Tag Archives: unity

The Preservation of Christian Unity (Eph. 4:2-3)

The following sermon was delivered at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky, on the 28th day of October 2018, during the evening service:


profile pic5Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their two dogs, Susie and Aries.

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Introduction to Unity: Living Worthy of Who You Are (Eph. 4:1)

The following sermon was delivered at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky, on the 21st day of October 2018, during the evening service:


profile pic5Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their two dogs, Susie and Aries.

Ephesians: Living Out Unity in Oneness (4:1-6)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on May 25th, 2014:

Conforming

When you join an organization or group, you pledge yourself to live an act in accordance with the standards and regulations of that group. You accept their aims, objectives, goals, and standards as your own. This can be illustrated in a number of ways really. When you are born and grow up in this country, or come over to this country from another country, you pledge yourself to abide by the laws of this country. You must drive sober and with a license, you must pay taxes if you work, you can’t commit homicide, and there are many other laws you are required to follow as part of being an American citizen. If you refuse to abide by these regulations, then they have a place for those who refuse to submit—prison. When you get a job you are obligated to work according to the rules, standards, and purposes of the company. When you join an athletic team or something at school, you pledge yourself to conform to the standards and purposes of whatever you join. I remember in high school, when I was joining FFA, I had to do a certain amount of service projects, memorize the FFA Creed, and many other requirements.

It doesn’t matter what you join—you obligate yourself to live and act in accordance with the standards and aims and goals of that group. And in the place where this truth ought to be most prevalent, most greatly expressed, is where it is nearly lost—and it’s in the church of God—this idea of conforming to the standards of being a part of the church is nearly lost. Too many times, we as believers are glad to have the secure salvation, the blessings and promises of the gospel, but we don’t have near as much gladness when it comes to living responsibly as a Christian and conforming to the standards of what it means to be “in Christ” and obey the commands of Scripture. When we received Jesus Christ as our Savior, we were made alive, we became children of God, new creations, redeemed persons—but we also became a part of the body of Christ and with the great honors and privileges of being in this body come great responsibilities and duties. And that is why I believe that Paul urges the Ephesians (and us today): “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1).

The Text: Ephesians 4:1-6

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Prisoner for the Lord (Again)

First, Paul writes “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Paul begins by saying, “I therefore,” indicating that this is a new section in Ephesians. He’s talked all about who we are in Christ throughout the first three chapters and now finishes this letter with these last three chapters talking about what we are to do as believers in Christ. And the very first thing Paul says concerning how we are to live as believers in Christ is living in unity—that’s what this passage of Scripture is about. If we are reconciled into one body (2:14-22), how shall we then live? He doesn’t leave us wondering but writes chapter 4 to answer that question.

This passage of Scripture may even rewrite your understanding of unity—because I believe that our biblical belief about unity is often blurred. We think, “Well, no one is quarreling with me. I must be living in unity,” or “I don’t cause anyone here any problems, I must be living in unity.” But it is much more than just staying out of people’s way. Unity is all about action, as this text will show. It involves all of our life as believers. Unity is a word that we need to put under the category of action words. It is a lifestyle meant to be maintained.

But as Paul begins this passage, he once again refers to himself as a “prisoner for the Lord.” He has already done that once in 3:1. Why do you suppose he refers to himself this way again? Well we know from seeing Paul’s attitude about his suffering in chapter 3, that he wasn’t focused on his difficulty but on God. Paul’s focus was never on the present difficulty but on God. By Paul saying this again, he is appealing to them as an apostle that this kind of unified living is worth it! He is referring to his own costly commitment. He was imprisoned for the sake of those whom he now addresses, and because he was committed to the unity that he now requests of them. I wonder. . . Do we see unified living that way? Do we see it as worth it? Unified living, as the text will reveal, is very costly. It means counting others greater than yourself, it means being gentle to others when they don’t deserve it, it means being patient with those who are not patient, it means loving people in the church with a God-like love, it means costly commitment. It means “walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

Unified living is worth it because we display to the world that we belong to Christ and the power of His marvelous grace to reconcile peoples together into one body and completely eradicate the barriers that once separated us—the racial barriers, the financial barriers, the ideological barriers, the social barriers—and unites us into one body with one purpose and that is to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Do you see unity that way? Do you think it is really worth it?

We might as well start living in unity now, because you know when we get to heaven and the multitude of redeemed peoples from every tribe, tongue and nation on the earth are gathered around the throne (Rev. 5:9; 7:9), we are going to be singing one song to the Lord together, throughout all eternity—we better get ourselves ready for that day by living in unity right now. If you don’t like the idea of unity and unified living, then I’m not sure heaven is really the place you’re looking for!

Walk Worthy

So we’ve seen that Paul viewed unified living as worth it and now still in this first verse we see that he calls his readers to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” He tells them to walk worthy. The Greek word for “walk” here is peripateo and it means to “tread all around . . . to give proof of ability.” Now read it that way. “I urge you to show proof of your ability to live your Christian life by walking worthy of your great calling into the kingdom of God.” And the Bible itself also uses the language of “walk” to talk about the whole of our Christian lives. When Paul says “walk in a manner worthy,” it’s important to understand what he means. He doesn’t mean that you need to live in a way that is worthy so that you will be called by God. He doesn’t identify with Mormon doctrine, that you must live right and do right to be counted worthy of the death of Christ—there is nothing we have done and nothing we can do that would make us deserving of the death of Christ. Look at what Paul says here: “Walk in a manner in accordance of your calling.” He isn’t saying to live worthy to be called, but to live worthy because you are called.

There are a few passages in the New Testament where Paul uses this same language. When Paul prays for the Colossian believers that they would receive spiritual wisdom and understanding: “So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). And when Paul talks about his ministry to the Thessalonian believers, “We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12). And last in Philippians 1:27, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

The Believer’s Calling

This calling Paul refers to here (“walk worthy of the calling . . .”) is talking about the divine invitation we receive from God at conversion—when God calls us to come to Himself and be saved—when God calls us to repentance and faith at conversion. The Greek word here is klesis meaning “an invitation to a banquet.” And isn’t that what God does at salvation? He invites us into His kingdom, His blessings, His kingdom, His work—He says “Welcome to My plan, welcome to My story, welcome to My grand story of redemption—you’re now involved.” And He overcomes our resistance to Him and gives us new spiritual life all in one moment. It’s not that you cannot resist His call, but if you are saved, then that is evidence that God overcame your resistance to Him. You can’t overcome it—you have no power or ability to do so. God by His grace must do so. Paul has referred to the believer’s calling already in Ephesians: “Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18). The writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Heb. 3:1). And the apostle Peter, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10).

So it is on the basis of God’s great salvation work in us that we are exhorted from the Bible to lead lives that are in keeping with our high calling. Are you living worthy of your salvation?

How to Live Worthy

Well, you say, “How do I know if I’m living worthy of my calling to salvation? How do I know if I’m living worthy?” Thankfully for you who wonder that, Paul has not left you without a standard to follow. He tells us in the next verse how we are to live worthy of our calling: “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (v. 2). Paul names here four graces: humility, gentleness, patience, and loving forbearance. We’re going to talk about each of them individually. It’s also important to see that these characteristics are progressive. They start with the ego, an examining of oneself and then they move on to our loving relations with the church. In order to attain true unity, we must exercise each of these graces:

Humility

Humility is essential for the Christian life, but it’s also essential for church unity. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He gives a description of true Christian character and the first thing He ever says is “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). Why do you suppose that humility is first? Because without it, you cannot be saved. The Scriptures even say that God will resist you if you are proud. Because in humility, you recognize your need for a Savior and you realize your spiritual poverty apart from God.

But how does it apply to living in church unity? If we are exercising humility, we will see each other as we truly are: Sinners in need of a Savior and saved by the same grace. That has great implications. We won’t think we’re better than each other, we’ll be focused on the salvation found in Christ, we will be obedient to Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” A few other Scriptures are helpful at this point: Colossians 3:12, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” And in Philippians 2 we have that great example of humility, but before it, Paul commands humility, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

Are you exercising humility toward each other? Let us recognize ourselves as we truly are and pray that God would give us a humble attitude toward those in our local congregation. Not only are we to exercise humility towards each other, but also gentleness.

Gentleness

If you have a KJV, here it probably reads meekness. But that’s what the word “gentleness” means here anyway. We are to exercise gentleness towards each other. Gentleness in our actions, gentleness in our speech, and gentleness in our thoughts. Gentleness/meekness is not weakness.We need to be gentle in our correction towards one another. We don’t grab each other’s shirt collars and say, “You shouldn’t be doing that!” But instead we “speak the truth in love with [our] neighbor” (Eph. 4:15). We need to be gentle in all of our conduct. Check out 2 Timothy 2:24-25, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.”

Are you exercising gentleness toward each other? Are we being gentle towards one another or are we being rough and verbally violent? Do we have hardened hearts toward our people or gentle hearts? Not only are we to exercise humility and gentleness/meekness, but also patience.

Patience

I want you to know that this is not just an abstract Christian characteristic. The Greek word here is makrothumia and it means “patience in relation to people.” We are to be patient with those who are young in Christ. Children make mistakes and learn from those mistakes while they are growing up. You don’t give up on a child because he pours too much milk in his cereal and spills it on the table, you help them and you are patient with them. In the same way, let’s be patient with those who are still growing in their faith—Oh wait, that’s every single one of us. We need to be patient with each other in our different sin struggles that we have. We need to be patient with each other. Having patience also means not being immediately angry when you are wronged.

Are you exercising patience towards one another or does your fuse blow real quick with those around you?

Not only are we to exercise humbleness towards each other, gentleness and patience towards each other, but also Paul says, “bearing with one another in love.”

Forbearing Love

The Greek word for bearing here is anechomai and here’s what it means: “to hold oneself up against.” Don’t you know the comfort someone brings when they just listen to you in your time of need? Don’t you know the comfort one brings when they take time out for you and listen to your concerns? We need to have bearing love for one another. We need to be obedient to Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

John MacArthur writes, “When someone staggers, we help steady the load. If he is straining, we help bear the burden. And if he stumbles, we lift him up. Helping fellow believers carry the weight of their worldly troubles is one of the chief practical duties that ought to consume every Christian” (1).

To those who are strong in the faith, listen to Paul’s words in Romans 15, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Similarly, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess. 5:14).

I’ve heard it said before that the Christian life is like climbing a mountain. Consider what you would need to climb a mountain. First, you need a partner who gives and responds to clear commands. You both must know and say the same commands and use the same terminology in voicing commands. When the climber yells, “Rope!” his partner needs to know that he is tossing down a rope and avoid getting hit by it. Our Christian walk together is much like mountain climbing. We journey through rough terrain at times, and offer encouragement to one another to endure to the end. When we see someone struggling, we need to help him or her so that he or she does not become ensnared by sin.

Who is your mountain climbing partner in your Christian walk? Are you exercising forbearing love towards each other?

The Unity of the Spirit

We have seen that unity is costly, but it is worth it because we display to the world the unifying power of the gospel. We have seen that we are to walk worthy of our calling, and we have seen how we are to do that by exercising humility and gentleness with patience and forbearing love. Now Paul tells them why they are to live exercising those characteristics: “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3). Paul urged his readers to live out those characteristics so to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

I hope you noticed that most of those characteristics discussed earlier are fruits of the Spirit. You know what that means? You cannot produce them. You can only surrender yourself over to the power of the Holy Spirit and allow Him to produce those things in you. The same thing applies here: The unity of the body of Christ was and is created by the Spirit. The church’s unity is described here as a unity that the Spirit creates, thus it is not your own achievement. It is the Spirit’s work. You recall that it was the Spirit of God who united us into one body: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 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. 12:12-13). Some say that this baptism of the Holy Spirit is a separate experience. But that cannot be true because the Bible says that the baptism of the Spirit is when you are united to the body. It’s not when you get special gifts—it’s when you partake of the same Spirit that rose Christ Jesus from the dead that now lives in the hearts of believers everywhere. That’s what unites.

Paul is saying here that if we are living in unity, with these characteristics, then it will show that we are maintaining the unity of the Spirit. We cannot create the unity—the Holy Spirit does that by baptizing us into one body—but (like with faith and works) showing forth humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearing love towards one another is evidence that we are united. Can you mess things up and cause disunity? Of course you can. But you can never break this bond of peace that exists between the members of the church of God. You see, this verse is followed by a series of “oneness” truths that will always remain the same: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Father (vv. 4-6). So Paul is also saying here that the very unity of the church of God is as indestructible as God Himself. “And on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).

If you’re someone who’s always stirring up disunity, then you might need a spiritual wake up call because it may be you who doesn’t really belong to the church as a believer in Christ in the first place. “I believe there are too many practitioners in the church who are not believers.”- C. S. Lewis

Oneness

So we’ve spent most of our time looking at how unified living is worth it, and also how we are to walk worthy and we’ve looked at how unity is evidenced through humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance. Now Paul points us to the oneness of the Christian faith: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (vv. 4-6).

Does Paul say here, “Pursue unity even if it compromises the doctrines of Scripture!”? No he doesn’t. Paul has mentioned this seven-fold oneness passage to demonstrate that unity is not throwing doctrines away. Some people say, “Why can’t we just love Jesus and love each other and just get rid of doctrine.” After all, isn’t doctrine what theologians argue over and split hairs over? I’ve got some stark news for you. If you don’t affirm that there is “one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one Father,” then you haven’t been a part of the Christian body to begin with. You cannot fulfill the Great Commission or be a faithful growing Christian without doctrine. It is doctrine and theology that is meant to lead us toward maturity, growth and action. Let me give you one final reason to study doctrine and theology from the Bible: It’s not enough to have ideas about God and the church. Everyone has ideas about God—it’s unavoidable. But the problem is, you may have a lot of wrong ones.

So Paul is affirming these truths as a great motivation for living in unity. Because unity is not just between believers but it is between the truths that we draw from the Scriptures that we must agree on. If the entirety of the Christian faith is dependent on these great truths of “oneness,” then why can’t Christians get along and live in oneness with each other? It would make it look like we didn’t believe that we have oneness in the fundamentals of our faith.

One Body

Paul of course mentions the “body and the Spirit” first if you notice because he is talking primarily about unity in the body and that unity, as we have seen, is established by the Spirit.

