The resurgence of racial tensions in our nation is unmistakable. Like the family member who brings strife with every visit, racism is an old, often welcomed, and all too familiar relative, returning to bring trouble. And much like our kin, we can’t avoid it. It keeps coming around. It’s a part of us. It’s descendent from us. It’s the cross we will not bear.
It’s most recent rise is particularly disturbing because we had begun to believe we had finally put it behind us. None were naïve enough to believe it no longer existed. We knew it was still there, lurking in the shadows. But I don’t think we imagined it would walk so boldly back into the light.
As always, it is exposing the cracks in the foundation of the church. This evil is not simply a historical social vice. This is an attack upon the credibility of the church of Jesus Christ. In an area that we were founded to lead the way, we are sadly bring up the rear. Hip hop has arguably done more to bring the races together than the church in America.
As a nation, we shop together, live together, work together, play together, but we still don’t worship together.
We experience diversity daily all around us. But on Sundays we return to our homogeneous ethnic huddles to worship the Lord of all.
The church’s response to America’s most crippling vice has always done much harm to our message. But somehow we have been able to retain a measure of credibility. However, at the risk of sounding like an alarmist, I believe if we don’t get this right, we may not get another shot. Where we stand in the racial divide is a direct reflection upon the essence and nature of the church and the coming of the savior. We have become a hinderance to the work of God to reconcile all men to Himself. If that seems overstated, then let me tell you the biblical story of the founding of the church.
The Unity of The Spirit
Ephesians 4:1–3 (NASB95)
1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
In order to bring the necessary gravity to this request of the Ephesian church, Paul recounts for them the historical founding of the church. The history lesson helps to place their faith as a local church, within the timeless purposes of God for the church worldwide. It was important to him that they know the God-sized reason to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
The Story of Two Groups
Paul begins by recounting the blessings the Ephesians have in Christ and the prayers he has been praying for them. That they had received every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus, reminded them that they were not in need of further blessings to do what he would ask of them.
It’s in chapter 2, however, that the story of two groups begins. These two groups would play a central part in the church’s beginning.
Here’s what he says about the first group.
Ephesians 2:1–2 (NASB95)
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
He emphasizes the past condition of the first group, of which the readers are a part. Though it is to be noted that this first group had the stench of death from sin in their past, the greater argument is that the second group shared a similar history. He says this about the second group.
Ephesians 2:3 (NASB95)
3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
Despite their similar histories, the hostility and hatred they shared for one another is legendary. Before there were Hatfields and McCoys, there were Jews and Gentiles. Their historic separation was both ethnic and religious in nature. Listen as Paul uses their historical name calling to describe the two groups past relationship.
Ephesians 2:11–12 (NASB95)
11 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—12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Here is were we must pay close attention to the story. In Jesus Christ and through His cross these two hostile groups are reconciled to each other. Jesus becomes the peace between the groups and makes both groups into one new group. He abolishes the enmity in His flesh. In other words, He dies that they who were two hostile groups would become one group at peace.
Ephesians 2:14–15 (NASB95)
14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 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,
And if that doesn’t shiver your timbers, listen carefully to what happens to this one new group.
Ephesians 2:16 (NASB95)
16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.
I am completely in awe of the manifold wisdom of God.
Did you hear the order of the reconciliation? The two groups were reconciled to each other first. They become one body; one new man first. Then they are reconciled, in one body to God. The Spirit of God accomplishes an incredible work of reconciliation in the two historically hostile groups, through the cross of Christ, before they are reconciled to the Father. The Spirit of God gives birth to the church in this unity.
And the grand implication is that our reconciliation to the Father is dependent on our reconciliation to each other.
Thus the command to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit. This is the calling with which we have been called. We must walk worthy of this high calling. I join the Apostle and implore you to walk with all humility and gentleness. I implore you to walk with patience and to show tolerance for one another in love. We must not let the politics of our nation drive a wedge between those whom the Spirit of God reconciled. Finally, I implore you to not return to the hostility of our past, since Jesus died to establish our peace and to make us one new man. The glory of God in the very purpose of the church is at stake.
God’s glory is in the Church and in Christ Jesus
Ephesians 3:20–21 (NASB95)
20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.