The Berlin Wall fell eleven days before by fifth birthday. I didn’t live much life during the Cold War, but it was a big deal for our nation. From school duck and cover drills in case of attack, to the McCarthy era and the Red Scare, fear of the USSR and communism inundated our country and communities. All of this led to the point when Ronal Reagan famously said, “Tear down that wall.”
In our passage today, Paul discusses a different kind of wall—a dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. In the same way that it is hard for any person my age or younger to understand the feelings of the Cold War, so also, it is hard for us to wrap our minds around the scandal that was Gentile inclusion in the Church. This idea was shameful to the Jews. So, as Paul sent this letter to various communities, he was setting the record straight to correct the grievous misunderstanding of both Jews and Gentiles.
Chapter 2 opens up with the idea that all people—both Jews and Gentiles— are universally lost in sin, and exclusively saved through the person and work of Jesus Christ, by grace through faith. Thus, in our passage Paul sets out correcting the false thinking of these two groups. A few things to note:
- In verse 11, the Jews used a pejorative term in reference to the Gentiles, calling them the “uncircumcision.” Paul flips this around in an incredibly offensive way. He refers to the Jews as the “so called ‘Circumcision,’” which, he adds, “is performed in the flesh by human hands.” Gasp! The Greek word for “performed by human hands,” is seen frequently in the Old Testament in reference to crafting idols. Paul just told the Jews that their circumcision was idolatry. That is scandalous.
- The Gentiles were not the recipients of God’s promises and had “no hope” (12). But, through Christ, those not of Israel and thus, “far off,” can be “brought near by the blood of Christ.”
- Through Christ, both groups are now “one,” one in body (16), one in access to the Spirit and the Father (18), one in citizenship (19), one household (19) resting on one foundation (20), growing into one temple of God in the Spirit (22).
Like Reagan, Paul says, “Tear down that wall.” He is speaking of the “barrier of the dividing wall” in verse 14. There was a literal wall in the Temple called the “dividing wall” that had a sign forbidding Gentiles to enter the Temple courts. It was for (allegedly) violating this wall that Paul was put in prison to begin with. In Acts 21:29, Paul was accused of taking a Gentile beyond the dividing wall.
Figuratively, the wall symbolized hostility and enmity between Jews and Gentiles. For every generation, the wall is anything that disrupts the unity of believers. From racism to bickering about the color of the carpet, God’s Church has to fight to maintain unity. We keep constructing dividing walls after Christ has torn it down.
Questions for Reflection:
In what ways have you looked down on other believers within the church (socially, economically, educationally, maturity, age, etc.)? In what ways have you brought strife instead of peace in your relationships? Like the Jews idolized their circumcision, are there aspects of your religion that you’re trusting more than Christ (i.e. church attendance/membership, baptism, giving, etc)?
By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate