In (Christ) ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22)
Some people enjoy spending their vacations at the beach. Others, touring vast cities teeming with monuments.
Jennifer and I? Well, we enjoy looking at churches. Cathedrals, to be precise.
Now you might think it strange that we would enjoy touring cathedrals on vacation, seeing as we live next door to a church and all. But we’ve enjoyed comparing cathedrals within countries and within cities, and between one country and another. Regardless of the differing themes and variations among these vast cathedrals, though, one strand unites them all: they all are massive – deliberately crafted to remind you of the vastness and glory of God.
Certainly, I would agree that our ecclesiastical architecture must be intentional in the message a church conveys about the triune God. But as one tours these gargantuan cathedrals, he quickly gets lost in all the bricks used to construct such an edifice – and loses sight of the true dwelling God is making for Himself using you and me.
Last week we learned that Christ has the power to bring hope to the hopeless and to reconcile warring parties as he brings believing Jews and Gentiles back to God, and to one another, in himself. This week, as we explore Ephesians 2:19-22, we’ll see further that the Lord is utilizing you and me in a vast building project that will reflect His glory. He has welcomed us to His family; He is building us up together into His holy temple; and He is dwelling in and among us by His Holy Spirit.
It’s easy to become engrossed in church architecture, both when we discuss the great cathedrals of Europe and even when we debate the style of a new church building here at home, and to lose sight of the more-glorious temple God is building on earth. But that is what the Lord is doing: welcoming you and me into His family through Christ, and building us together to be His temple – His glorious dwelling place on earth.
To begin His great building project, Paul says, God first welcomes you and me into His family through Christ – “gathering the stones.”
When we examined 2:11-18 last week, you and I noted that we, as Gentiles, historically were in a dismal situation before the Gospel sounded forth to us. Although God reveals Himself generally in creation, so as to leave man inexcusable for not worshipping Him, in the Old Covenant the one, true God revealed Himself specifically and savingly only to the Jews. That meant that most Gentiles, save those such as Ruth and Rahab (for instance), were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise.” To be sure, strangers among the Israelites had to be treated justly (in view of God’s mercy to undeserving Israel, who themselves once were aliens in a foreign land) – but unless circumcised, they could not eat of the Passover and thus had no share in God’s saving mercy.
In the New Testament era, however, the Lord Jesus has preached his saving grace to us himself (during his ministry on earth) and now through his Word – the Scriptures that the Spirit led holy men of old to write concerning him. You and I, just as believing Jews, have access to God the Father through the blood of Jesus, which removes our sin and guilt, turns away the Father’s wrath and reconciles us to Him.
Now, therefore, Paul writes, you and I are no longer strangers to God’s covenant community. (The “but” in verse 19, contrasting your former condition outside of Christ with your new status in him, is as strong as possible in Greek). We have been welcomed as full citizens in God’s Kingdom and into His household through our faith-union with the true Son, Jesus. If you trust in Christ as your Savior, you have been made holy (totally sinless before God’s throne) by the application of his blood and therefore are a full-fledged saint. You’re a child of the Father, enjoying His care, protection, chastisement, forgiveness and, finally, a Heavenly inheritance.
Because of His eternal plan of redemptive grace, you and I – once hopeless, homeless, sinful outcasts from the household of God – have been welcomed into God’s own family. Is this not the greatest news of all? Is this not the sweetest word that you could hear? From deserving castaway to undeserving child: God has welcomed you to His house through Christ, your Savior.
But this is only the beginning of His building project.
Second, Paul writes, you and I are being built up by God into His holy temple on earth and in Heaven.
The Apostle changes his metaphor a bit, from your having been welcomed into God’s household to now being built into His dwelling place with men. Of course, for a richer understanding of the temple, you and I should consult Kings and Chronicles, where we read of Solomon constructing the temple in Jerusalem per the Lord’s instruction. The temple was the place where God met with His people, where they through the priests offered His appointed sacrifices, and where they took part in the worship of the one, true God. St. Paul later writes in 1 Corinthians 3 that we – the New Testament church – are the temple of God. And St. Peter, in the second chapter of his first epistle, teaches that you and I are living stones, being fitted into God’s new temple on earth. If the world would see the glory of God and know Him intimately, it need look no further than the “pillar and ground of the truth,” the church. Jesus lives in you and me, and together we enjoy His spiritual presence on earth and reflect his truth and glory.
Note the elements of this spiritual temple. The church is founded, the apostle writes, on that foundation laid by the apostles and prophets – and that foundation is nothing other than the true teaching about Christ revealed in the Holy Scriptures of both testaments. The term “apostles” is easy enough to define: these were the 12, and ultimately 13, men specially commissioned by Jesus himself to communicate his divinely revealed Word to the world. There is some debate, though, as to the precise meaning of “prophets.” Some commentators believe Paul to be speaking here of the New Testament-era prophets, who spoke the truth of and about the Lord as they were led by the Spirit. (Their ministry since has come to completion, and pastors now fulfill the prophetic role of preaching the Word to men and women). Yet I take “prophets” to refer to the Old Testament writers, such as Isaiah, who spoke of the Gospel message one day going out to the ends of the earth. After all, isn’t that one of the key points of this chapter, that we believing Gentiles are equal heirs to the Kingdom?
