We started last week with the question, “What is Christian Spirituality?” We found by exploring Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus that Christian Spirituality has at its heart a recognition that God blesses us not because of our works. God blesses us because God loves loving us. Christian Spirituality has at its heart an understanding that this God who loves us has made himself known in Christ. In Christ, with his Spirit, we have abundant life in the present and forever.
We learned that being in Christ meant that Christ embedded within us the Holy Spirit to guide us, challenge us, comfort us, and correct us so that we could see ourselves being made holy and blameless by God. With the Holy Spirit, we can also see ourselves as changed by God’s love that redeems us and forgives us. We see through the Holy Spirit that we can change our relationships and behaviors towards others by becoming for gracious, gentle, and loving. In all these changes we then have hope and our presence to others becomes a source of hope. This is Christian Spirituality.
This is the Christian Spirituality that Paul introduced to the church at Ephesus. But Paul’s message was a hard message because there were divisions among the people first hearing the message. People coming into the church had lived divided lives in society. There were Jews and non-Jews. There were men and women. There were Roman citizens and those who were not. There were free people and slaves. There were those who had believed in one God and those who had believed in many gods. There were those who went to a temple to pray and those who had shrines in their homes. There were divisions in ancient society of all sorts and kinds. Thank goodness that after 2,000 years of human development we modern people are so much superior to our ancient ancestors that we have been able to put aside all divisions among the peoples of the earth!
We can see, of course, that people remain as divided today as much or perhaps even more than they were 2,000 years ago. We could spend a lot of time discussing why divisions exist today, but I am not sure that would be profitable for us. The point I wanted to make is that Paul introduced Christian Spirituality to a divided world. We live in a divided world. Therefore, Paul’s words to this church in Ephesus remain very relevant to our life today.
What was it that Paul wanted to share about Christian Spirituality to the divided peoples coming into the common belief about Christianity? Paul began by reminding his church about the formation of each Christian and the fellowship of Christians. Paul wrote, “8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:8-10). Paul brought emphasis again that God was the initiator of any good standing people had before Him. Paul wrote on Chapter 2, verse 8, “It is by (God’s) grace that you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God.”
By my count, this is at least the eighth time since the beginning of the letter that Paul has reminded his readers that their good standing before God was God’s doing. Let’s look quickly at the other seven citations in before this one.
- 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3)
- 4 For he (God) chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight (1:4)
- In love 5 he (God) predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will (1:5).
- 7 In him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace (1:7).
- 11 In him (God) we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his (God’s) will (1:11).
- 4 But because of his (God’s) great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ (2:4-5a).
- 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (2:6).
Either Paul’s readers were forgetful, so Paul repeatedly reminded his readers that God was the actor in this story. Or Paul understood people do not hear or respond to a message the first time it is said, or even the second or even the third time. I think Paul understood the need to repeat the core message in several different ways so that people who hear it.
Regarding hearing messages, in 1885 a British businessman, Thomas Smith, concluded people need to hear an advertising message for a product 20 times before they would purchase a product. Smith said the first-time people look at an ad, they don’t even see it. By the fifth time seeing it, they will read it. By the tenth time, they will ask their friends if they have tried the item in the ad. By the fifteenth time, they will begin to have a desire for what is in the ad. By the twentieth time, they will make the effort to do as the ad suggests. Paul understood the need for repetition.
Paul wanted his readers to understand that Christian Spirituality is a creation of God not of people. This makes Christian Spirituality different from other forms of spiritual thought because people who were once been divided are to be unified under God by the action of God. ““8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9a). We are here as Christians formed into a church not because of our actions but instead because of God’s action.
Paul wanted his church to be united and Paul went after the greatest division among the people at that time, namely, the division between Jews and non-Jews or Gentiles. There was a clear distinction between Jews and Gentiles with many subdivisions. Jews and Gentiles had different spiritual lives, separate places of worship, different foods, different hygiene practices, different views of politics, different occupations, and the list of differences could go on.
In the Temple of Jerusalem, the Jews constructed a wall around the Temple itself and no Gentile was permitted past this dividing wall. “No Entry” signs were posted on the wall in three different languages which read, “No foreigner (Gentile) is allowed past this point on penalty of death”. Segregation was part of the culture of Ephesus but segregation was not to be practiced by Christian.
