Will you shut up about them Gentiles…

I’m spending a lot of time in the book of Ephesians at the minute, mainly because we’re working through it on Sundays at Spen Valley Church. On Sunday I took us through 2.11-22, and this week I preparing to preach on 3.1-13. I love this section, as Paul works out the extent to which God’s purpose for the whole universe is to bring all things to unity under Christ (1.10). Of course, that primarily means his people, and so Paul spends some time unpacking what that looks like in a religious world split along ethnic lines. It brings us some of the most glorious, and challenging, verses in Scripture about the universality of the gospel and church.

But it also got me thinking about what people in the churches Paul wrote to thought about his obsession with this whole Gentile thing. I mean, he does bang on about it quite a lot, dunt he? Everything, in every letter in fact, comes back to this same point: the Gentiles are fellow heirs, we need to take the gospel to the Gentiles, the Gentiles don’t have to take on Jewish culture to follow Jesus, the whole mystery of the gospel is not properly displayed to the world unless the Gentiles are accepted, loved, and built up in the church. For Paul this was a gospel issue. The kingdom of God is made up of people from every tribe, people, language, and nation. Jesus didn’t come to make more Jews, or more Gentiles, he died to make a new humanity (2.15). His body, his nation, his people, his bride. And people needed to get that. And do summat about it. Or Paul would keep banging the same drum. Again, and again, and again…

People probably got a bit annoyed with him, didn’t they? Told him to get off his soapbox. Can you imagine some of the responses he got?

‘Yeah Paul, we get that. We all know that’s true. But Jewish people need the gospel too you know. We don’t just want to build Gentile churches, sounds like you believe in the homogenous unit principle. You sound a lot like you hate Jewish people mate, you’re never going to get anyone to listen to you like that. Win them with honey, not vinegar bud, stop banging on about it. Just mention it occasionally, and quietly. Are you expecting us to give up our Jewish culture to fit in with these Gentiles? Shouldn’t they become a bit more Jewish, you ever heard of religious lift? Are you suggesting we should think about moving out of the Promised Land to help reach pagans?! Or give up some of the money for the synagogue extension so you can go traipsing round Europe trying to reach them? Or move to a tiny place nobody’s ever heard of, that’s not right strategic is it?! Come on Paul, chill out, you just sound angry and obsessed. Just cos you’ve got a chip on your shoulder…’

You get it yet?

If you’re in any kind of minority in Uk evangelicalism you probably do. Swap Jewish for middle class, or British, or even just London. Swap Gentile for Yorkshire, or Black, or Asian, or Iranian, or poor. We’ve heard them all folks. Literally every single one…

But for Paul these were gospel issues. That all people had opportunities to hear the gospel, and that the Lord’s people should sacrifice that the church should look more like it will in heaven. A community of love between people from every culture, ethnicity, background, and place. And so he wouldn’t shut up about it. Because it was the mission the Lord had given him (3.15): to tell those outside the truth of the gospel, and to convince everybody inside that this really was God’s plan. And it was glorious! In fact it was how God would demonstrate his wisdom and glory to the world (3.10). And so he kept going on, and on, and on…

And so will we. Because we know that middle class city dwellers need the gospel. Along with everyone else. We really do! But we also know that the opportunities for them to hear, and be discipled in, that gospel are much greater than for many others in small towns, in the north, in immigrant communities, on council estates, from different ethnicities or backgrounds. And it breaks our hearts to see people in our communities running cheerfully to hell because there’s so few people willing to come and point them to Jesus. And if we continue ignore that fact then, just maybe, we might be a bit less Pauline than we’d like to think we are…