Building With A Purpose
This world of ours is a mess.
This world of ours is a mess. Where would you like to begin? Palestine? Israel? Iraq? How about Sudan? Or Rwanda? There are problems everywhere—problems in Venezuela, problems in the U.S., problems here at home.
We have a federal government entangled in a scandalous ‘sponsorship program’ fiasco. We have a legal system in this province that allows criminals like Karla Homolka to re-enter society after a meager 12-year sentence.
This world of ours is a mess. Some people think that things will get even worse. Some commentators have observed that the troubles in this world—be it environmental troubles, or people-related troubles—have intensified in recent years. These commentators see no indication that our problems will recede any time soon.
There are other people who will argue that the world has always been a mess, and that we usually find a way to cope and carry on. We may not be able to fix our problems, they say, but education and diplomacy will prevent our problems from overwhelming us.
Let me suggest to you a third perspective: This world of ours is a mess, but God has a plan. This world of ours is a mess, but God has ordained for the Church to be the means whereby Christ functions in this world.
This world of ours is a mess, but we can make things better—much better. Because, church is not somewhere you go, church is something you are.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is concerned with how the Christian, more precisely, how the Church, gets on in this world. The Church is not God’s ‘Plan B’. Before the foundation of the world was laid, God ordained for the Church to be the special recipient of His grace (1:3-14).
God had a purpose for saving us. We are part, and parcel, of a grand, cosmic, eternal plan. As the Church, we are the channel through which Jesus Christ is to be glorified in this world. As the body of Christ, we have a unique relationship to Jesus, who is our Head. All of the power that belongs to the Head has been made available to the rest of the body. With this divine power at the Church’s disposal, surely we can make a difference in this world.
As the apostle Paul brings Ephesians, chapter 2, to a close, he introduces a new group of metaphors to make this point. Paul relates the identity of the Christian, first, to a nation, secondly, to a household, and thirdly to a building.
Prior to entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ, you and I were contributing to the mess in this world. Paul says that we were “strangers” and “aliens” (2:19); that is to say we had no concern for the kingdom of God. But now, Paul says that we are “citizens” of God’s kingdom—we are a part of God’s grand, cosmic, eternal plan to transform this world of ours.
Moving the analogy further along, Paul identifies us more intimately with God by explaining that we belong to God’s “household” (2:19). This progression is significant because, if we were merely citizens, we might imagine that our participation in God’s purposes was based entirely upon duty. As citizens alone, we might imagine that we should do as God says because that is what is required of responsible citizens. As members of His household, however, as members of God’s family, we soon discover the privilege and joy that accompanies sharing in our Heavenly Father’s purposes.
The third metaphor, that of a building, may initially strike us as an impersonal comparison, but we soon see that this is no ordinary building. Paul explains that the building is comprised of individual Christians who are connected to one another. Paul says we are being “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, (with) Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone” (2:20).
Now, Paul is not saying that “the apostles and the prophets” themselves are the foundation, but rather, by placing the definite article in front of apostles and prophets, we understand Paul to be saying that the apostles and prophets, through their proclamation of Christ, have laid the foundation. And lest we miss that point, Paul explains that “Christ Jesus Himself (is) the cornerstone” (2:20).
The cornerstone is that one stone that binds all of the other stones together. In the same way that the body depends upon the Head; the strength of the building, and the usefulness of each stone, depends upon the connection with the cornerstone.
Notice also, that the Church is not a completed edifice, but one that Paul says is currently “being fitted together (and) is growing into a holy temple in the Lord” (2:21). That is to say, even though Paul has moved from the metaphor of a body to the metaphor of a building, he does not want us to lose site of the fact that the Church is like a living organism. In other words, Church is not someplace you go; Church is some thing you are.
The apostle Peter says much the same in his first epistle. Peter writes, “you, (are) living stones, (and) are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1Pet. 2:5).
