Built Together Into the Church
November 9, 2008 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Ephesians
Passage: Ephesians 2:19–22
Built Together Into the Church
The other night while taking a walk in the neighborhood with my family I pointed out to Jennifer and Jared five homes on one block that didn't exist when we first moved in. That led to a conversation about home construction and Jared mentioned a construction company that in its heyday would build 150 homes a week.
At first I thought he must have gotten his information wrong and that maybe it was 150 homes a year (which would still be nearly one home every two days), but he was right. In the 1940's a Long Island based company Levitt and Sons developed an assembly line approach to home building that produced 150 homes a week! Before WWII they produced mostly upscale homes, but after WWII saw need to provide affordable housing for returning vets. I learned something from Jared that night: I had no idea there was a company building homes on such a large scale!
In the passage before us this morning, Paul turns our attention to a vastly greater building enterprise - the building of the church. For nearly two thousand years Jesus has been working to build his church - not a structure made out of steel or wood or glass, but out of people through the centuries and around the world. Living structure included the Gentile believers in Ephesus, and it includes us this morning. God is working to build His church and every Christian is a part of that construction.
Title: Built Together Into the Church
In verses 11-18 Paul reminds the Gentile believers once separated from God and God's people, they were once without hope and without God in the world. Through the cross, Jesus has broken down the wall of hostility between God and man and between Jew and Gentile and to make one people of the two - a people called the church.
Picking up in verse 19 we see the results of Christ's redeeming work on the cross: So then - as Gentiles you are no longer on the outside looking in. No longer separated from God and excluded from God's people. Christ has brought you near to himself and to people of God.
fellow citizens - you belong to the kingdom of God. God is preparing a city (Heb 11:16) and you belong to that city with full privileges of citizenship.
members of the household of God - more than citizens, you belong to the family of God. Through Jesus Christ you have ongoing access to God the Father by the Spirit (vs. 18).
Then, without interrupting his flow of thought, he switches from people-centered metaphors (citizens, family) to the architecturally-centered metaphor of building a temple. This building metaphor is not unique.
Jesus used the same kind of terminology in Mt 16:18 when he declared "I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Peter says that we are living stones being built into a spiritual house. 1 Peter 2:5
Paul asks the Corinthians: don't you know that you (plural) are God's temple? 1 Cor. 3:16
What does all this temple talk mean? In the Old Testament, God's people were one ethnic people, the Jews, living in one geographic area (Israel) and the temple in Jerusalem represented God's dwelling among them as His people. Now, through the gospel of Jesus Christ, the people of God are not limited to one ethnic people or geographic locale, but are spread across the entire world and include every nation and tribe and tongue on earth. So one temple in a one location could never represent God's dwelling with His people anymore.
The temple God is building isn't a temple of brick and mortar, but a temple comprised of believers through the ages and around the world who have been washed by the blood of the Lamb and forgiven of their sins; reconciled to God and to one another, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. And through the ages the testimony of the true Church is this: God dwells with us. The church is a people being built into a temple.
Paul mentions three important aspects of how this temple is being constructed:
I. The church is founded on the authoritative truth of God's word
Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets...(vs. 20a)
a. The doctrine of the church: A structure is only as strong as its foundation and the foundation of the church is the authoritative doctrinal teaching of apostles and prophets given to us in the NT. The church universal and the individual congregation is only as stable and enduring as its commitment to be founded on the teaching of God's Word.
If our commitment to the authoritative teaching of scripture is undermined, then the very foundation of what we believe is in danger. Nothing gives us a better indication that a church is healthy and strong than that it loves sound doctrine. When the church departs from teaching and preaching sound biblical doctrine, its very foundation is in jeopardy. Two more recent threats to the church's foundation of biblical authority have come in the forms of the marketing of the church and the emergent church.
The biggest thing to hit the church in the last twenty years has been what is labeled the "church growth movement" and there are some good things the church growth movement has introduced to the church, including a zeal to reach the lost and desire to impact culture rather than run from culture. But one of the dangers is that, in a (probably well-intentioned) effort to make the church attractive to the unchurched, many of the church growth churches, while not denying sound doctrine- have worked to hide it from view because think they will be unattractive to the unchurched.
So rich, biblical teaching in some cases has been replaced by slogans, pep talks, and sermonettes - producing what one person called Christianettes. The unfortunate result is a spiritual shallowness, disciples who are not being discipled, and Christians lacking foundation to their faith. Ultimately the gospel is not to be marketed - it is to be declared. And what draws a man or woman to Jesus Christ is not the presentation, but the Holy Spirit. Remember that in the early days of the church, they devoted themselves to the teaching and preaching of the apostles, and God was adding to them thousands of souls being saved.
From another direction the emergent church is emerging and in its desire to reflect the postmodern age we live in, they are abandoning the conviction that there is an absolute truth to believe in. The claims of knowing the truth are considered arrogant. They do not preach God's Word, they discuss it. Relevance, not revelation is the preferred terminology. They are comfortable saying, "we do not know for sure, we cannot know for sure" because for them Christianity isn't about truth-claims pressed upon our lives, but a spiritual journey that will look different for different people depending on your perspective. The center of truth becomes each person's reference point rather than the objective truth of God's Word.
But what do the apostles teach? The apostle John says that we know the truth (1 Jn 2:21), Paul speaks of those who are coming "to a knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 2:25), and the apostle Peter speaks of "obedience to the truth" (1 Peter 1:22). The apostle Paul speaks of those who "suppress the truth" (Rom. 1:18). It would be arrogant to declare our opinions as authoritative truth - but we must declare God's word as authoritative truth.
b. The practice of the church: Jesus told the parable about the wise man who built on the rock. That was the man who heard Jesus' words and did them. The church is not built on knowing sound doctrine alone (although it is indispensable) but on the doing of God's word.
