The Christ Community, Part 2: The Church as God’s New Humanity (Ephesians 2:11-18)

Ever since Genesis 3, it has been hard for people to get along. We’re all so different, and, because of our fallenness, those differences can annoy us, threaten us, and make us suspicious of one another. In jealousy, envy, and pride, we tend to think, say, and do nasty things to each other, making life unpleasant at times.

In the first century, there were two groups of people who didn’t get along very well—Jews and Gentiles. The Jews were descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. The Gentiles were everybody else. Both latent and overt hostility marked their relationship over the centuries. Paul addresses that enmity in Ephesians 2, and he talks about what God has done to rectify it. The solution he offers is still relevant today because the world is more polarized now than ever. In recent years we have witnessed a growing hostility between races, classes, genders, and political parties. The tension is exhausting and disillusioning. 

How can God take widely diverse and disparate people and put them successfully into one new group? Paul’s answer is Jesus. Why? Because “he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace” (Eph 2:14-15).

Paul argues that the source of alienation between Jew and Gentile—God’s law—was put on the shelf (2:15a) because the source of reconciliation—God’s Son—was put on the cross (2:13b, 16b). Human beings may be hostile to each other, but God treated his perfect Son as if he were all the world’s hostility rolled into one. And when Christ died on the cross, the Father regarded the hostility itself as having died, too. God’s purpose was to create one new humanity out of the two—a horizontal hostility replaced with horizontal peace (2:15b).

The result is that irreligious people (like the Gentiles, who thought they are “far off”) can now hear and believe the gospel of peace (2:17a). Religious people (like the Jews, who thought they are already near) can hear and believe that same gospel (2:17b). All are “far off” because of sin, but all can “draw near” now because of Jesus. God is wise in this regard. All who draw near to him wind up drawing near to each other, too. Indeed, the only way to fully experience the God who is community is to participate fully in his new community—the church.

That’s not always easy because we’re all different. But believers who draw near to God bear the marks of unity in diversity. That’s why Paul cites the Trinity two times in this passage (2:18, 22). God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are the ultimate model for the church—a community of truth, love, and unity in diversity.

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‘Plenty Too Much’: The God of Immeasurably More

What are some of your highest and best thoughts about God? How incredible is he in your mind? How awesome do you conceive him to be? Now multiply those thoughts by a billion, and what kind of picture emerges? Raise them to the millionth power, and what do you find? No matter how lofty our thoughts about God may be, they will always fall short of his infinite greatness. 

And to that I say, “Thank God!” His ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts (cf. Isaiah 55:9). Clearly, our finite minds run out of steam while the infinite mind keeps going and going. We’re a tiny drop of water in the vastness of God’s unending ocean. I used to be frustrated by that, but I’ve come to see it’s a genuine comfort to worship a God whose greatness cannot be exaggerated. As Corrie Ten Boom once said, “A religion that is small enough for our understanding would not be big enough for our needs.” The challenge is trying to express God’s greatness in human language with all our inherent limitations. How can we even come close to doing it justice?

In the soaring conclusion to his lofty prayer in Ephesians 3, the Apostle Paul strings together a series of “loaded” Greek words to say what cannot fully be said. First he uses the word hyper, which means “above” or “beyond.” Then he uses the word panta, which means, “all,” “every,” or “any.” Then he uses the word hyper again, this time connecting it (without precedent) to the word ekperissou, which means “excessively” or “all the more.” How would you translate this stack of superlatives? 

  • “infinitely more”?
  • “immeasurably more”?
  • “far more abundantly”?
  • “exceedingly abundantly above”?
  • “beyond all measure more”?

That’s the best our translators can do, and you might recognize some of these expressions from your own Bible reading. Perhaps Eugene Peterson captures it well in The Message, where he paraphrases the sentence like this: “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!”

All told, these words allow Paul—and us—to burst into jubilant praise about God’s majestic abilities, all of which come to fullest expression in the love of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:18, NIV). 

Paul also indicates here that God is not limited by our asking but can go way beyond our hopes, dreams, and expectations. He’s like a cascading fountain that not only flows but overflows. As many of us used to sing in Sunday school when we were children, “My cup is full and running over.” That’s because God delights in pouring 24 ounces of iced tea into a 12-ounce glass. The resulting mess is part of his message: “I am the God not only of abundance but of superabundance.” 

This mindset runs in the family, too. Whenever Jesus, the Son of God, multiplies food for the masses, there are always multiple basketfuls left over. He, too, is a God of superabundance. And his love overflows to the ends of the earth. To borrow a phrase from the pidjin English used on mission fields around the world, God loves us “plenty too much.” This love sustains us as we walk the (sometimes painful) road of sanctification to which we’ve been called, “grow[ing] in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). 

I hope that God has done “plenty too much” for you this year, difficult though it may have been amidst a global pandemic and a widespread sense of national angst and polarization. If not, may his blessings cascade beyond your wildest dreams in the coming year. Do not give up! He has not abandoned you. It’s not in his character to do so. 

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