The reason the building can grow; the reason we regard the building as resembling a living organism is because the building is comprised of “living stones”. And, so it is as “living stones” that we are “growing into a holy temple”.
Now, when we think of God’s temple we usually think of that massive structure built during Solomon’s reign. But, it is important to note that different words are employed in the Hebrew and the Greek to denote what aspect of the temple is being spoken of.
You may remember that within the Jewish temple was an inner chamber. This inner shrine was the ‘holy of holies’—it was a restricted area reserved for a select few under very strict conditions. The ‘holy of holies’ was that special place where God met with His people. It was His dwelling place. It was where God designed to manifest His glory.
The Greek word for this inner chamber is the word, naos. For the people of Israel, God manifested His presence and His power in the naos.
Friends, do you know what Paul says to us in this passage? Paul says that the Church “is growing into a holy naos in the Lord.”
The grand, cosmic, eternal plan of God is to build a naos for His presence within the Church. The naos is not contained within church buildings, but rather, Paul explains that the naos is contained within the living stones that have been fitted together, and connected to the cornerstone, Jesus Christ.
To say it another way, the Christian Church is the vehicle for God’s presence; the Christian Church is the means whereby a spiritual Christ functions in a physical world. We do not go to the naos; we are the naos. Because, Church is not someplace you go; Church is some thing you are.
This new identity of ours begs the question: If you and I, as living stones, comprise God’s house, what should we be doing?
First of all, as living stones, we must make every effort to remain connected to Christ. We find our proper place and usefulness within the building in relation to Christ’s position as the cornerstone. As Jesus has said, using another metaphor, “I am the Vine, (and) you are the branches; he who abides in Me . . . bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). For this reason, we must make every effort to remain connected to Christ.
Secondly, as living stones, we must make every effort to remain connected to one another. I fear that many people in our day believe that they can get along quite fine as a Christian without ever belonging to a community of faith. This is a great mistake. Those who believe that one can be a Christian apart from the greater Church have misunderstood God’s purpose for saving us.
As living stones, we are not meant to exist in isolation. A stone in isolation is useless. A living stone, detached from the rest of the building makes a travesty of God’s purposes.
The grand, cosmic, eternal plan of God has positioned you and I to be living stones, fitted into a spiritual building. And, again, this building is changing; this building is growing—together we are “growing into a holy temple in the Lord.” Therefore, we must make every effort to remain connected to one another.
And finally, since we are no ordinary building, since we are meant to be “a holy temple”, since we are meant to manifest the glory of God within this troubled world, we must make every effort to lead holy lives.
If we, as living stones, comprise God’s holy temple, let us not defile it with our words or our actions. One of the implications of being fitted together is that your sin is not your sin; your blemish is the Church’s blemish. The defilement of a single stone mars the beauty of the whole.
As I say this I immediately think of the brick fireplace in the lower level of the manse. When the ceiling was last painted, white paint was slopped onto the top portion of the fireplace. While that merely represents 5% of the brickwork, it nonetheless catches your attention as unsightly. My first response was to place my bookshelves there, but they could not reach high enough. My second response was to fasten crown moulding to the ceiling. This worked marvelously except for one splotch of paint that remains visible. It may be that I am just exceedingly picky, but from my viewpoint, the one stained brick detracts from the appearance of the entire fireplace.
And, how that is often the case with the Church. The misbehaviour of one member has the ability to mar the reputation of the entire Church.
This is why we must make every effort to lead holy lives. How we behave matters because the Church is the means whereby the spiritual Christ functions in this world.
Friends, this world is a mess, but God has a plan. The Christian Church is part and parcel of God’s grand, cosmic, eternal plan for this world. Connected to the Head, connected to the cornerstone, we can make a difference.
Connected to Christ, we can be a blessing to this city; we can be a blessing to our neighbourhood. Let us resolve, this day, to make a difference within our square mile—because, Church is not someplace you go, Church is something you are. Amen.