August 17, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Ephesians 2:11-12 (NIV)
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.
It hurts to feel left out, to be excluded. Exclusion from a community impoverishes both those excluded and the community that chooses to leave people out. In the second half of Ephesians, we learn that Christ breaks down the walls of hostility that promote exclusion. Today, we need the inclusive, reconciling love and peace of Christ—now more than ever.
Have you ever been left out? If so, you know it stinks. Perhaps, when you were growing up you didn’t fit in with the “cool kids” at school. Or, perhaps you feel left out even in this season of your life, not really welcome among the “in groups” at work or at church. When your “friends” get together, they always seem to forget to invite you.
Exclusion is a painful thing, whether on a personal level or a greater, societal level. When people are excluded from community, they feel rejected and they miss out on opportunities for flourishing. Moreover, exclusion also hurts the excluding community, hardening people’s hearts and limiting the expression of community-building gifts.
In the second half of Ephesians 2, Paul reveals that the recipients of his letter were once left out in a major way. Their exclusion did more than just hurt their feelings, however. As Gentiles, referred to by Jews with the derogatory title, “uncircumcised” (Ephesians 2:11), they were once “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of promise” (2:12). Cut off from the people of God, they were “without hope and without God in the world” (2:12).
This is the second time in Ephesians 2 that Paul has diagnosed our dire state apart from God. As you may recall, the first half of Ephesians 2 begins with the bad news that we were captive to the ways of the world and its diabolical ruler, compelled to gratify our sinful cravings, and deserving divine wrath. In a word, we were “dead,” that is, “dead in [our] transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). If that weren’t bad enough, now we learn that we who are separated from God’s people are also disconnected from God and his gifts of promise and hope.
Why does Paul begin this passage with such bad news of exclusion? Partly, he is providing a backdrop so that the work of Christ might be rightly understood. But Ephesians 2:11-12 is not meant merely to inform us. These verses are also intended to prepare our hearts receive the good news with gratitude and joy. They get us ready to understand the work of Christ more deeply and to celebrate this work more jubilantly. As we’ll see, Christ has fundamentally undermined the whole ideology and practice of exclusion.
Yes, we were once left out of God’s people. But that’s just the beginning of the story. Stay tuned. . . .
Have you ever experienced the feeling of being left out of some group you wish included you? How did you feel? What did you do with these feelings?
Why do human beings tend to exclude others? Why, in particular, do we exclude people who don’t look or act just like us?
Do you feel connected to God’s people, to his hope and promise?
Can you think of someone in your workplace who is often left out? If so, find a way to include that person this week. Reach out with the love of Christ in some tangible way.
Gracious God, I don’t like hearing bad news. But I recognize that it’s important to hear what is true, even if it’s not what I would prefer. On my own, apart from your grace, I am excluded from your people. Worse still, I am cut off from you, from your salvation, from the hope you offer in Christ.
How I thank you that Ephesians 2:11-12 is not the end of the story, but just the beginning. May these verses prepare me to understand more deeply how your grace touches my life and to rejoice more fully because of what you have done in for me through Christ. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: God’s Character is to Have Mercy on Everyone (Romans 9–11)