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About this series
Overcoming the Pain of Your Past
Pain. It is part of the human experience, and one of the things that helps us grow to maturity. But for some of us the pain we have experienced feels crippling. Broken promises, dysfunctional families, damaged relationships and rejection keep us from experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised. Sometimes it's a challenge just to get through the day, let alone to extend love and strength to those around us. The Bible, however, offers great hope for pressing on. From the book of Ephesians, learn who you really are and why the pain of your past doesn't have to obscure God's plan for your future.More from this series
Lean back, if you will, feel free to even close your eyes if you feel the freedom. I want to walk through some prisons that we’re in. And as I do all I want you to do in the next three or four minutes is ask yourself, “Which of these invisible chains might have me?”
Though there are no orange jumpsuits that tell us you’re a prisoner, some are trapped in the pain of your past, you’re in the solitary confinement that’s not San Quentin but you’re trapped in the prison of self-hatred, of a warped self-image. Others are doing time in superficial relationships and feel lonely and unloved because you secretly vowed never to be rejected again. For others you’re held captive by the fears of the future. The shattered dreams of your past have convinced you to play it safe and so now you play a very boring role, safe, mundane activities because you don’t want to get hurt again.
Some of us are prisoners of our perfectionism and our zeal to prove by our performance and appearance that, well, we’re really a somebody. And other people are prisoners of your dysfunctional family that taught you that you have to learn and you have to earn your love and that your worth has to be proven and your life experiences, no matter how hard you try, you never really feel like you measure up.
We’re all prisoners to one degree or another of the pain of our past. But God brought us together to remind us that you don’t have to remain stuck in it. It is tragic. But some of the patterns of thinking and some of the ways that you’ve been so ingrained with, you’re a prisoner.
And to think of the sorrow it brings Christ when He says, “I died in your place; I rose from the grave; my Spirit is deposited in you and you are free.” And whether it’s thinking you don’t measure up, or thinking you have to perform, or thinking that your family has destined you to this kind of life and you’re a second class citizen, or you’ve been through pain, or you’ve been through a separation, or your kids haven’t turned out and you feel like you’re a failure, or you’re wrestling with an addiction – God says there is hope.
And we have to believe and apply what’s true and trying hard doesn’t bring about change. Renewing your mind and allowing the Spirit of God to take your warped self-image to you believing, in your heart, that you are special and valued and loved and chosen. By taking the rejection that you’ve experienced and believing that every moment of every day, regardless of what anyone has ever told you or what you’ve experienced that Jesus looks at you, that the Father looks at you through the blood of His Son and He says, “You are accepted. And I love you today as much as I will ever love you, apart from anything you could ever do.”
And it’s exchanging that shattered dream and believing there is a certain hope and that life really is more than just about this little window of time and expectations, and the real dream is a real hope, of a real God, and there is a real heaven, and the real God of the real heaven, who created all that there is, visited the planet, took on human flesh, died personally in your place, rose from the dead, is preparing a place for you, and says, “Come.”
Well, in our time together today we, we’re going to look at the pain of prejudice. Because some people are prisoners of suspicion, and hate, and isolation. There have been people in your past that have made you feel bad, or small, or stupid, or unacceptable and they made you feel that way because of how you look, or how you talk, or where you came from, or how you don’t look.
There are others that have become the prisoners of our culture and upbringing and since you were little kids you learned that certain people are unlovely because they come from that denomination, or that part of the country, or that part of the world, or they have that color of skin, or they talk that way.
And it was just part of your upbringing. And you have a set of glasses and lenses that you don’t want to have, God doesn’t want you to have, but it’s so deeply ingrained that, unconsciously, you are prejudiced of certain people, and when you see them, you make snap judgments about what kind of people they are, based on things that have nothing to do with who they really are, but about how they look, and how they dress, or what they drive, and the weird part is that every group does that to one another, even in the body of Christ.
And so we receive the pain, and you feel isolated, and so we go into relationships suspicious, there are so many conversations that happen when you go to church, or go to a group, or meet some people and with the person that you trust either in the car, or late at night as you sit up and lean against the bed and you talk about other people.
God wants us to know there is a pain that occurs from prejudice and He wants us to be delivered from the prison of receiving prejudice, and He wants us to be free of being a prisoner of extending prejudice to other people.
Prejudice or prejudgment is a judgment or opinion formed before the facts are known. It’s the act of prejudging the other person’s value, worth, significance, or suitability for inclusion within a group, based on appearance, race, cultural background, speech, nationality, gender, geography, or personal history. I mean that’s just Webster’s.
Before we dig in and solve the problem there are a couple questions I’d like to ask you. Have you ever been wounded by the pre-judgments of others? Have you ever really been deeply wounded by people assuming, or treating, or rejecting, or passing over you just because of things and you say to yourself, “They don’t even know me. Why would they treat me like that?”
Second question, it flips the coin, have you ever intentionally or unintentionally wounded others by pre-judging them? Have you ever just found yourself, you know, sometimes you just gravitate away or…
Have you even found yourself just unconsciously moving toward people that look like you, dress like you, you feel comfortable with and even almost without being aware of it, not talking to, not connecting with people that sound different, look different?
All I’m telling you, this pain of prejudice is received when we prejudge others and it is given as we prejudge others and others prejudge us.
And in Ephesians chapter 2 verses 11 to 22 there are two groups of people that, literally, for thousands of years hate one another. The word is “hostility,” it’s enmity. And what we’re going to get is a case study of overcoming prejudice. We’re going to look at verses 11 through 22 and then what I want to do is draw five very specific applications from this, about how we can overcome the pain of prejudice in our life.