There is a pitfall we must be on the watch for. It is not enough to say we believe the Bible is God's Word if we don't take seriously it's claim on our life. We can confess sin or admit where our lives don't line up, but have no intention of doing anything about it. A church with strong foundation is built on knowledge of, and application of, God's word. Building doesn't take place by looking at the blueprints - there needs to be work going on. Doing, applying, obeying.
Jesus' parable reminds us that being built on the foundation of God's truth must include doing.
II. Jesus is the cornerstone (vs. 20b)
Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone...
No doubt Paul is thinking of Isaiah 28:
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.' Isaiah 28:16-17 (ESV)
The Hebrew is very clear, literally, "I am founding a founded foundation..." Christ is the foundation and He is the cornerstone and He is precious. Paul writes to the Corinthians that no one can lay a foundation other than which is laid, Jesus Christ. It's not a contradiction for Paul to say the foundation is the apostles and prophets, for their teaching was Christ!
The cornerstone was the first stone laid and the most important stone to the foundation. It set the angle and direction for the whole of the foundation. When the church strays from Jesus Christ and His saving work on the cross, it is building on a faulty foundation. The apostle's teaching center tenaciously on Christ - see how many times Paul says "in him". Apostles never stray from Christ and neither should we. Paul told one church he determined to know nothing while he was among them except Christ and him crucified. Christ is our foundation and our cornerstone. May he be the cornerstone of our lives as well. The man or woman who builds their hope on Christ will never see their hope collapse, for Christ will never fail.
III. Christians are being built together into a dwelling place (vs. 21-22)
Verse 21 describes the Universal Church - all true believers down through the ages and around the world. In Christ the whole structure (that is, the entire structure God is building), being joined together grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
It is good for us to remember that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, and we stand shoulder to shoulder with Christian brothers and sisters around the world. We are not alone - a part of the whole structure that is being joined together.
But in verse 22 Paul repeats the same truth, only he says that what is happening in whole structure is happening to Ephesian Jewish and Gentile believers in their local church specifically.
In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit
Put it this way, through the ages, the Church is being joined together as a temple for the Lord...and you guys in the local church at Ephesus are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. What is happening in church universal is happening in the local church.
The construction that God does in the Christian's life is done in the local church. Most of the New Testament writings are written to local churches. As Josh Harris points out in his book Stop Dating the Church,
Almost every time the word church appears in the New Testament it means a particular gathering of Christians. ~ Josh Harris
One author, adjusting a popular bumper sticker, puts it this way: think globally, love locally.
We are being built together into a dwelling. We are living stones (as Peter says) but we need each other to properly fit into place and rise as a dwelling place for God that He has ordained. In other words, as stones we need to be chiseled and shaped so that we properly fit together. That's a part of God's plan. Not easy. Old Irish proverb:
To live above, with saints we love, ah, that's the purest glory.
To live below, with the saints we know, now that's another story!"
Christianity would be so much better without Christians! God uses each other in our lives to chisel us into the image of Christ. I had some friends who went to Boston plant a church some years ago. At the end of their time there they shared with us, we went to Boston to do a work, and Boston did a work on us.
We go to a local church to do a work, and find it does a work on us. And not always in the ways we expect or want or even think we need. But it is exactly what we need. God's masterful hand is at work through each other chiseling and shaping us to be more like His Son.
One person comes in with little love in their heart for people - but over time God uses other people- maybe even unlovely people - to reveal their lack of love and their desperate need for Christ to pour His love in them. And the living stone is being chiseled and shaped into the image of Christ.
Another person comes in with heart full of pride and self-centeredness that presents an image of having it all together, but in the process kills authentic relationships and friendships. Through God's Word and interactions in the church, God begins to challenge them to go deeper - be more real, to take the spiritual masks off. They humble themselves and as they do, they find God is true to His promise and gives them more grace. Their image is slowly replaced with authenticity and the stone is being chiseled.
Pastor's are by no means immune or above this work. A pastor takes a pastorate with great self-confidence, images of spiritual conquests dancing in his head. But that is not how things go. Problems arise he did not foresee. Inevitably he makes mistakes and meets with failure. Through failure he begins to see how much pride was involved in his desire to see God's work flourish. He also sees an overwhelming lack of love in his heart for flock, and over time, people get to know he has clay feet, he's not perfect, far from it. That pastor comes to a crossroads: he can move on to a new church and try again, or allow the Lord to chisel him into an authentic shepherd, one after God's own heart. He no longer wants to be on a pedestal, he wants to be a friend and co-laborer (and by grace of God a faithful shepherd) to his congregation.
Could it be that God's greatest works in chiseling us into the image of His dear Son are on the other side of what seems to be our greatest failures, challenges, or heartaches? What we want the least, we need the most? How many married couples have gotten divorced at precisely the point when their love and commitment could have deepened more than ever if they had only pressed through? Is it the same in the church?
The church rises to a house where God dwells. Where His presence is near, and His name is worshipped. That's what the church is - not a building where the Lord's presence is felt, but a people where God's presence dwells. What an unspeakable privilege we have to be being built together into a dwelling for the Lord by the Spirit of God. It is good to know its not us who are doing the building - it's the Lord. We can trust Him and ask that, in this particular church, we grow together in such a way that glorifies God and causes us to become more like Christ with each passing year.
If you are not a Christian, hang around! We are not a perfect representation by any means, but it is our hope and prayer that you will see Jesus and the love that hung him on the cross and bow your knee and heart to Him one day as your Lord and Savior.
More in Ephesians
June 14, 2009Be Strong In the Lord (Part 3)
June 7, 2009Be Strong In the Lord (Part 2)
May 31, 2009Be Strong In the Lord (Part 1)