Posts tagged ‘Circumcision’

Ephesians 2:11-12 – Gentile’s plight before God

Paul presents a bleak picture of what the Gentile believers’ plight was before they were converted. It’s not a pretty picture. But thankfully God intervenes which Paul will go into more detail in the verses following this section.

v.11,“Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts.” Paul states “don’t forget” or most translations say “remember” which is not just simply recollection, but as you remember act on the basis of that memory. In this case Paul wants to remind the Gentile believers what they once were (2:11-12) and what they are now (2:13-18) which would lead to thanks to God and their obedience. Paul describes the condition of the Gentiles before they had become believers. He calls them “outsiders” and “uncircumcised heathens.” At least this is what the Jews called them, because there was a huge separation between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews hated Gentiles and thanked God each day they hadn’t been born one. The Jews, who were called “the circumcision” had named the Gentiles “uncircumcised heathens” because they had not gone through the religious right to be circumcised. 

Circumcision: the Jews had the privilege of being God’s chosen people to whom he had given his covenant promises (Deut 7:6). One of the signs of his covenant was circumcision. Circumcision is an Old Testament physical rite or ritual that involved the cutting of the foreskin of the flesh from the Jewish male as a sign of the covenant  God had made with Abraham in Genesis 17:1-13. God required circumcision as a sign of obedience to him. As a sign of belonging to his covenant people, because once circumcised, the man would be identified as a Jew forever. As a symbol of “cutting off” the old life of sin, purifying one’s heart, and dedicating oneself to God. The Jews erred in believing circumcision was sufficient to make them godly without the necessity of inner renewal (Rom 2:25-29, Gal 5:6). What mattered to God was circumcision or cleansing of the heart (Deut 10:16, 30:6; Jer 4:4). The spiritual circumcision (cleansing of the heart) is equally available to Jews and Gentiles, to men and women.

Paul says that the Jews were “proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts.” Paul was contrasting the Gentiles to the Jews in the second part of this verse to show that the Jews physical circumcision was no better than the Gentiles who were uncircumcised. The physical circumcision didn’t not guarantee that the Jew’s heart was affected or changed. The Jews needed to have their heart circumcised, their heart attitude needed to be one of submission to God, holiness and separation from the ways of the world.

v.12,“In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope.” Now Paul gets right into what the Gentile believers were before their conversion. It is a very bleak picture of what they were before Christ. Five distinct disadvantages to the Jews:

  1. They were “living apart from Christ” or separated from Christ. Having no expectation of a Messiah to save them.
  2. They were “excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel.” Gentiles could never fully partake in the privileges promised to Israel (through Abraham), God’s chosen people. They could never truly be citizens of Israel. The best they could do was be a second-rate resident of Israel if they chose to go through training, baptism and circumcision.
  3. They “did not know the covenant promises God had made” to the Jews. The covenant promises were the basis for Israel’s distinctive privileges and made them God’s chosen people. Covenant promises made to Abraham (Gen 12:1-4, 15:1-6, 17:1-8), Moses (Ex 24:1-11), David (2 Sam 7:8-16) and the new covenant about which the prophets spoke of (Jer 31:31-34, Ezk 36:22-32). The Gentiles didn’t not share in these promises because they weren’t made to them.
  4. They lived in the world “without God.” The Gentiles had many gods, but they chose not to worship the one true God. Without God, the world was all they had.
  5. They lived in the world “without hope.” They didn’t know God, They didn’t follow God. This is the reason they had no hope.

Fortunately, their existence and their plight doesn’t end here, for God himself intervened. We will look at this in our next section v.13-18.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO ME? Paul gives a very good description of what Gentiles were before their conversion. It is a bleak picture but a good one to remember so that I can be so thankful for what God through Christ’s sacrifice did for me! Here is a reminder of what we once were: we were outsiders, uncircumcised heathens, separated from Christ, excluded from the citizenship in Israel, didn’t share in the covenant promises made to Israel, without God and without hope. Wow, what a hopeless state we were in. Key word is “were” because God chose to intervene. But I am getting ahead of myself. That is for the next section in this chapter.

WHAT AM I GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?  I am a Gentile (non-Jew) and when I read these two verses I realize without God intervening I have no hope of salvation. But thankfully I know the rest of the story. But this is a good reminder of where I came from.

June 24, 2020 at 9:24 AM Leave a comment

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