Building With Joy!
Reading: Ephesians Ch. 2v19-22.
New and improved; seems to be our motto in modern day society. It seems everything these days is presented to us as "new and improved." We have new and improved shampoo, new and improved hair colorings, new and improved medicines, new and improved cars; the list goes on and on. Manufacturers constantly vie with each other to produce products that can be described as new and improved. Why? Simple; we like new things, or things that have been improved, or are much better than before.
In Christ, we are new and improved, and how! "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" 2 Corinthians Ch.5v17. The book of Ephesians was written to teach us just how new and improved we have become through Jesus. Ephesians divides naturally into two sections. The first section, chapters 1-3 teach us who we are as believers. The second section, chapters 4-6 teach us how we are to live as believers.
The first part of the first section teaches who we are as individual believers. We are "blessed… with every spiritual blessing." We were "chosen in Him before the foundation of the world." We have received "adoptions as sons." We’ve received "redemption" and "forgiveness." We’ve "obtained an inheritance." We’ve been "sealed with the Holy Spirit." We were "made alive" when we were spiritually "dead in trespasses and sins." We’ve received God rich "mercy," His "great love" and His overwhelming "grace." We are God’s "workmanship," His masterpiece of all creation.
Last time, as we looked at Ephesians Ch.2vv.11-18, we moved into the second part of the first section. We have learned who we are personally in Christ, now we are learning who we are corporately in Christ, our identity together as Christ’s body v15 specifically says that God has taken both redeemed Jews and Gentiles and put them together in "one new man," a new humanity, a new race, a new nation. If you are saved you are a part of that nation. Note in v.14 He has "made both one." In v16 we are "one body." In v18 we have "have access by one Spirit." This "one body" is the Body of Christ, the company of all God’s people of all the ages.
When you were saved, you became part of that Body. Let’s look with interest at 1 Corinthians Ch.12v11-13. We were spiritually baptized into Jesus. Water baptism pictures this. As believers we are undeniably linked to Christ and all His people. It is possible to attend a church, be baptized by a church, even be a member of a church and not be part of the body of Christ. "Being in a church doesn’t make you any more a Christian than being in McDonald’s makes you a Chicken McNugget!" We become part of the body when we are saved by grace through faith. And we need to take this change seriously and live like there really has been a change.
From research and personal experience I've come to the conclusion that in every church 16 percent of the members will never change. The tragedy is I see young pastors every day leaving the ministry because of that 16 percent. It's as if they're butting their heads against a brick wall. What they should be doing is concentrating on the 84 percent who are ripe for change. That's where the real ministry of the local church takes place.
Howard Hendricks, Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 2.
The Bible has many metaphors for the people of God. The primary one is that of a body. 1 Corinthians Ch.3v9 says "…you are God's field, you are God's building." Jesus said in John Ch.15v5, "I am the vine, you are the branches" He called us His "flock" in Luke Ch.12v32. In various passages we are described as His "bride." Malachi Ch.3v17 speaks of us as His "jewels." Hebrews Ch.12v23 refers to us as "the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven." Praise the Lord that by His grace we have a part in this Body. We who were once foreigners have become citizens, sinners have become saints, interlopers have become insiders, strangers have become family members, and the lowest class has become the first class. In this passage of Scripture, the "one new man" is further described in three ways:
1. We are Citizens of God’s Kingdom! v19a.
A. We were formerly Strangers and Foreigners to the People of God:
Paul says "you are no longer strangers and foreigners." We used to be, but because of Jesus, we are not anymore. That’s good news.
John the Baptist proclaimed in His day, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew Ch.3v2). The kingdom was coming quickly. In Jesus the kingdom appeared on earth. In Luke Ch.17vv20+21, the Pharisees asked when the kingdom would come. Jesus replied that "…indeed, the kingdom of God is within you." Jesus spoke of us when he said to the Jews in Matthew Ch.21v43, "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it." That "nation" is us, the "one new man" mentioned in v14. The kingdom can be described as the rule and reign of God in our lives. When you became a believer, you surrendered your rights and submitted yourself to God’s rule in your life. Because of that you are "no longer" a stranger or a foreigner, but a citizen!
B. We now have been made full Citizens in His Kingdom:
We are now "fellow citizens with the saints." Every saved person is a saint "strangers and foreigners" among His people. There are no second-class citizens. There are no big "I’s" and little "you’s." There are only "saints" and we are all "saints," holy ones.
God is forever united with His "saints," the "citizens" of His kingdom. We are forever united together. We have a common language, the language of love. We have a common history, the community of faith. We have a common allegiance, higher than any earthly loyalty. We have a common goal, the glory of God. We have a common destination, heaven. Philippians Ch.3v20 says, "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ." Just a few weeks ago I was teaching students in Austria and although they were vastly different from me in language, history and culture, we had one thing in common which supersedes all worldly matters, we are one in Christ. We are "fellow citizens" of the kingdom of God and Oh how they loved the Lord and His Word, they knew they had become full citizens of Heaven.