There are many denominations today, but there is only one body of believers. Two ways to describe the body of Christ is 1) locally 2) universally—it’s the same body, just two ways of describing it. When we are saved, we are obligated to worship with a local congregation (Heb. 10:25), the Word of God knows nothing of a lone-ranger Christian. People say, “Well I don’t believe in organized religion, but I believe the Bible and let’s meet and study at my house at 7 and John’s bringing the donuts.” Hello!? That’s organized religion. And the local congregation is to be a representation of the worldwide congregation of God all throughout this earth consisting of those of different tribes and tongues.

One Spirit

I’m glad that there’s only one Holy Spirit. We don’t get different “Spirits” when we are saved, He the Holy Spirit lives in us.

One Hope

There’s only one hope—the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without affirming this as your only hope, you have no hope.

One Lord

There is only one Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ. We don’t have many “lords” in the church today. The Greek word for “Lord” here means the one in supreme authority. Could you imagine how hectic church life would be if we had to worry about pleasing people all the time? Often times the reason it is hectic is because we are trying to please people and ourselves. Every decision we make should be influenced by our desire to please our Savior in church life.

One Faith

This one here is an important one. This refers back to what I said earlier about doctrine and theological oneness. There are different meanings in the Greek for the same English word. So then, there are different meanings to the word “faith” in the New Testament. Here it doesn’t mean “daily trust in God,” it doesn’t mean “saving faith,” it doesn’t even mean “dead faith” (as James speaks of). But it means “the whole collection of Christian teachings—everything that Christianity stands for or against.” And there is only one faith. We believe that the Word is inspired, that God is all-knowing, all-present, and all powerful . . . we believe that Christ died for sin and rose again . . . we believe that the Holy Spirit applies our salvation. If there’s one faith only, why can’t there be oneness in the body?

One Baptism

There’s only one baptism, both into the church and as Baptists affirm, only one correct mode of baptism—by immersion in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit upon receiving Christ as your Savior. If there’s one baptism only, why can’t there be oneness in the body?

One Father

We serve one God. He is sovereign over all things, and His universal rule of this world is exercised in many things—especially us as believers in His body. If God Himself is one, why can’t the church be one especially if God is sovereign over us, with us through all and in all that we do?

We Must Live in Oneness

We have seen today that striving to attain unity is very costly, but it is worth it. We have seen that we are to live in a way that demonstrates that we are walking worthy of our calling. We have seen how we are to walk worthy and attain unity of the Spirit: living in humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearing love towards each other. We have seen that unity is also about the oneness of our beliefs—and that they are the only valid beliefs. If you are convinced that you aren’t living in unity, allow God to have full control of you so that you can live in unity and display to the world the wondrous reconciling power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to be living out unity in oneness.


1. John MacArthur, Bearing One Another’s Burdens (From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine).

 

Christ’s Supreme Example of Humility (Philippians 2:5-8)

This message was delivered at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in West Paducah, KY on March 30th, 2014. 

Introduction

When we come to Jesus Christ for salvation, we must come in humility. That is, we must recognize our lowly state—that we are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), enemies of God (Rom. 5:10), hostile to God (Rom. 8:7), under His wrath (John 3:36), and helpless without Jesus. We must recognize how low we are before God can ever lift us up by the rope of His grace. The Bible says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Prov. 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). And we cannot be saved, thinking that we do not need God to be saved—you must recognize your need. And that recognition of need/lowliness is what the Bible calls humility.

I think that we recognize that we need humility to be saved (while God grants it), but it seems like we sweep humility under the rug when it comes to our lives as believers; exercising humility towards our brothers and sisters in Christ. And if we are not living in humility, then we will have divisions in our churches, and disunity in our lives with other believers.

We are not asked to like other Christians, we are not asked to be like them, agree with them (on every point), but we are to recognize and put into action that we are one with them in the Lord, and we share the same benefits as children of one heavenly Father. If we do not live in unity, then we proclaim a false message to the world—because the message of the gospel is a message of unity and of peace. The gospel absolutely eradicates the barriers between us: the racial barriers, economic, and social barriers. And the gospel unites us under one head, Jesus Christ, with on Father of this universal family united by the blood of Jesus Christ.

So if we are in great need of humility for church unity, where shall we look? In Philippians 2, we have the supreme example of humility ever, and from it we will draw out implications for living in humility.

The Text: Philippians 2:5-8

“5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Have This Mind: Christ’s

Look at v. 5. Paul writes, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” First, he tells his readers to have this mind among themselves. He is telling them to have a certain way of thinking, a certain mind-set. Many translations read, “Have this attitude among yourselves” (NASB, HCSB, NLT), and that’s what he is telling them here. Paul aims this command not to any individual, but to have this attitude among yourselves. This pictures a congregation, and it is plural. It targets the whole church. It isn’t addressed to some individual, but to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi” (Phil. 1:1).

Further, the phrase “have this mind among yourselves” looks borth backward and forward in this passage. It looks backward to what Paul has already commanded the Philippian believers to do: “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (vv. 2-4). The phrase points back because Paul has already commanded them to live in humility. Because without humility, you cannot “be of the same mind,” or “have the same love,” you will not be “in full accord and of one mind.” You will do things from selfish ambition. But with humility, you will be able to fulfill all these commands. The phase also looks forward to Christ’s perfect fulfillment of this “attitude” of humility, which we will see in this passage. Christ is the perfect example, the supreme example, the unparalleled example of the humility that Christians ought to have towards one another—and following that example is the only way to reach true unity among ourselves. We need to “have this attitude among ourselves,” this that was Christ’s. 1 John 2:6 reads, “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

So what is this “mind that was in Christ Jesus?” What example are we to follow to attain spiritual unity in the church, which we so desperately need? Well, Paul describes it for us in vv. 6-8. Paul describes how the Son of God left heaven to come to earth; he depicts this by giving a series of eight downward steps from glory into humanity, ending with the death of Christ on the cross. Before we examine these steps, let’s look at the exalted position that Jesus left.

The Exalted Position Jesus Left

Paul writes in v. 6, “Who, though he was in the form of God . . .” Paul says that Jesus “was in the form of God.” Before Christ came to earth He was fully and eternally God. When Christ came to the earth, He was fully and eternally God. And after Christ resurrected from death, He continues to be fully and eternally God. Before Christ took on flesh, He “was in the form of God” as Paul says here. This does not mean that Jesus became the Son of God at some point; He has always been the Son of God. To say that He was in the “form of God” means that He was totally equal with the Father in every way. Still, this doesn’t mean that Jesus is the Father or that the Father is Jesus. The persons of the Trinity are distinct but never divided. Having different roles, but equal. Not three gods, but God in three persons.

So when Christ comes to the earth, a transition takes place. Wayne Grudem, in his great work Systematic Theology, writes, “Remaining what he was, he became what he was not. In other words, while Jesus continued “remaining” what he was (that is, fully divine) he also became what he previously had not been (that is, fully human as well). Jesus did not give up any of his deity when he became a man, but he did take on humanity that was not his before” (1). And when He did, He subjected Himself to many of the limitations that we have. Even if He was only going to be here for 33 years, for Him to take on human flesh would be to subject Himself to our limitations, our weaknesses, and our condition. Yet at the same time, this did not compromise the absolute holiness of Christ: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Pet. 2:22). This is a very difficult reality to grasp, but you cannot have Christianity without it.

If Jesus was not fully man, He couldn’t have died, for God cannot die. If Jesus did not die, then we are still dead in our sins, we are still under God’s divine wrath, we are still slaves to sin, we are still children of wrath, we are still following the course of this world, we are not redeemed, we are not new creations, we are still living in the futility of our minds, and we are not saved! But Christ did die for our sins but that would be utterly impossible, had He not been fully man. But praise God, He busted the grave wide open and conquered sin and death when He rose from the grave three days later, and the angles said, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:5-6). And that wouldn’t have been possible, had Jesus not been fully God. Christ says, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received form my Father” (John 10:18).

With all that doctrine in mind, Paul’s point here is that if Christ chose to take on flesh, then there would have to be descent. The incarnation of Jesus is where the Creator takes on the form of the created. The Infinite becomes the finite, the Sinless takes sin upon Himself. The King of kings leaves His kingly throne to subject Himself to our weaknesses, troubles, and struggles: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

What example then are we to follow here? Because Paul does say to “have this mind among yourselves.” As you probably know, we cannot be incarnated as Jesus was, we cannot come down from heaven to be born as a babe, and we cannot save people from their sins. But that’s not the point of the text here. The point is that Jesus had every inherent right to stay where He was, but He didn’t and He made the ultimate sacrifice of taking on flesh—which would lead to His death on the cross for sin. It was that He was in the “form of God,” but took on flesh to save us from our sins.

We can follow His example because we too are in a great position. We who are “in Christ” as the New Testament teaches, are saved completely by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-9). God has loved us before time began (Eph. 1:4), God purchased our salvation and what’s more, we have no rights whatsoever to deserve salvation. Still, God calls us His friends (John 15:14-15). We are His children, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12, NASB, emphasis mine). And we have the promise of spending eternity with Him forever to worship at His feet for all eternity.

But we did not earn it. It is not our inherent right. So if God’s eternal son humbled Himself in an incomparable way by taking on flesh to live as a man, leaving His heavenly dominion, leaving His heavenly throne to be a man—how much more ought we to be absolutely determined to live humble and make whatever sacrifices necessary for the kingdom of God? You see, when Jesus left heaven to take on flesh and be born as a babe, His position of being God did not change. He just took upon Himself the weaknesses and struggles of the flesh. And we are not commanded to leave our position as God’s children; we cannot, we are secure in God’s hands. But we are to live humbly and “count others more significant than ourselves.” And when we do that, when we recognize that we are lowly, there will be much change in our lives—and that change often hurts. Humility hurts, just like it did Christ, and it may cost us dearly to live humble lives and do good works for others.