The church, the temple, is built on the Scriptural revelation about Jesus. This means that if we abandon the Word, as so many institutions that call themselves “churches” have done of late, we have no church! And if Leakesville Presbyterian Church, or the Presbyterian Church in America, or the church catholic, is to exist, she stands only on the infallible Word of Truth. That is why it is vital that I preach the Word clearly and faithfully to you, and you base your faith on His Truth.
The next aspect of the temple that God is building is her Cornerstone: Jesus Christ. Without Christ, the church could not stand. Builders tell us that the cornerstone is critical to the construction of a building. It not only binds the stones together; indeed all the other stones come into alignment and take their direction and stability from the cornerstone. So it is with the church: you and I would not be members of Christ’s church if we did not look to him as our Savior, as our Guide and as our Rock.
Scripture elsewhere presents Jesus as a “rock of offense” to all who do not believe on him. To those who reject him, he is not a “meaningless rock;” in fact he is a Stone who crushes them in judgment for their sin, a Rock upon whom they stumble to their own spiritual demise.
As living stones, you and I, Peter teaches, draw our life from Jesus, the Chief Cornerstone. We are a part of the church only as we embrace him as our Savior and understand our role in his spiritual building. He shapes, molds you for his service through the application of his Word and the direction of His Spirit through the Word.
And this is a community project: twice in two verses Paul writes of our being built “together.” The temple of God, the church, is more than simply you or me. In Greene County we so emphasize a personal relationship with Christ that we often overlook our Christ-formed relationship with one another as his temple. Yes, you must know the Lord personally. But you also must realize that Jesus has shaped and molded and redeemed you for his service in his temple. We are called to reflect his glory together.
Interestingly, God’s building project is ongoing. Paul uses the present tense when writing of our “being built together” and “growing” into Jesus’ temple. So we preach the Gospel at all times and in all places and welcome new believers into our fellowship. The Lord is mysteriously, and wonderfully, fitting you and me in together as living stones in His glorious dwelling place!
The third aspect of God’s building project is that He dwells in you and me – His temple – by His Holy Spirit.
Verses 21 and 22 are parallel in that they describe the church as God’s “holy temple” and His “dwelling place by the Spirit.” As we noted earlier, the Old Testament temple was God’s physical dwelling with men; later, Jesus described himself as the temple; and in the description of the New Jerusalem, God’s dwelling will be so intimate and immediate with us that He Himself will be the temple.
In the New Covenant era, though, the dwelling of God with men is in the hearts of believers as the Spirit applies the blood of Jesus, makes you and me perfectly holy before His throne of judgment and comes to live forever in us. We together enjoy the Spirit: hence the New Testament temple is a spiritual-physical entity made up of Spirit-indwelt believers.
The Holy Spirit is active in you and me still today. He convicts us of sin, gives us strength during trials and is making us progressively holier in our lives. It is by His work that sinners are brought to faith in Christ. And it is because the Spirit of glory rests on us and lives in us that you and I are enabled to reflect God’s glory to the world, which was part of the purpose of the Old Testament temple.
Frequently we Christians get absorbed in our programs and in own efforts to build the church. Let me say that programs and faithfulness to the Great Commission clearly have their place in the visible church.
You and I always need to remember, though, that only the Spirit truly builds Christ’s temple. And if He lives in us, He gives us the power – and the commissioning – to reflect the glory and power of God in daily life. He makes us holy, and empowers us to be holy, so that we truly can be the temple of God.
I’ll confess to having my breath stolen by the splendor of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. However greatly I might disagree with Romanist doctrine, the basilica is absolutely magnificent in its luxury and artwork.
But – and I say this in all humility – this is not the type of glory that Jesus wants his church to reflect to the world.
The splendor of the true temple, the church – made up of all true believers – is that our Savior Jesus has given hope to hopeless sinners like you and me and welcomed us outcasts into the family of God by his atoning work. He is building his dwelling place with men one “living stone” at a time, and he has a place for you and me. We are built on him, hold together in him and are indwelt by his Holy Spirit. You and I, not gold-laden cathedrals, are God’s true masterpiece.
You have a role to play, as do I, in reflecting the holiness, power and goodness of Christ to this world. When unbelievers want to know God, as so many postmoderns say they want to nowadays, they shouldn’t have to wander through opulent churches staring at expensive artwork over their heads.
They should look no further than you and me: orphans welcomed into the family of God, together a living testimony to the power of Jesus to save and to unite us as his dear church.