By Stan Brown
Ephesians 2:12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Remember that Paul is moving toward the point that believers are all united in the body of Christ. Just as he had reminded all believers that they had been spiritually dead and had been made alive by Christ, he now reminds the Gentiles of the place they occupied in the past. The point affects the Jews as much as it does the Gentiles since they would have to accept as equal partners those whom they had previously despised while the Gentiles would be part of the same body as those who had considered them to be of no value. There are a number of ways I could go with this but for now I will merely consider the place of the Gentiles in the past as a basis for moving on to the unity of the body in Christ. In the day in which we live the unity of the body is increasingly important.
Paul reminds the Gentiles (and the Jews which adds up to all believers) of five specific things that the Gentiles had previously been lacking. (In this discussion we must remember that God always offered salvation to all but under the Law the Gentiles needed to become Jewish proselytes which many did. Now they would be brought together as equals.) (1). The first thing that the Gentiles were previously lacking is they were separate from Christ. They had no personal relationship with God. This was true of many if not most of the Jews as well, but the Gentiles were also without the national hope of the coming Messiah. Today, believers of all varieties are united in the hope of the coming return of Christ while the world basks in the futile hope that they can make things right on their own. (2). They were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel. They were generally omitted from the commonwealth of God’s chosen people to whom the covenant promises were given. Even the Gentile proselytes would have felt as if they were living as Jews without really being citizens, just as the Ephesians were living in a Roman state without being citizens of Rome. Today we are all united as citizens of both the new form of the kingdom and the eternal coming kingdom. (3). They were strangers to the covenants of promise. Although, God promised Abraham that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed, the Gentiles were still foreigners in the realm of the unconditional Abrahamic covenant that included the Palestinian, Davidic and New covenants. Now, the New Covenant was beginning to reach into their understanding as they participated in the new form of the kingdom with all other believers. (4). They were without hope. There was no future hope on which they could rely. This lack really permeates our culture today. If there is no future hope, all that matters is the moment. Even if we could succeed in making a perfect world on earth, we die as others are born to make the world imperfect once more. The only hope is in Christ with whom all believers will live united forever. We possess an objective hope based on the promises of God.
(5) They were without God in the world. The Greek word for without God is the word from which the English word atheist is derived, which essentially negates God in every way. I now include a rather lengthy quote from Albert Barnes who dramatically writes concerning the one without God. (This was published in 1830 which explains some of the allusions.) “He (the one without God) lives, and feels, and acts, as if there were no God. He neither worships him in secret, nor in his family, nor in public. He acts with no reference to his will. He puts no confidence in his promises, and fears not when he threatens; and were it announced to him that there ‘is no God,’ it would produce no change in his plan of life, or in his emotions. The announcement that the emperor of China, or the king of Siam, or the sultan of Constantinople, was dead, would produce some emotion, and might change some of his commercial arrangements; but the announcement that there is no God would interfere with none of his plans, and demand no change of life. And, if so, what is man in this beautiful world without a God? A traveler to eternity without a God! Standing over the grave without a God! An immortal being without a God! A man - fallen, sunk, ruined, with no God to praise, to love, to confide in; with no altar, no sacrifice, no worship, no hope; with no Father in trial, no counselor in perplexity, no support in death! Such is the state of man by nature. Such are the effects of sin.” The Gentiles were living in a world created by God but separated from God. Hoehner writes, “They had no meaning, hope, purpose, or direction in life.” It is disastrous that both Gentiles and Jews have chosen to return to that place of desperation today.
Paul speaks to Gentiles reminding them of the place where they walked. He will now proceed to expose the unity that is available in the body of Christ.