If we live in humility, then we will have the attitude we need to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). It hurts to suffer with someone during their struggle, difficulty, or weakness. But will you give till it hurts? Will you count others greater than yourselves even when it hurts? It’s not by accident that the first Beatitude in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3).

Step One of Christ’s Humiliation

If you recall earlier, I spoke of Paul’s description of eight downward steps into humanity. From the exalted position that Jesus left, His first step downward was that He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (v. 6b). Paul has already established that Christ was equal with God. We also know that during Jesus’ earthly ministry, He never denied or diminished the fact that He was God. In John 17, Jesus prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him” (John 17:1-2). Only God can give eternal life. In v. 6 of our text, Paul says here that although He was God, in fact equal with God, “He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” The point here is that Jesus never used His power or authority for personal advantage, because to Jesus, though all power and authority and worship are inherently His, these things were not “a thing to be grasped.” Christ refused to hold onto His divine rights and privileges as His own. Jesus had all the rights and privileges of God, and He could never lose the. But He refused to selfishly cling to those things to His own advantage.

You likely recall what Jesus asks during His betrayal: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53). If He had, that would have messed up the Father’s plan to accomplish the mission of salvation at the cross. And so Christ would not call “twelve legions of angels” to His side. You also likely recall when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. Satan said, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matt. 4:3). Have you ever wondered why Jesus didn’t just do that? Why didn’t He just turn them into bread to eat? He had all the power to do so. He even turned the loaves an fish into enough food to feed the five thousand (Matt. 14:13-21). It was because Christ “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Jesus’ attitude was selfless, it was giving, and it was humble.

That same attitude should characterize our lives today. We are children of God—new creations. But that is not the end of it. God didn’t save us so that we can sit and soak on a wooden pew every Sunday for the rest of our lives. Too often, we are comfortable in our blessings—we rejoice that we are redeemed, justified, and made right in God’s sight, but we keep them to ourselves. Those things are a cause for rejoicing, no doubt! But we should not grasp them selfishly, but follow the example of Christ here and share our blessings with others. All that we have has been given to us by God and we should be generous. How then, you ask, can one share something like justification with someone else? You cannot share your justified position in God’s sight with someone else, can you? You can by taking the message of justification to people—in hopes that they too will receive Christ’s righteousness imputed to their account. So what is it that you are clinging tightly to? Material blessings? Spiritual blessings? Is there something in your life that God wants you to share with others? Surrender that things to God and let Him have His will and His way.

Step Two of Christ’s Humiliation

We have looked at Christ’s first step downward into humanity, now we will look at Christ’s next step from glory to humanity. He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” Paul says, “but emptied himself . . .” Paul says that instead of counting equality with God, Christ emptied Himself. That’s the second step. The New Testament teaches that Christ emptied Himself of five divine rights (2):

1. His divine glory. The Son of God left the worship of the saints and angels in heaven, and the adornment, and was subject to misunderstandings, denials, unbelief, false accusations, and every sort of persecution by sinful men. He have up the shining brilliance of heaven to suffer an agonizing death on the cross.

2. Independent divine authority. He was equal with the Father (as both Jesus and Paul affirm), but He also stated very often in the New Testament that He depended on the Father for strength and authority. A mystery, but true (John 5:19, 30; 8:28; 12:49).

3. Some of His divine attributes. He did not cease being God, but He did subject Himself to limitations by becoming a man. For example, Christ could only be in one place at one time while He was on the earth. That would be a (temporary) limitation on God’s omniscience.

4. His eternal riches. Paul brings this to light, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

5. His unique, face-to-face relationship with the Father. In order to fulfill the plan of salvation that God sent Him to do, He had to become sin for us: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus takes our sin upon Himself, and gives us His righteousness in exchange; so in God’s sight, Jesus becomes all the filthiness and sin that we are and we become all the righteousness and holiness that He is. If that is true, then it would require that Jesus be separated from the Father at His crucifixion. The Father turned His face away—Habbakuk 1:13 says that the Father’s “eyes are too pure to look on evil.” This is why Christ cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).

Christ emptied Himself of these things to save us and to fulfill God’s plan of redemption. We obviously cannot empty ourselves to the degree that Jesus did here, but we do have an example to follow.

We are called to empty ourselves of everything that would hinder our obedience and service to Him. That’s what Christ did. He emptied Himself of these divine rights so that he could fulfill the Father’s plan of salvation. He was the Messiah, the One through Him God’s saving purposes would be accomplished. Jesus even took on the limitations of man and “emptied Himself” of the rights that were rightfully His, so that He could purchase salvation for you and for me—thus, being totally obedient to the Father (even to the point of death, v. 8).

