1:12-14:

1:12 "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;

1:13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious (侮慢人的): but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.

1:14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus."

He always remembers he was once a persecutor of the church, the body of Christ. That makes him stay in a humble manner every time he recalls his apostleship. Do we tend to be so proud of being chosen to be God’s servant as a minister, forgetting that by His grace God molds a vessel out of clay?

Ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. (3:13)

Paul inserted this whole passage (3:1-13) about his ministry for the Gentiles to comfort the church people that his imprisonment is a part of his ministry. He shared a similar feeling in a similar message of Colossians 1:23-24:

1:23b "whereof I Paul am made a minister;

1:24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church."

In other words, he sees himself sharing Christ’s suffering for the church. Christ needed to suffer for making the church; Paul needed to suffer for building up the church. He rejoices over his ministry to suffer for the church.

During his affliction, instead of unleashing grievances and requesting their comforting words, he sent comforting words to relieve the church people of their nervousness. He knew that they might be discouraged by the news of his imprisonment. He told them not to see it a shame but glory for them. Negative outcome is interpreted as positive signal—an unparalleled character of Paul.

2.  Christ’s mystery

He made known unto me the “mystery” (3:3)

As explained in notes for 1:9, when Paul said that the mystery has revealed to us, he means that the mystery remained a mystery (3:5, 9) and something unknown to the Israelites in the Old Testament period. Now God has revealed this mystery to the Christians in the New Testament. 3:5 precisely gives such an explanation.

The word “mystery” has been used 6 times (1:9; 3:3, 4, 9; 5:32; 6:19). Paul likes to use this word in this epistle to mean the creation of the church that is composed of both the Jews and the Gentiles as one body of Jesus Christ. This is also what he calls “the mystery of Christ” (3:4) or “the mystery of the gospel” (6:19). It is a mystery not only to the Jews but specifically to the Gentiles because they have a part in God’s promise to the Jews, as stated in 3:6.

My knowledge in the “mystery of Christ” (3:4)

It is “the mystery of Christ” because Christ became the peace for both Jews and Gentiles with God, as expounded in 2:14-18. Paul is the first disciple to be given the mission to preach gospel to the Gentiles. However, this mystery was also revealed to Peter ahead of Paul by God when he was guided by the Spirit to meet an Italian centurion Cornelius in Caesarea after he saw the vision of “unclean” meat (Acts 10:14). When Peter was invited to make a speech, he said in Acts 10:34-35,

10:34 "I truly understand that God shows no partiality,

10:35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (NRSV)

When he preached the gospel of Jesus, the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles to his surprise and he baptized them all.

Nevertheless, Both Peter and Paul preached the same message but to two different groups of people in their missions. In Gal 2:7-8, Paul commented,

2:7 “…the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;

2:8  For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles.”

That’s why Paul could boldly claim in Ephe 3:3 that God revealed to him this mystery of Christ by revelation.

Now revealed unto his holy apostles and “prophets” by the Spirit (3:5)

Even though prophets usually refer to those prophets of the Old Testament, Paul here refers to the prophets in the New Testament instead. In Ephe 4:11 when Paul talked about the various spiritual gifts of church people, he listed apostles, prophets, evangelists and so forth. God has not stopped giving out revelation to his “messengers” (the original meaning of “prophet” is “messenger called by God to proclaim His message”) in Paul’s time.

The Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the “same body”, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel (3:6)

The Gentiles and the Jews share the same basis of salvation by the same gospel. God binds them together within the same body in Christ. Again, this is the mystery of Christ.

And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which…hath been hid in God…to the intent that now unto the …powers in heavenly places might be known “by the church” the manifold “wisdom” of God (3:9-10)

The mystery of Christ in the formation of a church (his body) had been hidden even among the powers and angels in heaven. When it is exposed now to all mankind, the angels in heaven might even glorify God more for His wisdom in such mystery.

God’s wisdom is found in His creation of the heavens and the earth, as in Psalm 19:1 says:

19:1 "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork."

His wisdom in the creation of a new body of Christ, the church, is even more profound. The church plays a critical role in revealing God’s wisdom regarding its formation.

In whom (Christ) we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him (3:12)

We have already discussed that our Lord Jesus has provided a new avenue for us to access the throne of God directly in the commentary on 2:13—those who were far off are made near by the blood of Christ. And we have quoted Hebrews 10:19-20 in which the writer encouraged us to have boldness to access the Father, unlike the Israelites in OT times being so frightened with their fearful God.

10:19 "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,

10:20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh."