Sermon Notes

Ephesians 2:19-22 October 31, 1999
The Church: God’s Holy Temple

Once upon a time the Lone Ranger & Tonto were riding through a canyon, when suddenly they were surrounded on all sides by Indian warriors on horses dressed for battle. Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s faithful Indian guide, turns to the masked man and asks: "What we do, Kimosabe?" The Lone Ranger pulls his trusty steed, Silver, to the east to find a hidden pass only to find more Apaches in war paint. Tonto asks again: "What we do, Kimosabe?" This time they head south, but again more warriors. To the north and once again their escape is blocked. At last the Lone Ranger turns to Tonto, "What are we going to do?" Tonto answers, "What do you mean 'we,' paleface?"

We would like to think that we can easily put aside our differences in life and work together. But the unfortunate reality is that far too often what separates us is as simple as the color of our skin, the land of our heritage. It may be as simple as where we live, what we drive, where we work. But if we are in Christ there is a greater commonality, one which transcends our ethnic and cultural identity, which is greater than the most powerful nation. It is a citizenship which unites us in Christ. This union is best known as the Church. This morning we will consider what is perceived by some to be a peripheral aspect of Christianity, but which is central to what it means to be in Christ.

19. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household,

20. built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

21. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

22. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

We are members of God’s city

Paul begins by drawing important conclusions to what he said already in chapter 2. Paul reminds us what we were before God in His grace regenerated us. First we see His salvation individually in verses 1-10 and then our corporate solidarity. Now, in light of all this, Paul uses a logical connection for strong emphasis: consequently, or more literally, wherefore…therefore! "In light of all this so far…"

What we understand in light of God’s electing grace and securing us as His own is that we are now citizens of God’s city. What you were you are no longer. You aren’t strangers and aliens.

Strangers is the word xenoi from which we get the term xenophobia. Strangers were those who had no rights. In fact, they could be viewed as outlaws; they stood outside the protection of the law.

Alien literally means to dwell beside. The word was a technical term in Greek to refer to a licensed practitioner who, although he was a foreigner, was permitted to stay in the community to practice his trade. The person was allowed to live in the land, but they lived precarious lives, never sure if they would be expelled.

That was then, this is now

Christ does away with that status. Those who once had no hope of being on the inside are now a part of the city. They have the privilege of partnership with all those who belong to God. Jesus Christ does away with xenophobia. Strangers become family members, fellow citizens. Those who are outside are admitted to fellowship.

We are members of God’s family

As wonderful as it is to be a part of God’s city, Paul become more intimate. He moves from the city to the home. When we are told we are of God's household, it means we have now entered into the most intimate of relationships as members of the family of God. Those who are in this family are our brothers and sisters in Christ. And these relationships in the family of God enable us to have our needs met on a far deeper level. We can now be accepted fully, loved freely, greeted warmly, and encourage daily. This is what families are for.

But far too often we live and behave as though we are disconnected. Although God promises the benefits of citizenship to all those who are His, although we are welcomed into the home, given a place to live, where we are graciously fed by a loving Father, we live as orphans, scrounging around for scraps, dumpster diving for dinner. How often we behave like that. We behave as people with a common citizenship, with a common family until the times get tough. We forget that we are not foreigners and aliens.

Years ago in an effort to replace the paper dollar, the US Mint introduced the Susan B. Anthony coin. To conserve metal, they made the coin about the size of a quarter, but as a hexagon. The effort failed because it still looked like a quarter. People had a dollar in their pocket but never realized it; they acted like they only had a quarter. That is very much our problem. We have the wealth of all God has given us in each other, joined together - but we act as though we have nothing at all.

We are members of God’s temple

God’s Temple is based on God’s Word

How can we have this union? Is it because we’ve joined hands around the campfire, singing "Kumbayah," feeling good about ourselves? Paul gives us the basis of this unity we possess. This household of which we are all members if we are in Christ is called a temple. Paul first describes this temple as having a foundation of the apostles and prophets.

Who are these apostles and prophets?

The apostles were those who saw the risen Christ, were able to perform miracles, and had a unique position in the Church. They were the disciples, but also included others, too.

