Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 2:15c “. . .for to make in himself of twain one new man,. . .”
Jesus’ death makes possible the abolition of enmity between groups at odds with one another (2:15a). For unity to become a reality, He must personally come and create it “in himself,” by the presence and power of His resurrected life. He makes in His own person “of twain one new man.”
Jesus downplays the “twain,” old distinctions which divide, and emphasizes the “one new man,” a new classification which unites. Differences which divide us before conversion continue to exist, but are no longer paramount. Jesus calls us to minimize the “twain,” differences which separate, and to maximize the “one new man,” the entity which unites.
A saved Jew is still a Jew, but “Jew” is not his most beloved classification any more. A saved Gentile remains a Gentile, but “Gentile” is no longer his favorite self-description. A saved American is an American still, but offers paramount allegiance to a higher appellation. Christian, believer, saint–these are the most cherished titles of born again people.
In spiritual concerns, pedigree, citizenship, culture, ethnicity, and other physical distinctions, are secondary. The only distinction which matters is one’s identity in Christ. There is no Jewish or Gentile Christianity, black or white Christianity, American or Russian Christianity, etc. There is only one Christianity. “Our one Lord has only one church” (MacArthur).
I have often seen Pastor Jerry Falwell handle this topic with grace and dignity in public forums. He appears often on the Phil Donahue TV talk show. The latter, always trying to stir up controversy, presses Falwell about whether he believes Jews will go to Heaven or Hell. Falwell fields the questions wisely, refusing to speak of people in terms of class. He says ethnic background is meaningless, and what matters is faith in Christ.
Jesus died to end ethnic divisiveness. Man had oneness, in Adam, but lost it by sin. Believers have found oneness again in Christ, shall be together forever in glory, and ought to celebrate this reunion here and now.
This is one purpose of the Lord’s table. It draws us nigh to God and near to each other. It is significant the ordinance God gave us to picture our union with other believers is a meal. The last social barrier to fall is usually one’s eating table. In the mid 1970s a man about seventy years old and I visited a fellow church member at Baptist Hospital in Memphis. In the hospital cafeteria, we purchased food, and sat down at a table, but my friend was hesitant to eat. I asked what was wrong. He replied, “I’ve never eaten under the same roof with colored people.” How sad. The truth is, each time he ate the Lord’s Supper, he communed in heavenly places with people of all colors, whether he knew it or not, or liked it or not.
Fellow believers, remember, spiritual things are primary. Where is our citizenship? Heaven. Where do we live? Heavenly places. Who is our father? God. What is our favorite reading material? The Bible. Who is a believer’s family? All brothers and sisters in Christ. The believer must place priority on everything connected with Jesus, including social matters.
Eph. 2:15d “. . .so making peace;. . .”
The Church can have peace only by implementing the truth presented here. When we forget to think of ourselves as one, we begin to have discord. When we emphasize classifications and groups, we have trouble.
In Acts 6 the Church had forgotten this. The Greek-speaking widows felt the Hebrew-speaking widows were receiving favored treatment. The alleged discrimination, whether perceived or actual, caused the Church to fall back into the habit of dividing up on the basis of cultural differences. As a result, the Church had trouble, disharmony, no peace.
“Making peace”–translating into reality what Christ has made possible–is not easy. We spend whole life times trying to make progress in this area of overcoming barriers and breaking down middle walls of partition.
Many of us can easily relate to the intense struggle experienced by Peter in this matter. Paul made progress against prejudice rather rapidly; he had his Damascus Road experience, went away to Arabia for three years, and came back transformed in his thinking. Peter, though, had a harder time with this matter of prejudice. Peter was–how can I describe him?–a Southern Baptist. What a surprise this revelation is to the Roman Catholics. They say he was their first pope. I disagree. He was obviously a staunch Southern Baptist–very independent, stubborn, and slow to change, especially on this matter of prejudice. Let’s examine his pilgrimage.
Many years ago, I went to a church to preach a week of revival services. As is still my weekly custom, I arrived Sunday morning in time to attend Sunday School. The lesson was on Peter’s vision of the unclean animals (AC 10). The Sunday School teacher, being so prejudiced that he was blind to the obvious, began the lesson by saying, “Peter’s vision deals only with eating habits, and has nothing whatsoever to do with racial matters.” Poor, deluded soul! The vision has everything to do with both. God broke down food barriers in order to break down social barriers. Peter was to regard no longer distinctions between ceremonial cleanness and uncleanness in order that he might no longer distinguish between Jew and Gentile.
It is unfortunate the premier Apostle required a vision to do this, but to his credit, Peter obeyed and went to the home of Cornelius the Gentile. Peter had taken a painful first step, but his pilgrimage had merely begun.
For his visit to Cornelius, Peter was sharply rebuked by certain Jewish believers in Jerusalem (AC 11:2). He publicly stood against them. This was a painful second step, but God was not satisfied with Peter yet.
Later, Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch, sternly objecting to Jewish believers who were demanding Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved. The dispute became so heated that representatives had to be sent to Jerusalem to settle the matter (AC 15:1-2). At this Jerusalem Council, Peter stood tall (AC 15:7). In an official, binding forum, he unreservedly aligned himself with Paul and Barnabas. This was a third step for Peter, but the case was not fully settled yet in the fisherman’s pilgrimage.
While he agreed a Gentile might be saved without becoming a Jew, Peter hesitated to treat Gentiles as full equals in the Church. At Antioch he ate with Gentiles until certain important Jewish believers arrived. He then withdrew from Gentiles, associated only with Jews, and thereby catered to Jewish Christians who wanted to remain Jewish in custom and practice. In this matter Peter erred, and had to be rebuked by Paul (GL 2:11).
For Peter, prejudice was a life-long hurdle to be overcome. Prejudice was deeply ingrained in him; overcoming it was a constant battle. Most of us can relate to his travail of soul.
Peter’s struggle illustrates a path many may have to follow in their efforts to overcome prejudice. The road to victory begins with a change of attitude. Peter had to begin by changing his thoughts about other peoples. The vision helped him understand matters differently.
Peter’s next step was to take a public stand. It was not enough to have a change of attitude. What he knew to be right had to be acted upon. He went to Cornelius’ house and then publicly withstood his detractors.
Proper thinking and public action were then followed by an authoritative decree. In a forum where his views would influence others, Peter stood for right. We, too, need to do this in places where we exercise authority. In our homes we should never allow racial jokes or ethnic slurs. On the job we should do all we can to assure equal opportunity for all.
Peter’s final need was to overcome the “equal but separate” myth. The level of acceptance which Christ intends us to have is not one which involves separation. Jesus came to bring us together, not to keep us apart.
We each find ourselves at different points of progress on our road to overcoming prejudice. Wherever you find yourself, ask God to help you take another step in the right direction. Never be satisfied with where you are in this struggle. The stakes are too high for us to risk complacency.