“Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope.”
Ephesians 2:11-12 NLT
The Jews considered themselves, and still do, a race set apart. God’s own people. And the Jewish opinion of non-Jews was the derogatory phrase used by Paul, “uncircumcised heathens“. Sadly, the act of circumcision became a symbol of great pride to the Jews. What was originally designed to set them apart as God’s special people became pointless – God desired circumcised hearts, devoted and obedient to Him. But Jesus changed all of that. He set the scene in the famous Scripture, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…“. This “world” set out an all-encompassing , all-inclusive description of the nations that populated the planet at the time when Jesus was having his chat with Nicodemus. And by further analysis of Scripture, the “world” is inclusive of all people, then and now. But Jesus focused His ministry on His own people, the Jews. And after His death and resurrection His master plan kicked in – where better to start a new God-world order than with God’s chosen people. And His chosen disciples.
Cornelius, the Centurion, had the distinction of being the first Gentile person converted, though did the Samaritan women in John 4 come into the “Gentile” category? But come what may, Jesus gave us a commission – Matthew 28:19 and Acts 1:8. The Samaritans and the people called “Gentiles” saw the fruit of it. The Ephesian church was in the main populated by Gentiles and Paul reminded them that they used to be “outsiders“. They were “living apart from Christ” and “excluded from citizenship among the people if Israel“. Not a lot going for them until, that is, they embraced the Gospel in all its fullness.
The “covenant promises” Paul referred to was the Old Testament covenant, that was exclusively claimed by the Jews. Unless they converted to Judaism, Gentiles, the “outsiders” and “uncircumcised heathens“, had no Old Covenant blessing. But the Jews and Gentiles together, those who believed in Jesus, were the first fruits of the New Covenant of God’s love and grace.
In our pilgrimage through life can you imagine what it must be like “without God and without hope“? What a dark, depressing place that must be. And yet so many people in today’s societies are in that place. Forced to rely on their own resources – pilgrims without God neither know where they are going or what life holds in the future. Living in the “now” is ok as far as it goes, but sooner or later the “now” comes to an abrupt halt and suddenly becomes that place Paul mentioned – a place “without God and without hope“. We must continually look for opportunities where we can open the door wide enough for the “outsiders” to become “insiders”. And never lose sight of the fact that it is through God’s grace we are “citizens” in His kingdom.