That the prophets of the Christian church and not of the Old Testament are intended here is clear from the order of the phrase "apostles and prophets." If they were Old Testament prophets one would expect the order to be reversed. Also, both nouns are modified by a single article in the Greek suggesting a union. Paul refers to these people in 3:5 as the recipients of the Gospel which described the union of the Jew and Gentile and were God’s gift to the church (4:11). The prophets were those who spoke the revealed word of the God to the early Church.

What is this foundation?

At first this seems odd. Why would God’s temple be based on people? It appears to contradict what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:11. Christ is the foundation, right? But these passages are not at odds; rather they say the same thing, if you understand Paul’s metaphor. We’ll get to the Cornerstone in a minute.

How does God teach us about Christ? What is the basis for what we believe?

The apostles were the appointed and inspired witnesses to Christ in the first generation of the Church. Jesus said that He would give the New Testament through them (John 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:13-15), and He did. In this context prophets refers to the special class of people who received and proclaimed direct messages from God and worked along with the apostles in the early days.

Their teaching is preserved for us in the New Testament. In fact, that is essentially what the New Testament is, a collection of the apostles' writings. When the Church was determining which Books would be part of the New Testament, that was the first question asked: Was this Book written by an apostle or one of their close associates? The apostles' message, which is contained in the New Testament, is the foundation upon which the Church is built.

The foundation which they laid for us is not themselves, that is, we don’t revere them above others. It is not their office, as we see in the Church of Rome where through Peter the vicars of Christ claim authority. Rather the foundation is the instruction by the apostles and prophets. Our church is apostolic in so far as we remain true to this foundation.

Christianity is a "revealed religion." This simply means we base our beliefs on what God has revealed about Himself and about us and about the world. God has spoken to us primarily through this Book, the Bible. Without the Bible, we could only speculate about what God is like. Without the Bible, we would never just figure out that the death of one man in Palestine 2000 years ago was the source of eternal salvation. We cannot have Christianity without the Bible.

This was a critical issue for the Reformation. What was to be the Church’s foundation? Was it tradition held captive by a church hierarchy? Would it be radical individualism, where the private desire of every person was equally valid? On this Reformation Sunday we must never forget how important our foundation is, that Scripture and Scripture alone forms the foundation of our faith.

The firm foundation of God’s good news in Christ is given to us here, in God’s Word.

You’re familiar with the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. For years scientists have measured the building's slow descent. They report that the 179-foot tower moves about one-twentieth of an inch a year, and is now 17 feet out of plumb. They further estimate that by the year 2007 the 810-year old tower will have leaned too far and will collapse onto the nearby ristorante, where scientists now gather to discuss their findings. What is the great structural problem? One clue we have is in the name of the town from which the church bell tower gets its name. Pisa, in Italian means "marshy land." What is more, when they built the tower, they set a foundation only 10 feet deep!

But the foundation we have for us in the Christian faith, what we know to be true, is a work that has been accomplished already for us by God’s chosen apostles and prophets.

It is through them we can know Christ. Here we find our only hope. Here we know what we believe is true. Its truth comes not from our subjective response to the Word, not because of the intensity of our faith, but because the foundation is laid.

If you’ve ever built anything, from Legos to a home, you know a foundation is not only important for the rest of the house, it is the first thing laid. Likewise, When God started the Church, the foundation was first poured through the writings of the apostles and prophets. If anyone tries to convince you they have a word from God, tell them to stop trying to pour a foundation on an already existing building.

God’s Temple is joined together in Christ

Joined by attachment to Christ the Cornerstone

As the teaching of the apostles and prophets tells us about Christ, as they are the foundation, here we have the cornerstone. We picture a ceremonial cornerstone in which items are placed and on which a date is stamped, but this is not merely a corner or a small section of the foundation.

When a building would be erected, workers dug down into the soil and began by first laying the cornerstone; typically this was the largest and most crucial part of the building. The cornerstone which formed the base of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem was the size of a railroad box car, weighing 570 tons. This stone would then become the rule by which all the rest of the walls would be constructed. If it was true, the building would be square. If it was plumb, the walls would rise straight. But if it was off, the building would be off and unsafe. The cornerstone was both the strength and direction of the building. In one way, it could be said the whole building was but an outworking and reflection of the cornerstone

The prophet Isaiah speaks of this stone in 28:16: "So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed." Peter picks up on this image also in 1 Peter 2:7 as well as in Acts 4:11. This picture of Christ was often used in the early church, for they understood that Christ is the determining factor of all else. Attachment to Him means you are part of His building.

