Tearing Down the Walls

Photo by Benoit Rochon

Photo by Benoit Rochon

This Sunday, I get to share some thoughts about Ephesians 2:11–22. It’s a passage with powerful imagery about Jesus tearing down the wall between Jews and Gentiles. It’s hard for us to imagine today what that meant for them. Maybe if we imagine an Arabic couple, the man with a turban and the wife with her burka, coming in and sitting by a family of Orthodox Jews. What Jesus did in bringing all men together was truly remarkable.

I was thinking about the word xenophobia. We use it to mean fear of (or prejudice toward) foreigners. From what I know of Greek (which ain’t much, folks), that meaning could be extended to anyone who wasn’t a part of your immediate group. Anyone who was a stranger or an outsider. As far as I know, that word doesn’t appear in the Bible.

But it’s opposite does. Philoxenos, the love of strangers (or guests… interesting that the word for guest was also the word for foreigner). It’s translated as hospitality. It’s a laudable trait and a commanded attitude for Christians.

The world builds walls between people, walls based on race, color, ethnicity, age, gender, political outlook, religious opinion… many things. Jesus came to tear down such walls. He came so that we could truly say:

“Here there is no Greek or Jew,
circumcised or uncircumcised,
barbarian, Scythian, slave or free,
but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

and

“There is neither Jew nor Greek,
slave nor free,
male nor female,
for you are all one
in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

3 thoughts on “Tearing Down the Walls

  1. I remember preaching a sermon from this text several times in which I asked the question, “Which ‘wall’ does Jesus tear down?” The contextual ‘wall’ is that between Jew and Greek. The ‘application’ wall is any wall that we may erect that keeps people apart. When we contrast the Spirit of Jesus and the spirit of the world, there is an amazing difference in openness toward those who are different.

    Today’s “tolerance” movement does not extend to those with a different world-view, or even to different opinions within similar world-views. This is much different from the difference between the Spirit of Christ and the spirit of the world we see in Scripture.

  2. Ephesians (like Colossians and Galatians) is addressed to churches, and to a unity in Christ of Jewish and Gentile Christians in those churches. This kind of unity in the Spirit (of Jesus) cannot be expected in the world in general.
    Also, Eph. 2:15 identifies the dividing wall of hostility (of 2:14) as the law of commandments and ordinances (of the Jews, i.e., the old covenant, the law of Moses). In their place Jesus has created “one new man” in place of the two. In 2:17 Jesus’ new way (command) of peacemaking (loving even enemies) is part of what breaks down and abolishes the wall of Jewish commands–like the commands about hating Gentiles (such as the Canaanites in the promised land, whom they were called to destroy).

  3. Lucas,

    I very much agree that such unity can’t be expected of the world in general. Fortunately, I’m delivering these thoughts at church.

    And I agree about the immediate context. I just don’t think that was the only wall Jesus tore down that separates people.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim

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