Ephesians: Not a Brick Temple—Never That Simple

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 28th DAY OF January 2014:

Introduction—Inevitable Union

There are certain consequences to becoming a believer. One of those consequences is that you become a part of the universal church of God. This is something that happens inevitably—you cannot prevent it from happening. You cannot become a believer and be alone in your walk with God. You cannot have a relationship with God and then sever your relationship with other believers. The Christian life, then, consists of two dimensions—horizontal and vertical.

1) The Christian’s life is vertical because of God.
2) The Christian’s life is horizontal because of God’s people.

These two dimensions interact with each other, and in fact, define each other. Every move you make towards God will affect other believers. Every move you make away from God will affect other believers. You can’t even budge without creating a butterfly effect on the church.

The Text

“19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

Strangers and Aliens

In the first verse, Paul says, “So then,” meaning he is getting ready to tell his Gentile readers about the results/implications of Christ’s reconciling work (2:14-18). As a result of Christ’s reconciling work on the cross, so then this is what happens: “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (v. 19). Paul’s Gentile readers had been strangers and aliens in relation to God’s people: “. . at one time you Gentiles in the flesh . . . were . . . alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise” (vv. 11-12). But now, their position has changed dramatically. They have a privileged place in God’s new community.

They are no longer strangers and aliens. Now there are some of you out there who are Sci-Fi fanatics, and when you read this you immediately said, “Oh ho! Aliens do exist!” Now even though cosmic aliens do not exist, maybe understanding why we call those green guys aliens in the first place will aid our understanding of what Paul means here. Aliens are those outside earth, according to those with superstitions. And the term is used often times to describe those who come into the United States from an unknown country—illegal aliens. Interestingly enough, the Greek term for aliens here is paroikos, meaning “foreigners.”

For the case of these Gentiles, they were strangers and aliens because they were separate from Israel and her God. But because of Christ’s work on the cross by dying for both of them, these Gentiles would not be transformed into a Jew, and those Jews would not be transformed into Gentiles, but these sinners are transformed into a new being—which makes a new community—the church. What’s more is this: they are not even second-class in this new community, but they are now “fellow citizens with the saints.” That is, with all believers. And even more they are “members of the household of God.”

You are Not What You Once Were—But So Much More

Here’s the way the logic works: You are not what you once were; you are so much more. You are no longer something, but you are now something else. Paul in this chapter has always coupled those two ideas together. He doesn’t ever tell us what we were without telling us what we are now. And he never tells us what we are now without telling us what we were. Throughout this chapter we see this pattern:

1) In Ephesians 2:1-5, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins. . . [But because of God’s great love, He gave us new life and] made us alive together with Christ.”

2) In Ephesians 2:12-13, “You were . . . alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

3) Also in Ephesians 2:14-18, you were two separate peoples (Jew and Gentile) but now through Christ’s death, he has “[reconciled] us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (v. 16).

4) And here: “You were foreigners to God’s people, but now you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (v. 19).

From this verse (and the theme taught in this chapter), we draw out one of the beautiful mysteries of the Christian life—we are not what we once were, but we are so much more. In salvation, God doesn’t just make you good. God doesn’t just make you a better person. God doesn’t even just do a few touch ups. He completely replaces what you were—He transforms you, then piles more on top of that. But as Paul teaches here, it is more than that. With that transformation, a baptizing happens that is unavoidable—you may have not wanted it to happen, but it is inescapable. You may have not even been taken through the baptistery yet, but this baptism happens at conversion: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). You do not become a new person and remain as an individual—as a “lone-ranger” Christian, but you indeed are now “citizens in God’s heavenly kingdom, and children in His household.

We Belong

Throughout our lives, let’s face it: We have all felt times when we didn’t belong. We felt unaccepted and inferior. At some point in our lives, we just develop some drive to identify with somebody, some group, or some important cause—even if it is only a sports team. I remember when I was in high school, we would sit in the gym before breakfast—and you could best see the different groups during that particular time. Everyone wanted a place to belong—you had your “All A Students” sitting together with their top dollar clothes. You had your tough guy group who would boast about how much they lift in the gym. You have your gothics, listening to their blaring heavy metal with headphones and wearing dark clothes. And you had your gossip girls. Boy they were a lot of fun to hear in the morning: “Oh no she didn’t girl!” or “I know she was not looking at me!”