Paul wrote, “14 For he himself (Jesus) is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his (Jesus’) flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His (Jesus’) purpose was to create in himself (Jesus) one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them (Jews and Gentiles) to God through the cross, by which he (God) put to death their (Jews and Gentiles) hostility. 17 He (Jesus) came and preached peace to you who were far away (Gentiles) and peace to those who were near (Jews). 18 For through him (Jesus) we both (Jews and Gentiles) have access to the Father by one Spirit” (Ephesians 2:14-18).
Paul has introduced another facet to Christian Spirituality. That facet is peace. Paul presented the idea of peace through a paradox. Paul said out of violence, “out of the blood of Jesus, his death on the cross”, comes peace and unity for humanity with itself and humanity with God. Paul said Jesus brought peace two ways.
First, Paul said Jesus “destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14b). Jesus, “through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility (Ephesians 2:17b). Jesus came to destroy. We don’t often think of Jesus as a destroyer, but he was. Jesus came to destroy hostility. The Gospels are rich in examples of Jesus preaching to end hostility. In one sermon alone Jesus said:
- ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment (Matthew 5:21b-22). End hostility.
- If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them (Matthew 5:23b-24). End division.
- 25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary (Matthew 5:25a). Reconcile, quickly.
- 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also (Matthew 5:38-39). Do not let hostility get a toehold in your life.
- 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:43-45). Pray and work to end hostility.
Jesus was destroying hostility and called his disciples to do likewise.
You know I have seen a lot of church signs but I do not think I have even seen one that said, “Join Us, Let’s Celebrate Destroying Hostility Together!” But Paul said, “Listen to me. Jesus destroyed the hostility you may have felt toward someone else, do not resurrect it.”
Having recognized that Jesus destroyed hostility, Paul made his second point. Jesus is peace. Paul wrote,
- “Jesus is our peace; he made the two groups one” (Ephesians 2:14).
- Jesus created “one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace” (Ephesians 2:15).
- Jesus “came and preached peace to you who were far away (Gentiles) and peace to those who were near (Jews)” (Ephesians 2:18).
Jesus destroyed hostility and created peace for those within the church. It is precisely because Jesus destroyed hostility and created peace between those who would follow him, that Jesus gave the command to his followers, “Now, love one another.” Christian Spirituality then is recognizing that Jesus gave peace to all his followers.
Paul was teaching his church then and us now that any prejudices, preferences, or divisions we might have toward other people have been resolved by Jesus. In Jesus we can freely live a new life with other believers unencumbered by family beliefs, traditions, likes and dislikes because Jesus has destroyed the walls that made those divisions, and he made the peace for the new group. Paul concluded by saying that this new, united group was “being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). It is by the Spirit of God that we are being built together so that we can more and more feel and experience the sense of God.
Christian Spirituality then involves a combining of believers from all different walks of life, different colors, different traditions, different neighborhoods, and having them knit together by the Holy Spirit. Our role in that building process, is to follow the leading of God’s Spirit and allow the Spirit to take away from us any divisive baggage we may have once carried.
Some years ago, my wife and I went to visit a church we had once been members and enjoyed a strong sense of the Spirit of God building that congregation. It had been some years since we had been there. When we returned, the individual members of the congregation were warm and welcoming toward us, but the spirit of the church was cold. Divisions and walls Jesus had destroyed had been built again. Peace had been replaced by anxiousness. It felt like the Holy Spirit had left the building, you could feel its absence. How and why did that church change so much so quickly? The church had taken its eyes off God believing instead that they had unity because of their own good works and not because God had unified them in Christ. A few years later, that congregation disbanded and the church building that was once spiritually cold is now also physically cold.
Christian Spirituality is all about being blessed by God in Christ. Christian Spirituality is all about being able to boast in God not in ourselves. Christian Spirituality is all about seeing that God works continually to remind us that the walls that create division among his people have been torn down. We should not be building restoring them. Christian Spirituality is all about seeing the paradox that the violence done to Jesus on the cross brought us peace. Who then are we to put Christ on the cross again by breaking the peace? Christian Spirituality is all about us coming together to encourage each other, to love each other, and to see that more we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in building up this church in holiness and compassion the greater the sense we will have of God’s presence among us. I don’t know about you, but I think being in the presence of God is an awesome and wonderful feeling. And I am glad we are sharing that experience together. Amen and Amen.