While researching Scripture for the previous article, I was looking for a specific verse. It was one that I only remembered partially, and so it took a little while to find it. Upon discovering the phrase, the context was actually talking about something different than I had expected, and it didn’t exactly fit the first article. However, since all Scripture is useful and valuable (as 2 Timothy 3:16 points out), let’s take a look:
For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.
Ephesians 2:14-16 NLT
Once again, Jesus is bringing together those who were far apart1.
On the one side, the Jewish people were intentionally set apart by God, to be a holy people. The instructions that God had given them made this nation different from other people groups around them, both in ancient times, and in the first-century Middle East where (and when) Jesus was born as a human being.
The nation of Israel had also been through periods of independence and power, as well as times of exile and oppression. (These normally correlated with whether their kings were guiding them into righteousness or wickedness, although God regularly showed extreme patience and mercy in giving the Israelites time to repent.) As a result of all these things, one can see why Jewish people had some clear lines of separation from non-Jewish people (defined as “Gentiles”). And, it is understandable that being subjugated by the Roman empire (not to mention offensive acts by the preceding Greek empire during the time of the Maccabees) could result in outright hostility.
On the other hand, it seems that the Romans considered any conquered people as a potential risk to their empire. Carefully planned rules and organizations kept various regions in check, and aggressive responses to revolt (including public executions like crucifixions) may have preserved Pax Romana, but this was achieved – at least partially – through threats of violence.
And, just by looking around our world today, you can imagine what polytheistic Gentiles would have thought of Jewish people, who not only claimed that there was only one God, but also declared that He was unique and sovereign. Today, many are offended by the idea that only a single faith is correct2, or that one religious leader (like Jesus) has the right to say that other paths to God are wrong. It is considered “intolerant” to propose such things, regardless of the evidence that Jesus and His followers presented to back up His claim. (Of course, disrespect and hostility hiding behind “tolerance” isn’t what Jesus taught, either.)
The separation between Jews and Gentiles is still a challenge today, but it is not the only thing that divides us – not by a long shot. So many people in this world choose to be divided by region, ethnicity, language, preferences, opinions, and many other attributes.
God did not create us that way, though. He made one race of human beings. That is why I prefer terms like “ethnicity”, “heritage”, or “background” to identify external differences, rather than “race”. We can – and must – talk about how these factors have divided us in the past, and continue to separate us today, but I fear that talking about different “races” sometimes results from a non-Biblical view of where we all came from, and (when used to separate people according to their genetics) overlooks the source of our mutual, God-given worth.
When Jesus came to restore people to the Kingdom of God, He provided a way to bridge those gaps. There are no differences between you and me and any other human being that cannot be overcome through Him. There are plenty of stories of people from respective groups that were hostile towards each other, who later found the peace of Jesus Christ, and discovered common ground in that. Former enemies have become brothers and sisters. Previously unthinkable friendships have been forged, as Jesus brought peace beyond the capability of mere human limitations.
This is the reconciliation that Jesus brings: connecting people to God and, in the process, breaking down walls of separation between individual people.
As a result, if you are stuck in a hostile relationship with other people, I hope that you will consider this solution. First, if you have not gotten to know Jesus Christ, and given Him the authority in your life to lead you in a better way, that is the first step. Then, with His role in your life established, seeking for the other person to also find the blessings of following Jesus is the next step. Maybe an opponent or rival won’t listen to you, but you can pray for God to place other influences in their lives: people and circumstances who can show them who the real Jesus was.
And, if you and an “enemy” are both followers of Jesus, I pray that you will both find common ground and harmony by realizing that you are part of the same family. When we all follow Jesus as our leader, the glory goes to God, and we can work together towards His goals.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
- We might also say that God’s plan for marriage (see Genesis 2:24) was similarly miraculous. Can you imagine an arrangement where men and women complement each other and get along? Those differences are about as far apart as people can get! ↩
- Just to clarify, I’m not aligned with those who insist that only one congregation or denomination is correct. I would define Christians as those who 1) follow Jesus, 2) trust Him as their Savior, and 3) obey Him as their Lord (as described in the Bible), even if we can politely discuss specific doctrinal topics where we may have come to different conclusions from our respective Bible studies. ↩