On April 17, 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press. There, King famously said, “I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies, that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hour, in Christian America… Any church that stands against integration… is standing against the Spirit and the teachings of Jesus Christ, and it fails to be a true witness.”
Sadly, Sunday mornings haven’t become much more integrated over the past sixty years. For the most part, American churches remain homogeneous. This testifies to our failure to fully understand a beautiful mystery revealed in Jesus Christ. Paul describes this mystery in Ephesians 3: “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (v.6, NIV, emphasis mine).
Together… together… together. Jews and Gentiles, Black and White, Asian and Arab, rich and poor—if we are believers in Christ, we have been given everything in common. By the gift of His grace, we are all now united in our service to the gospel (Ephesians 3:7). In God’s family, we have the same inheritance. We’re members of the same Body. We all mutually and equally share in God’s promises and blessings.
Revealing that mystery was at the heart of Paul’s apostolic calling. He was a Jew, but God sent him across racial lines. This was dangerous and difficult work; breaking down ethnic barriers always is. Preaching a Jewish Messiah in Gentile lands often put Paul’s life at risk. But he wasn’t any safer when he returned to his home culture.
Paul most likely wrote his letter to the church at Ephesus while imprisoned in Rome, and it wasn’t lost on him how he got there. It shouldn’t be lost on us either. Paul was arrested after the religious establishment in Jerusalem accused him of bringing a Greek—Trophimus, the Ephesian—into the temple to defile the sanctuary (Acts 21:29). Later, when the Jewish leaders brought even more charges against him, Paul appealed to Caesar, the Gentile king. While awaiting trial in Rome, Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesian church to encourage believers there. He wanted them to be confident that God had blessed them together with the same blessings He’d given to all Christians. “I ask you not to be discouraged over my afflictions on your behalf,” Paul writes, “for they are your glory” (Ephesians 3:13).
What gave Paul the faith to speak with boldness across racial and ethnic barriers? Simply this: Paul knew that putting Jews and Gentiles together was in accordance with God’s multifaceted wisdom and eternal purposes in Christ Jesus. He knew that everyone who puts their faith in Jesus has confident access to the Father (Ephesians 3:12). He knew that the ground is level and truly equal at the foot of the cross.
Written by Jared Kennedy