11 So remember that once you were Gentiles by physical descent, who were called “uncircumcised” by Jews who are physically circumcised. 12 At that time you were without Christ. You were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In this world you had no hope and no God. 13 But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us.
One huge dividing line in Paul’s world was between Jews and Gentiles. Paul had lived out that bias (cf. Galatians 1:13-14). There was a real wall in the Temple in Jerusalem. “Interpretations of purity laws resulted in Gentiles being excluded from the court of Israel (for Jewish men) and even the less pure court of women (for Jewish women). Christians in and around Ephesus would know that Paul was in Roman custody because he had been accused of bringing an Ephesian Gentile beyond the temple’s outer court (Acts 21:27–29).”* Tribalism, nationalism, bigotry, fear and violence are not new—they’ve been part of the human condition in nearly all ages. But Paul wrote in verse 14 that Christ destroyed that barrier in the Temple by rendering it pointless. Christ, he testified out of his own life experience, tore down the dividing wall(s) between people.
Lord Jesus, you lived in an empire that saw crushing force as the only way to deal with enemies. Yet you reached out to people who snubbed you, and asked God to forgive the soldiers who crucified you. Tear down any barriers in my heart that keep me from caring about all of your beloved children. Amen.
Read Ephesians 4:29. As a family, discuss the meaning of this verse. Create a list of positive, encouraging words. After you have exhausted your thoughts, check additional sources such as the computer or the Bible for additional words to add to your list. Next, play a game of Scrabble (or Scrabble Junior) with your family. Play by the rules on the box but add one more rule. Agree to use only positive or neutral words. If someone uses one of the encouraging words from your family’s list, he or she can receive bonus points! (Decide how many ahead of time.) Pray and ask God to help you speak only positive, kind and encouraging words to and about others.
* HarperCollins Christian Publishing. NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture (Kindle Locations 268229-268232). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
This past year the church staff participated in a strengths assessment. This is one of those personality/personal characteristic analysis to discover how we thrive in life and relationships. The main goal was to discover our top strengths and acknowledge the strengths of others on our staff team, so we would be able to work together and collaborate to provide the best ministry possible for the church. After answering a hundred questions or so, this particular assessment gave us our top five strengths.
I wasn’t necessarily surprised by most of my top strengths. I was humbled and encouraged by them, but the one that I was a bit perplexed by was the strength of HARMONY. What!? And it was number 2 on my list. At first, I thought maybe they got my assessment mixed up with someone else’s, and not because I don’t like harmony and peace, but because I didn’t think that described me at all.
I don’t feel harmonious. My life screams anything but harmony. I grew up one of four kids. It was chaotic, loud, and active... but fun. Fights and grumbling with siblings, hopping the mom-shuttle from one place to another with activities… it was a whirlwind of noise. Seldom was it peaceful or calm.
As a mom of three young boys myself now, peace is not in my regular vocabulary. Living with people is hard. Working with people is hard. Relationships are hard because people don’t always agree and see eye to eye. Fights happen, people are disappointed and conflicts are a part of our everyday for all of us.
That’s life. It’s how we respond that matters.
As I started to look at what the strength of Harmony really meant as it related to my personal life and relationships working and serving in ministry with people, I found that maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised to have it on my list.
The overall description for Harmony reads, “People exceptionally talented in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement.” It went on to say for me personally that “By nature, you characteristically are good-natured and even-tempered in your dealings with individuals. Your friendly disposition causes others to feel comfortable in your presence. You are apt to accept the differences and commonalities you find between yourself and these people.” It goes on, but what I like most and what I’m proud of is that maybe my strength is that people feel comfortable with me. That even in the middle of conflict or a divide, I try to be approachable and accepting. (Most of the time… just don’t ask my kids!! Ha!)
Conflict is inevitable. We are surrounded by people that don’t think, look like or act like us. When harmony seems out of reach and unattainable in our relationships and in our world, I’m thankful that we don’t have to rely on just our own strengths. It is JESUS CHRIST who brings ultimate peace. When we seek him first, the divides get smaller and harmony gets a little closer for all of us.
“Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us.” Ephesians 2:14
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