May our Hostilities be Nailed to the Cross
Hostilities, tensions, conflicts. These problems simmer far too often in churches. Thus Paul addresses this problem in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus.
The church in Ephesus was made up of Jews and Gentiles. These groups had experienced deep hostilities, tensions and conflict between each other for decades.
The Jews took pride in their lineage—that they were descendants of God’s covenant with Abraham. They believed their ancestry made them better than others. And they took pride in being followers of the Law of Moses, believing the Law made them holier than everyone else. For these reasons, they looked down on the Gentiles and wanted nothing to do with them.
The Gentiles in Ephesus had taken pride in their wealth, their position in society, their successes and their power. They looked down upon the lowly Jews and wanted nothing to do with them.
But in Ephesus Jewish people came to Christ and Gentile people came to Christ. Both groups found themselves thrown together in the same church and told that they were now brothers and sisters with one another. How are Christians to overcome such long held hostilities?
Paul asserts that the bridge between them is Christ. In Ephesians 2:13-14, he writes, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he had made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” In verse 16, he asserts that Christ “might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”
How can the cross of Christ put to death the hostility between people and reconcile us into loving relationship with one another?
Picture it in this way: When Jesus died, my sins were hung on the cross with him and taken away from me. By that, I have been reconciled to God. And when Jesus died, your sins were hung on the cross with him and taken away from you. By that, you have been reconciled to God. You and I have both been reconciled to God through what Jesus did on the cross for us.
But when I hold onto a grudge against you, it is as if I deny its place on the cross. It is as if I refuse to let your sin (that for which I hold a grudge against you) be forgiven.
When your sin is on the cross, Christ forgives you and takes away that sin. But I don’t want your sin to be taken away. I want to hold onto my grudge against you.
How ridiculous is that! I am holding onto that which Jesus died to take away.
I may not like something you have done. You may not like something I have done. But Jesus has already taken your sins and my sins to the cross and done away with them. That’s where we should leave them, too.
When our children were young, we read to them The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare. It is the story of a zealot named Daniel, who hates the Romans. The driving force in his life is the longing to take revenge on the Romans for the suffering they have caused to his family. At one point, Jesus asks Daniel to follow him:
“‘Daniel,’ he said, ‘I would have you follow me.’
“‘Master!’ A great burst of hope almost swept him to his knees. ‘I will fight for you to the end!’
“Jesus smiled at him gently. ‘My loyal friend,’ he said, ‘I would ask something much harder than that. Would you love for me to the end?’
“Baffled, Daniel felt the hope slipping away. ‘I don’t understand,’ he said again. ‘You tell people about the kingdom. Are we not to fight for it?’
“‘The kingdom is only bought at a great price,’ Jesus said. ‘There was one who came just yesterday and wanted to follow me. He was very rich, and when I asked him to give up his wealth, he went away.’
“‘I will give you everything I have!’
“Something almost like a twinkle of humor lighted for an instant the sadness of Jesus’ eyes. ‘Riches are not keeping you from the kingdom,’ he said. ‘You must give up your hate.’”
In the midst of the hostilities that often scar the Christian church, Christ is saying to us, “You must give up your hate.”