But that drive for a sense of belonging is enormous. Why? Because when we identify ourselves with a group, it makes us feel important. Like we are a part of something important. Our text tonight tells us that we do belong. And nobody, and I mean nobody, should feel like an outsider in the church. Like they don’t belong. The people need to know that they do belong. We belong with God’s family. We live in God’s household as members of His family—yet at the same time, we as a body are a house in which God lives and dwells (v. 22). Everyone in this house are family with us.

The Church as a Family of Faith

The church as a family of faith should have the feel of family. What do families do? They care for each other, they are committed to each other, they confront each other, and they sustain each other. “As believers in Christ, we are incomplete without the rest of his body—the church. And the church is incomplete without us. We need others, and others need us” (Craig Groeschel, The Christian Atheist). A sense of family should shape everything about our church life. A sense of family should shape our worship. Worship should not be like a production we watch; rather it should be like a family experience—because that is what it is. The people of God in the worship of God for the glory of God.

Worship—Let Go and Boogey

We shouldn’t be embarrassed to let loose in our worship. In the Old Testament, we read that David’s first wife, Michal, despised him because he was “leaping and dancing before the LORD” (2 Samuel 6:16). She was embarrassed because of his bold expression. They were married and she was embarrassed about his expression of worship—we are brothers and sisters in Christ, so how much more should we feel comfortable expressing our true selves in worship? I don’t know about you, but I am comfortable around my family. I can do anything around them. Laugh and cry. And we shouldn’t feel closed in when we worship God together, we are worshiping Him as a family—and a worldwide family too. There are secret churches who are meeting underground right now, who are worshipping the Lord in another language and tribe. So don’t feel embarrassed to let loose when you praise your Lord. Still, our worship should be orderly and well done because even the angels are observing our worship (1 Cor. 4:9). But we should be comfortable together.

A Sustained Household

If because of Christ’s reconciling work, strangers and aliens are made into citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, then how is that household sustained? It is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (v. 20). Paul has been painting an image for his Gentile readers. First of a people—“citizens” and “members of God’s household.” Now here, as being built on a foundation. As logic would follow, this ‘household’ would need to be built on some type of foundation.

The Apostles and Prophets

What does that foundation consist of? “The apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” There is some debate about what “apostles and prophets” means here. But Paul doesn’t mean here Old Testament prophets. He is talking about those who have received God’s revelation of Christ. Old Testament prophets prophesied about the coming Messiah, but He wasn’t revealed to them personally—like the apostles and prophets who walked with Jesus. “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:4-5). The prophets of the New Testament were very similar to the apostles. But the point Paul is making here is this: You Gentiles are built on the right foundation. You are built on the foundation of God’s revelation. God’s revealing to them of the mysteries of Christ is the source of their foundation.

The Right Foundation

When you are constructing a building, you usually start with the foundation. But as you know, it’s not good enough to just have any old foundation—you have to have the right foundation. You can’t build a brick house on some weak, thin timbers. And the church of God is built on the right foundation—the Word of the living God. Paul was referring here to the revelation that was given to these apostles and prophets—and we have that completed revelation, consisting of 66 books right here in our hands: the Bible.

Revelation: General vs. Special

You see, the only way we could ever know God is if He made Himself known—and He did. He would have to do it that way. There is no other way we could figure Him out. There are two ways in which God reveals Himself to the world:

1) Generally. Creation—it tells us that God is, but it doesn’t tell us anything about His Triunity, or compassion, etc. (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:19-20)

2) Specially. God has also revealed Himself in a personal way—through the Bible. Also through Jesus, as Jesus is the living embodiment of the Word (John 1:1). But if it weren’t for the Bible, we wouldn’t have the accounts of the gospels to tell us about Jesus.

The Church is Built on the Foundation of the Word of God

The church is built on the foundation of the Word of God. It is where we go for instruction, it is where we go for training, it is where we go for rebuke, it is where we go for guidance (2 Tim. 3:16). Equally important, is obeying that Word of God as we read it. If the church doesn’t embrace the Word of God and obedience to that Word of God as its foundation, then that church will crumble faster than a stale cookie. Jesus talks about how important it is to hear His words, but to do them too: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:24-27).