First of all, you need to know there is a classic conflict. It’s Jew and Gentile. It’s long, it’s intense, it’s historical. The derogatory term for a Gentile, the Jews called the Gentiles, “dogs.”
A Jew would not go into the house, if a Gentile touched food a Jew would not eat it, there was a dividing wall.
Notice there is this classic conflict, it’s hostility, “Therefore, remember,” and he’s looking back on these first ten verses of, “remember you were lost in your sin. But the grace of God and God who is rich in mercy, it’s for by grace you’re saved through faith.”
And in verse 10 he says, “You’re His masterpiece, you’re His workmanship, you’ve been created in Christ Jesus unto a good work to walk and, therefore, remember that formerly,” he’s speaking that, “you Gentiles, by birth, are called ‘the uncircumcision.’” That’s a derogatory word. “By those who call themselves the ‘circumcision.’” That’s the Jews. “We’re superior.”
“But circumcision (that done in the body in the hands of men) – remember that at that time, prior to coming to Christ, you were one: separate from Christ. Two: excluded from citizenship in Israel. Three: foreigners to the covenants and the promise. Four: without hope. And, five: without God in the world.
The apostle Paul says, first and foremost to them, “You need to remember where you came from. You need to remember this division and this hostility.” And then he says, “This hostility has a supernatural solution and the supernatural solution is peace.”
He reminds these Gentiles that they’re culturally, historically, and spiritually, they were on the outside looking in. And there is a great divide. And until you remember where you came from and the great divide you’ll never appreciate the great solution.
And so notice what He says, verse 13, “But now,” strong contrast, “in Christ you Gentiles, who were once far away have been brought near,” well, how? “Through the blood of Christ,” well, why? “for He Himself is our peace who has made the two,” the Jew and the Gentile, “one and has destroyed the barrier and the dividing wall of hostility,” how did He do it? “by abolishing, in His flesh, the law with its commandments and its regulations.”
Interesting phrase here where He says, “Destroyed or nullified,” it means literally, “to make ineffective or without power.” Christ’s work destroyed, nullified, made ineffective, the barrier. And now he’s talking about the peace that Christ is going to bring. In fact, if you want to do a little Bible study, you can even do it as I talk, just scan this and every time the word “peace” comes up, circle it. You’re going to find yourself with about four or five circles.
Because what he’s talking about is a peace that occurs but it’s not some emotional peace. Notice, how does it happen? “By abolishing in His flesh the law and its commandments and regulations.” Then notice the purpose. “His purpose was to create in Himself one new man,” speaking of the church, “out of the two, thus making peace in this one body to reconcile,” or to restore, “both of them to God.”
Now Paul, you need to understand, does give us a lot of long sentences so put a parenthesis around, “through the cross,” because that’s the means in which He does it. He makes this one, new man, this new church, Jew, Gentile together, one body, and what they have in common? It is what Jesus did on the cross that makes them both acceptable before God. “…by which He put to death their hostility.”
He came and He preached what? Peace. “…to those who are far away,” who is that? The Gentiles. “…and peace to those who were near,” who is that? The Jews. “For through Him we both have,” put a box around the word “access,” “we have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
This word “access” was used in the Oriental culture for an official whose job was to connect visitors with the king. And what he’s saying is, and I mean, if you’re a Jew and you read this, you scratch your head and you go, “You gotta be kidding me.” And if you’re a Gentile, you say, “I can’t believe what this Jesus has done.”
Now think about this. Paul’s message here, “The proof, the unity, the peace,” he’s going to say, “this difference of what happens in these two groups will be an amazing evidence of the power and the reality of Christ.” In fact, it’s a powerful testimony of unity.
Notice that word “consequently,” in other words, “So what happened?” These two groups that were completely prejudiced, little boys and little girls for thousands of years that didn’t even know anything about the other person hated one another. “Consequently, you Gentiles are no longer foreigners and aliens but fellow citizens with God’s people.”
Not only fellow citizens but you’re members of God’s household. Why? “Because you’re built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets with Jesus Christ Himself as the chief cornerstone,” or literally that tip of the angle of the structure that holds everything together.
“In Him,” Jesus, “the whole building,” this new church, “is being built together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” And put a little line under “temple” because it’s not just the normal, this isn’t the picture of the big temple. This is the word used in the New Testament for the inner chamber of worship.
This is a radical piece of literature. “And you become a dwelling in which,” what? “God’s Spirit lives and dwells.” It’s in the present tense. God presently, continually, His power and His presence is manifested through these two groups that were prejudiced toward one another and now become the evidence of the reality and the power of Jesus.
He’s talked to them about overcoming a warped self-image because they are chosen. He’s talked to them about overcoming rejection because they’ve been adopted. He says, “You can overcome shattered dreams and because you have a hope that no one can take.” And he says, “You gotta overcome the dysfunctional family that you had in Adam and was passed on to your parents and grandparents and all the rest because of this new, rich-in-mercy God.”
And then he says, “Now I’m making you into something new and you have a new family so regardless of where you’ve been or whatever anyone ever thought of you, you have peace. You have peace with God and you have peace with one another and this peace is going to be a testimony of unity to the watching world.”
Now, I think there are five principles that flow out of this in terms of, very specifically for us because it’s almost impossible for us to fathom what we’ve just read. I mean, some of you have come out of some situations and you’ve been in some other parts of the country and you maybe have an inkling but, I mean, the prejudice, the hate, the wars, the hostility, the animosity. And Christ changes the paradigm forever.
Peace replaces hostility, the two become one, centuries of hatred are buried, unity instead of division, love instead of hate, one instead of two - because Christ broke down this wall.