Life-Study of Ephesiansby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In this message we shall consider the matter of the breaking down of the middle wall of partition (2:14-15).
Speaking of Christ, 2:14 says, “He Himself is our peace.” The word “our” refers to both Jewish and Gentile believers. Through the blood of Christ we have been brought near both to God and to God’s people. Christ, who has accomplished full redemption for both Jewish and Gentile believers, is Himself our peace, our harmony, in that He made both one. Due to the fall of mankind and the call of the chosen race, there was a separation between Israel and the Gentiles. Through Christ’s redemption, this separation has been removed. Now the two are one in the redeeming Christ, who is the bond of oneness.
At present, there is still a separation between Israel and the rest of mankind. But according to God’s economy, this separation has already been removed. In the eyes of God, it was taken away by the redemption of Christ on the cross. Now the Christ who has removed this separation is the bond of peace between Israel and the Gentiles.
Verse 14 speaks of the middle wall of partition. This middle wall of partition is “the law of the commandments in ordinances” (v. 15), which was given because of man’s flesh. The first of these ordinances was circumcision to cut off man’s flesh. Circumcision became the middle wall of partition because it made the main distinction between the Jews, the circumcision, and the Gentiles, the uncircumcision. Thus, the middle wall of partition, this distinction, became the enmity between the Jews and the Gentiles.
In the law of Moses there were two kinds of commandments: moral commandments, such as the commandments concerning stealing and the honoring of parents, and ritual commandments, such as the commandment concerning the keeping of the Sabbath. The commandments regarding circumcision and the eating regulations were ritual commandments, not moral commandments. In Leviticus 11 there are a number of commandments dealing with eating. These commandments surely have nothing to do with morality. A person’s morality is not affected by whether or not he eats something that is regarded as unclean.
The three main ordinances in Judaism were circumcision, the keeping of the Sabbath, and the dietary regulations. Every Israelite male had to be circumcised on the eighth day. Furthermore, the Jews were required to keep the Sabbath and to observe numerous regulations concerning their diet. These ordinances were the three main columns supporting Judaism. When the Lord Jesus was on earth, He broke down the column of Sabbath keeping. During the years of His ministry, He purposely broke the Sabbath by healing people on the Sabbath day. The Jews were very much offended by this. Then Peter took the lead to break the dietary regulations, although he did it in a rather weak way. Because he received the vision in Acts 10, Peter was forced to give up these regulations. However, in Galatians 2, Peter withdrew from eating with the Gentiles when certain men came down from Jerusalem. Nevertheless, through the breaking of the dietary regulations, another supporting column of Judaism was brought down. The Apostle Paul broke down the column of circumcision. In Philippians 3 he even used a new derogatory term, the “concision,” to replace the honorable term, “circumcision.” Furthermore, he referred to those of the circumcision as “dogs” and told the Philippians to “beware of dogs.” No wonder the Jews tried to kill him! In a sense he was even worse in their eyes than Jesus, for circumcision was the leading ordinance in Judaism; it meant more to them than the Sabbath or the dietary regulations. Therefore, through the work of the Apostle Paul, the remaining structure of Judaism collapsed.
We need to keep in mind the difference between moral laws and ritual laws. The moral laws will never be abolished, not in this age nor in the millennium nor in eternity. The ritual commandments, on the contrary, are not permanent. Whether a person is allowed to eat pork or is required to keep the Sabbath or practice circumcision depends upon the age in which he lives. Any Jewish male born after Abraham and before John the Baptist was obligated to practice circumcision. Likewise, the commandments regarding the Sabbath and diet were in force during a particular time.
By the middle wall of partition Paul meant the law of commandments in ordinances, the ritual commandments related to circumcision, the Sabbath, and diet. The law of ritual commandments was a middle wall of partition between the Jews and the Gentiles. As we shall see, any ordinance or ritual is a middle wall of partition.
The ritual commandments were given firstly because of man’s flesh. Circumcision, for example, was required because man had become fleshly. Therefore, God commanded man to cut off the flesh. The ritual commandments concerning diet were given so that God’s chosen people would be careful to keep themselves clean. Animals that did not have cloven hoofs and that did not chew the cud were unclean. The cloven hoof symbolizes discernment in walking; it indicates that we should not walk in any place that is defiled. God’s people need to have a keen discernment in their daily walk. Furthermore, they need to learn to “chew the cud” by taking in God’s word and considering it again and again. Because fallen people do not have the necessary discernment and do not consider God’s word, these commandments were given to God’s chosen people. However, these ordinances became the middle wall of partition between the Jews and the Gentiles. Moreover, this distinction and separation became the cause of enmity between the circumcision, the Jews, and the uncircumcision, the Gentiles.
Every ordinance creates enmity. In 1963 I was invited to speak at a meeting in Tyler, Texas. During the meeting, I began to say “Amen” in a very quiet way. Immediately someone warned me that the people in this country could not tolerate this. After that warning, I did not dare to utter “Amen.” If I insisted on doing so, a partition would have been erected, and enmity would have been created.
It is even possible for the practice of pray-reading to become a middle wall of partition and a source of enmity. Although you may find pray-reading very helpful, you should not insist on it if others do not agree. To do so is to cause separation and to create enmity.
We must be careful not to bring any ordinances into the church life, for all ordinances kill. Some may prefer shouting in the meetings, and others may prefer silence. It is possible to make ordinances about either shouting or being silent. These ordinances cause not only division but enmity. I have witnessed the enmity created by such ordinances.
In 1963 I went with some other brothers to visit a certain group in Los Angeles. In the meeting I simply did whatever the others did. Afterward a brother asked me how I could do this. I replied, “What was wrong with that practice? Was it sinful? Why would you not do it? Why do you insist upon being different from the other saints?” I did not personally care for some of the practices in that meeting, but I participated in them nonetheless in order to remove the middle wall of partition.
I had a similar experience in Manchuria in 1933. During my visit there, I was a guest one day in the home of some Japanese Christians. Like many young Chinese, I had been taught to dislike the Japanese because of the unfriendly political relationship between China and Japan. However, when I entered this home, I took off my shoes and sat on the tatami, just as everyone else did. Surely there is nothing wrong with sitting on a tatami instead of on a chair. We cannot say that the one is right and that the other is wrong. The same is true with shouting in the meetings or with being silent. In the Bible there are verses that give place for both.
Although we may like certain practices, we should not insist on them. If we insist on a particular practice, we make it an ordinance that separates and creates enmity. Christians have been divided by ordinances, such as the various ordinances concerning baptism. Some insist upon baptizing backwards; others insist on doing it forwards. Some Christians are divided over the use of musical instruments. Some permit a piano, but not an organ; the practice of others, however, is the opposite. As soon as we have ordinances, division comes immediately. Although I appreciate shouting and loud praises in the meetings, I am not for these things. To insist on any practice is to cause division. Hence, we must not have any ordinances. On the cross of Christ all ordinances were abolished.
Because ordinances create enmity and division, we must deal with them very seriously. It is possible for ordinances to become a cause of hatred even among those who have been close to one another. Two brothers may have enjoyed pleasant fellowship for a number of years, but simply because one is for shouting and the other is for being silent, there may be enmity between them. Instead of loving each other, they may come to hate each other. Religious jealousy is a terrible thing. History tells us that many have been slain because of it through the subtlety of Satan, the murderer. Therefore, we must repudiate all ordinances and go along with the practices of the saints, as long as these practices do not involve anything sinful, immoral, or idolatrous. Although we may not approve of certain practices, we should go along with them in order to give no ground for ordinances.
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