Christ is the Cornerstone

In the latter part of this verse, Paul also assures his Gentile readers that the foundation is held together by Christ because He is the cornerstone. Isaiah 28:16 reads, “therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’” This reflected current building practice in which the laying of the cornerstone marked the beginning of the foundation. But not only the beginning of the foundation. Here, Paul doesn’t just say, “You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus being the cornerstone.” It’s interesting that Paul says it this way instead: “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” Paul not including ‘and’ right here indicates that it’s obvious that this foundation and this community would crumble to pieces if it weren’t for Christ being the cornerstone that holds all of it together. That’s what “cornerstone” means in the Greek here: akrogonianios. It holds together.

The Church is Centered on Christ

Christ holds the church together. Some communities can exist for a variety of reasons, but the Christian church community exists because of Christ and His work and purposes. What distinguishes Christianity apart from other religions is that it is centered on the death, resurrection, and teachings of Jesus. Centered on the only man in any religion who ever claimed to be God. So everything we do in church life—our rituals and traditions—are to draw attention to Jesus Christ. We observe the Lord’s Supper to exalt Jesus. We baptize to exalt Jesus. We tithe to exalt Jesus. Let’s make sure that everything we do in our church life is done in a way that draws attention to God’s mighty Christ. If it’s not done to exalt Christ, it will not last. It will waste away with this perishing earth—“Only one life twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Being Joined Together

The components of this image Paul is painting that we have now: 1) People and a household consisting of those people (v. 19). 2) A foundation, with a cornerstone holding it together (v. 20). 3) And now a structure, as v. 21 reads, “in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” Paul is telling his Gentile readers here that through Christ, when all of these elements are “being joined together,” it grows into a holy temple in the Lord. You see, Paul doesn’t say that it “has been joined together,” or “when it was joined together.” But when it is joined together, it grows.

Paul doesn’t just mean here when the living stones (the people) are joined together that it grows—He has already dealt with how Jew and Gentile were reconciled/joined together through Christ’s reconciling death (Eph. 2:14-18). Why would he need to restate that? He means that when there is union of all of these elements, it grows. What’s more, Paul says it “grows.” Not “has grown,” or “when it was grown.” This means that this new community is always growing—it is a continuing process. Paul uses the same language later in this letter: “5 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15, 16).

The Church Grows

When you are working on a building project of some kind and you have all the components—the concrete for foundation, the plywood and studs for the walls, the insulation, and the roof material, etc. A building is not completed if all of those components just sit there without being joined together. And when all of these elements are joined together in union, where the people of God realize that they belong to the household of God, and build their lives on the revelation of God, and center their lives on the Son of God, then there will be growth—no doubt.

The church grows in two main ways—in faith and in number. There needs to balance between the both of them—but this growth will not always happen right in front of your eyes. God often times works “behind the scenes.” Probably because when we finally see what God has been up to, we are weak at the knees with humbleness and adoration. But still, God calls us to be obedient to Him even when we are not sure of the results or we cannot see the result.

Dwelling Place for God

Paul has built up tension to reveal this climax. It’s like the high-point of the energy for this text. You are no longer strangers and aliens but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. Alright that’s awesome. I’m now who I once was but I am a member of the kindred of God. You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone. Okay we’re getting closer here. The energy is increasing—so not only am I not what I once was, but I am built on a firm foundation—the right foundation and it is held together by Christ. In whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. We’ve almost made it to the top and Paul crowns this chapter: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (v. 22). Paul tops off this chapter by telling his readers they are being built into this place where God lives by His Spirit. The Greek term for “dwelling place” means habitation. Dwelling place here means the same thing as “holy temple in the Lord” (v. 21).

What is ironic about this passage of Scripture is this: The imagery Paul has been using here, pertains to constructing a physical building with all of its components—but what Paul is saying is just the opposite—the church is not a building. It’s not a brick temple. It’s not pews, walls, and lights—it’s the people of God where God dwells by His Spirit.

A Lady Who Despised Church

I was in an Agriculture class one day in high school, and I was talking with one of the substitute teachers about the Christian faith. We soon got on a discussion about church. And I’ll never forget what she said: “I don’t believe in organized religion. That’s why I don’t go to church.” I thought, ‘Lady, the church is an organism!” And that organism has needs, desires, and that organism has pains and sufferings—but that organism is made up of the body of Christ—the people of God.

Don’t you know somebody like that? Don’t you know that there are people who refuse to come to church because they lack an understanding that the church is the people of God? Let’s show them who we belong to. Let’s show them that we are indeed the “dwelling place for God by His Spirit.”

Closing

Let us heed to the Word of God to us tonight. If we are hearers of the Word and not doers—“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:23-24). Let no one be deceived, take this Word from God and obey it.

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