Helping you grow closer to God
Download the Chip Ingram App
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
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.
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 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?”
I remember in college, and this is in the early ‘70s and I remember we were traveling as a team and I was with three of the black players. And the only place to get anything to eat, we came in kind of late and it was sort of like a bar, or a lounge, a little restaurant.
I mean this is in America. And the four of us walk in, and these guys are my buddies. We do all of life together. And we walk in and the guy comes up to me and goes, “You can stay but they can’t eat here.”
I said, “What?” “Yeah, you can stay but they can’t eat here.” And I thought some of us white people think we understand prejudice and what we understand is the intellectual aspect of prejudice.
And we think we are not prejudiced because we don’t have these racist views. When you have grown up, and it applies to multiple races, but when you’ve grown up and you experience some of those type things, I’ll tell you what, my eyes were opened in a different way.
I remember… it happens in really good Christian groups. I remember Theresa and I were in seminary, at a very good seminary, and we were in some housing where there were lots of other seminary students and all the things we’re talking about, opening up and sharing your story.
And Theresa came to Christ through a difficult situation, and she got married early and her husband started selling drugs and ran off with another woman, and had these two little boys, and I met her later and we got to get married, and God called us into ministry, and we went to this seminary, and so Theresa is sharing her heart with this other lady, other seminary student, and here is her response, “I didn’t know they let people like you in this seminary.”
Well, guess what that told my wife? Don’t tell your story anymore. Instead of being a trophy of the grace of God, and redemption, and what He can do, what she heard was, “You don’t measure up.” I want to ask you something, has that ever happened to you?
Second question, it flips the coin, have you ever intentionally or unintentionally wounded others by prejudging 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?
Or maybe as you just sat in a small group and someone was dressed in a way, or you saw a tattoo there, or a piercing there, or maybe a really nice piece of jewelry, and immediately your mind goes to, “Well she must be a rich, stuck-up person.”
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. There was something called the Courts of the Gentiles and there was a dividing wall, literally, and the Jews could enter and there was an inscription on the dividing wall in the temple. “For a Gentile to enter here, the penalty is death.”
This isn’t just, “I don’t like you.” This is, “I hate you.” That’s why many of us don’t grasp what was happening in the New Testament when Peter went down and stayed with a tanner, when Peter went inside Cornelius’ house. He was breaking every rule under the sun because the love of God and the love of Christ had done something inside of him.
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 10says, “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. That word means “to be a fence or a railing that can’t be crossed,” and this little word, “dividing wall” is a very rare word in the New Testament that is the actual description of that wall between the Court of the Gentiles and the Jews.
He is talking very specifically about the world they’re living in and he’s told them, “Don’t forget where you came from,” 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.”
The prejudice and the hate, I mean, just think of radical Islam and a Jew today. Think of Selma, Alabama and whites and blacks forty years ago. Just think of any group that you know of that has history and history and history that you don’t even a know a person, you just grow up and it’s been ingrained, “Those people are bad and evil and you hate them, and those people are bad and evil and you hate them,” and they’re holding in their hands this document about, “Those two are going to become one and there is going to be peace.”
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.
Now, how do we, in our world, stop the painful cycle of prejudice? Principle number one: Remember your former condition. I get that from verses 11 and 12. Remember.
Well, what do I mean by that? Remember your standing apart from God. Remember what your life was like, where your destiny was headed, and the kind of person you were before Christ saved and forgave you, and came to dwell inside of you. That’s what he says to the Gentiles.
It’s not until we grasp that it is by grace that we have been accepted, that we can begin to understand. “Well wait, wait, wait, wait a second.” You know, those Jews’ problem is, “Well, we’re the circumcised and they’re the dogs, the uncircumcised.”
And did you notice the little phrase? Paul said, “They’re the circumcised,” and then that little parenthetical phrase there where he says “by human hands.” You know what his point is? His point is is the circumcision they have is a physical circumcision, of an outward thing, that occurred out of their history and lineage, as Jews.
And Paul is saying, “Tell you what. That and a buck and a half today will get you a cup of coffee.” It’s meaningless to God. The only circumcision that God looks at is the circumcision of the heart.
And so he’s saying to those Jews, “You know what? Your circumcision, your lineage, your background, your superiority, you getting the oracles of God – before Jesus, and apart from Jesus, man, you’re lost. You Gentiles, you were foreigners, you were aliens, you didn’t have any claim on God’s promises. You better remember where you came from.”
So all of a sudden now everyone comes in as fellow sinners in need of grace instead of, “I’m superior or I’m better and I’m looking down my nose or I’m taking this position and judging other people.” And so I think the first thing is, we remember our former condition. I think it’s also important to remember that we’ve been the objects of prejudice.
You know it’s so easy to think that we don’t have this problem until you really need to remember some people and what it felt like when someone treated you in a way that you knew was wrong and they don’t even know you.
I mean they just, they rejected you just because of kind of what you wore, or what you didn’t wear or what part of town you were from, or the color of your sin, or what denominational background you came…I mean, you need to remember what that feels like.
Because if we don’t, left to ourselves, our flesh, we do what? We just gravitate and we start treating people exactly that same way. When you remember that feeling, it’s a real helpful antidote to prejudging others.