If Jesus Christ did everything necessary to be obedient to the Father, by “emptying” Himself of what is rightfully His, how much more should we be willing to empty our lives of whatever it takes to be totally and fully surrendered to God? The only difference is, we don’t even own anything in this life. It all belongs to God, and all that we have is a gift from God Himself. Whatever is in the way of your service and full surrender to God, whether it be possessions, position, money, pride, sex, whatever; pour it down the drain!

What do you need to empty in your life to be totally obedient to God? What do you need to give up in order to be fully surrendered to God’s will?

Step Three of Christ’s Humiliation

Christ not only refused to count equality with God a thing to be grasped, and not only did He empty Himself, but even further in His descent, Christ takes a third step downward. How? Paul writes, “by taking the form of a servant” (v. 7b). Immediately when I read this, my mind races back to Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet. Many commentators even say that this is what Paul is referring to here. When Jesus washed their feet in John 13, He was demonstrating to them the best example of humility. Foot-washing was something that normally slaves did in Jesus’ day. He tells them, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are  you if you do them” (John 13:14-17).

What is so ironic about what Jesus did and Paul’s description of Him as a “servant” is this: Jesus Christ is the only One in the entire universe who is worthy to be served, but yet He became a servant. If serving man in the Father’s name was good enough for the Son of God, it ought to be good enough for us. We should be labeled as servants. Let us heed the words of Galatians 6:9-10, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” And when we have served, when we have done what we ought, we do not need to be prideful, but thank God for the opportunities we have been given to serve and then cry out with humility: “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done” (Luke 17:10, NASB).

Who are you serving for the cause of Christ? Where has God been stirring your heart to serve? Is it a position here at your church? Is it a soup kitchen? Is it your workplace? Do you need to serve your family more? God calls us to follow the example of Jesus here and be servants. Where does He want you to serve? And what is stopping you from serving and going where God wants you to go? Whatever it is, get it out of the way and start serving.

Step Four of Christ’s Humiliation

We have seen Christ’s example of humility in that He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” and that He “emptied himself,” and that He took on the form of a servant. Even further into His downward descent, Paul lists a fourth step: “being born in the likeness of men” (v. 7c).

You know the Christmas Story, Jesus miraculous conception and virgin birth. How Mary “was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18). Paul says here that Jesus became exactly like all other human beings, having all the attributes of humanity—He was a man. It was so obvious that He was a man that even His family and disciples would not have known of His deity if the angels, the Father, and Jesus Himself revealed it to them. He was “born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4), and in a “fleshly body” (Col. 1:22). Hebrews 2 gives a very accurate description of how Jesus was born in the likeness of men:

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things . . . Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:14, 17-18).

Recall too Hebrews 4:15. It says that Jesus was “tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.” That tells us something. And that’s what this verse indicates as well. Jesus was made in the likeness of flesh/men. That is, flesh minus the sin. It’s very important to understand, too, that this is not God taking on some kind of pre-Fall Adam. That’s not why Paul calls Him the “second Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45). Because if you remember, before the Fall there was no sin and no death, but Jesus did die. Think about it: Did He feel pain? Did He fell sorrow? Did He weep? Did He have strong crying and tears? Did He ever hunger? Did He thirst? Was He weary? Was He weak? Yes, yes, and yes. Here’s the final one: Did He die? Yes, and death is the result of what? The Fall (Gen. 3:17-19). This is not God taking on the “un-fallen” character of humanity, this is God taking on the fallen character of humanity with one significant element eliminated. What is it? Sin. Christ took on all of our weaknesses but one: sin.

Step Five of Christ’s Humiliation

We have seen that Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped for selfish gain, we have seen that Christ emptied Himself, that He took on the form of a servant, and also that He was born in the likeness of our flesh. But is there more to this descent? Is there more to this humiliation? Paul says yes: “And being found in human form” (v. 8a). This advances the truth that Christ was “born in the likeness of men.” Christ was “found” or recognized by those who observed Him, and those He lived with to be in “human form.” The prophet Isaiah had predicted some 700 years earlier, that the Messiah “was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face he was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isaiah 53:5).

Step Six of Christ’s Humiliation

Continuing this description of Christ’s descent, “he humbled Himself” (v. 8b). Paul says here that Jesus “humbled himself.” Now, this is somewhat different language. Everything up to this point has been about Jesus’ nature and form. This is actually an action—a personal attitude. If anyone humbled himself, it was Jesus Christ! Think back to His trial. Christ was mocked, falsely accused, spat upon, beaten with fists, scourged, and had part of His beard painfully plucked out. Yet He was never defensive was He? I’ve often wondered why Jesus didn’t just show those Pharisees who was boss. For most of the time, He stays silent. He was never demanding, never bitter. He had every right as God to damn them straight to hell at that moment. He refused to assert His rights as God! He didn’t even assert His rights as a human being either. No human would stand for that as justice.