In our passage, we see how the Jews and Gentiles were two separate walls, but are formed into one spiritual building. Christ is placed in the middle of the corner for the purpose of uniting both. Everything depends on union with Him.

On what basis can we with confidence say that we are connected to others in Christ? How can we who may at times be so culturally, ethnically, socially diverse hold to a unity between us? It is because of Christ joining us together.

Why is it you may feel so distant from your suburban neighbor, but a warm connection with the inner-city family? You are accepted by the person from Vietnam who knows Christ, but your own family members who are not believers look at you like you are from Mars. It is your connection to each other because of Christ.

Growing by power of Christ into a temple

While the foundation is set, the cornerstone is laid, the building is growing, the work is developing. The Church is not a complete edifice until the Lord comes. It is growing towards what is intended to be in the purpose of God.

As one is attached to Christ, as we are united in Him, He becomes not only the basis of our life; He is also the means of our growth. "In him the whole building is joined and rises…" As we are united to Him we are united to each other and only then can real growth occur. Without Christ we would be nothing more than a hodgepodge of ideas and loose stones scattered across the ground.

Instead, we are joined together (synharmologeo). The root (harmos) denotes the fitting or connection. It is from this word we get our word "harmony." This word was used in architecture to describe a joint or a junction of two stones that meshed perfectly. I’m no Norm Abrams; I’ve a hard time hammering a nail straight no less creating a dovetail. When it comes to gathering people together in a church it can often seem like herding cats. But this is a work God does. He brings us together.

Here is where we find our unity.

The trouble is so often Christians mistakenly claim: "I don’t need the Church…" they are saying they don’t need Christ. To this the Church father Tertullian once remarked: "He who does not have the church as his mother can not claim God as his father." It is for this reason when we confess the ancient creed of the Apostles, as we did this morning, we say we believe in the catholic church.

I know that causes confusion at times. It does not mean we are part of the Church of Rome, but that we are part of this temple, stretching through time and space, attached to believers, connected to Jesus Christ.

While the foundation is set and can not be added to, the building is in process, growing and being added to each each day. This is the grand vision of the master designer; we may not see how each of us fits into God’s wonderful plan for His building called the Church. But if we absent ourself from its structure we do so not only at our peril, but at the loss to the whole building. When worship and service are optional, then we place our lives in danger, standing outside the body of Christ, outside His normal means of grace.

God’s Temple is indwelt by the Holy Spirit

With a foundation of the Word of God, a structure built upon Jesus Christ, this temple, this church is designed to be the dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.

"Being built together" is a verb used elsewhere of people sharing with one another in putting up a building and of the combining of different materials in building. The vivid picture we see here is not we who are doing the building, but we are being built. The verb is aorist passive participle, indicating that the subject "you" of verse 19 receives the action of the "built." That is, we do not build ourselves; rather, we are built by God.

This building, this temple, is the primary place of God’s dwelling. Often we like the image of God indwelling us individually, but that idea comes only as a corollary to this truth.

We start with God, by means of the Holy Spirit, dwelling in us as a Body, as His people, as a Church and from that understand that He dwells in us as individual believers. The pervasive individualism of our day is far removed from the New Testament understanding of the Church. Lone Ranger Christianity is impossible; churchless Christianity is a mockery. The Christian faith is a corporate, connected faith. When one is baptized into Christ, one is baptized into the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). This part of the reality of faith should not be neglected. People do relate to God as individuals, but the focus is corporate. In the horizontal relation the vertical relation is lived out.

Without any one of us, there would be a hole in the wall. Oh, the building would not fall down, but there might be a draft, or water might seep in, because someone is not filling the role to which God has called him. Let me just say it very simply and directly: Being a Christian and being part of a church go hand in hand. God expects each Christian to be a part of a local church. Individual stones all spread out and lying on the ground don't make a building, and individual Christians all spread out doing their own things don't make a Church. Only as we work together do we fulfill the purpose God has for us.

John Wesley wisely said: "The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion." There are no holy hermits. For this reason we must always ask ourselves : "How joined to others am I?"

Are you functionally connected? Accountable to others or just yourself?

Or do you see the differences between you and others? Do you think you can serve God apart from His city, His household, His temple? Are you like Tonto, that when the going gets tough, you run?

Sermon Notes