This passage is about Christ, but remember too, that it is the example to follow from the command, “have this mind among yourselves.” I think Paul is crying out to the Philippian believers to not ever forget this: “Don’t forget this” he says, “Don’t forget what the Son of God suffered through, while maintaining humility! Don’t forget when the slightest impulse arises in you to become selfish or self-assertive or self-seeking, and so to break the bond of your fellowship with other believers!” (3)

In what situations in your life do you need to exercise more humility?

Step Seven of Christ’s Humiliation

In His stepping downward, Jesus was willing to suffer, “by becoming obedient to the point of death” (v. 8c). One would think that somewhere along the lines of all the sacrifices Jesus is making here that He would say, “Enough!” But Christ’s perfect submission took Him all the way to His death. Christ was obedient to the will of God “to the point of death.”

Anytime someone dies for a cause, leader, or a revolution—that is probably the greatest demonstration of that person’s devotion that cause, leader, or revolution. And Christ here followed God’s plan, and was so devoted to the Father’s will to “the point of death.” Christ died for the world indeed, but Christ also died for the Father. Not to pay for His sins, He paid for our sins, but He died for God to to His will and fulfill His plan. In Luke 22:42, Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not by will, but yours, be done.” The Father did not force death upon Jesus. And Jesus did not wrestle His heavenly Father to the floor of heaven to avoid crucifixion. The death of Jesus was God’s plan. God predestined it to take place. But it was Jesus’ choice—Paul says that Jesus was “obedient” that means a choice was involved. And Christ was obedient.

Ignatius of Antioch, an early church father, was remembered for his joyful outlook on martyrdom. He was going to be killed for his faith in Christ. He writes many letters to different churches while he is waiting to be killed—he viewed his death as being obedient to the will of God. As with the case of Ignatius of Antioch, and many early Christians, death was the price they had to pay to be obedient to God (4).

How far will you go to be obedient to God’s will? If you lost everything for being obedient to God, would it still be worth it to you? Jesus lost His life, His fellowship with the Father, all to be obedient to the Father’s will. If being obedient to God’s will even to the point of death was good enough for Jesus, then it ought to be good enough for us.

Step Eight of Christ’s Humiliation

But it wasn’t just any death. Paul describes that death as the final step in Christ’s downward descent: “even death on a cross” (v. 8d). Today, we have beautified the symbol of the cross so much that we often forget about what it really means. It was a death instrument in Jesus’ day. Jesus could have been killed by stoning or hanging, but instead died on a cross. Galatians 3:13, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” Similarly, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

I was in Wal-Mart the other day, and I saw the most ironic thing ever in my life. I couldn’t believe that you could pack so much irony into one moment. I was in the Easter candy isle and saw a chocolate cross. Now to other people who do not think like me, it probably appeared to be just a piece of candy. But I wondered, “Where are the chocolate electric chairs?” The cross, you see, was the worst form of punishment in Jesus’ day. And here was a chocolate death symbol. Of course, because of His resurrection, that cross stands as a symbol of victory of sin and death. But not so in Jesus’ day.

Conclusion

We have seen Christ’s example; His supreme example of humility. He did not count equality with God when He had every right to. He emptied Himself and was poured out for you and me—and in the Father’s will. He became a servant—when He alone is worthy to be served. He was born in the likeness of our flesh. He was found in human form when He was born—as a helpless babe. He was obedient to the Father to the point of death, even death on a cross. I ask you this morning, in which of those steps do you need to line up your life with God’s will? What part of Christ’s example are you not following? Are you following Christ’s example of humility?


 

1. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 562.
2. This list is adapted from John MacArthur, Philippians/John MacArthur (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2001), 126-128.
3. Ibid, 132.
4. The best basic resource on Ignatius and his view of martyrdom is Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church by Michael A. G. Haykin.

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.

Devotion: Exhort One Another Daily

“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13 ESV).

Consider what you would need to climb a mountain. First, you need a partner who gives and responds to clear commands. You both must know and say the same commands and use the same terminology in voicing commands. When the climber yells, “Rope!” his partner needs to know that he is tossing down a rope and avoid getting hit by it.

Our Christian walk together is much like mountain climbing. We journey through rough terrain at times, and offer encouragement to one another to endure to the end. The writer of Hebrews reminds Christians that our faith cannot be lost. However, we are urged to exhort one another in Christ, so that our hearts will not become hardened by sin. When we see someone struggling, we need to help him or her so that he or she does not become ensnared by sin.

Who is your mountain climbing partner in your Christian walk? Accountability is essential to growing in personal holiness. You mutually exhort one another on the journey so that you may come to the end of it blessed and encouraged.

Suggested Prayer: “Father, help me find someone to journey with in the faith for mutual exhortation.”

Taken from: Jenna Fleming, Open Windows: A Guide for Personal Devotions. Sept. 21