C. Our Citizenship Has Wonderful Benefits:
(1) Citizenship Gives Us Identity.
The word "strangers" comes from a special Greek word that referred to groups of foreigners who settled in the city. We see that today as small ethnic minorities cluster together. The citizens often viewed these folks with fear and suspicion. "Foreigners" meant someone even further down the scale, a person who takes up residence, but never adopts citizenship… aliens and refugees. On the other hand "citizens" were fiercely proud of their cities. In Acts Ch.19, we see the civic pride of the Ephesians during the riot over Paul’s teaching. People’s names often spoke of their citizenship. Saul of Tarsus, Jesus of Nazareth, as "citizens" of God’s kingdom we have an eternal identity that is manifested in our fellowship and worldview.
(2) Citizenship Gives Us privileges:
Roman citizenship was highly prized in the first century. According to Merrill Unger, Roman citizenship "included the right of voting, of being elected to magistracy, of appeal to the people, of contracting a legal marriage, and of holding property in the Roman community." Paul used his citizenship on several occasions, notably the privilege of appealing his case to Caesar. As believers we have the privilege of full access to God.
(3) Citizenship Gives Us Security:
We belong. We have a home in Jesus. A.B. Davidson writes of lodging for sometime in a foreign city. In the evening he would take a walk through the streets. Often he would see through un-curtained windows, families sitting around a table or reclining before a hearth. All this went to make his loneliness even deeper. In Christ, we belong. We are on the inside, not the outside. We are in reality citizens of heaven making our way through this waste howling wilderness of earth and there should be a fragrance of heaven about us. Heaven is not just the home of the angels.
Of all the supernatural beings mentioned in the Scriptures, it is the angels who are constantly depicted as being identified with heaven. When the angel of God called to Hagar in the wilderness, we read that this call was heard "out of heaven" (Gen. 21:17). When the angel appeared at the time of the vision which Jacob heard at Bethel, he saw a ladder reaching to heaven on which the angels of God were ascending and descending. Often the angels are called the "heavenly ones" (Ps. 29:1) or the "heavenly host" (Luke 2:13). When the angelic host had finished their song to the shepherds, we read that "the angels went away with them into heaven" (Luke 2:15). It was an angel "from heaven" that rolled away the stone at the tomb where our Lord was buried (Matt. 28:2). Our Lord Himself often spoke of "the angels in heaven" (Mark 12:25; 13:32; Matt. 22:30). Then we have such a phrase as "the angels of heaven" (Matt. 24:36), and in a most interesting passage our Lord said, "Angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 18:10). Wilbur M. Smith: The Biblical Doctrine of Heaven.
2. We Are Members Of God’s Family! v.19b.
A. We Are In The Family Because We Are In Christ:
One of the key phrases through out Ephesians and all the epistles is; "in Christ." This little prepositional phrase describes the full content of our salvation. The Holy Spirit immerses us into Christ’s body. Because we are "in Christ" we are also in Christ’s family. We are "members of the household of God." Because we are united with Christ by faith, God loves us as He loves His Son. God cares for us as He cares for His Son. He gives us the same inheritance He gives His Son.
Romans Ch.8v17 says we are God’s children "and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…" Hebrews Ch.2v11 says, "For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren." Hebrews Ch.3v6 tells us that Christ is "as a Son over His own house, whose house we are…"
B. Becoming A Member Of The Family Is Different From Being A Citizen Of The Kingdom:
There are not some who are "citizens" and some who are family "members." Rather to be a citizen is to be a member of the family too. These are not distinct roles but rather different view of the same reality. The first metaphor says we are "fellow citizens with the saints." It is a wonderful thing to be a citizen. However, it is something else to be "members of the household." To be a member of a family is a much more intimate relationship than to be a citizen of a kingdom. In Christ we have great intimacy, not only with God but also with each other.
C. God’s People Relate Together As A Family:
First, we live together as a family. In 3v15 we read about the "whole family in heaven and earth." We live here below with the part of the family that is on earth. Those in heaven dwell together as a family. One day we will all be together as a "family in heaven."
Second, we have the same Father. One of the most beautiful phrases in the model prayer of Matt. 6 is v.9. Have you ever noticed it? Jesus prays to "Our Father." He didn’t say "My Father" but "our Father." As believers, we all have the same patronym "Abba." Gal.4v6 says, "And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, Abba, Father!" "Abba" is word of affection. He’s not just our "Father" but also our "Daddy."
Third, we have family relationships with each other. 1 Tim.5v1-2 says, "Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger as sisters, with all purity." Sometimes we call each other "brother" or "sister." Why? Because we are brothers and sisters. Many times our spiritual relationships with other believers are much more intimate than our flesh and blood relationships with members of our physical families.
Fourth, as a family we bond together. I love watching a new believer come into the family of faith and grow up in the Lord. It is like watching a child grow in my physical family. Some of us are children; some of us are older siblings. Some of us are parents and grandparents spiritually. When a person is saved, he becomes part of the huge family of God! Let’s examine Mark Ch.10vv28-31.
Fifth, as a family we pass on our Father’s characteristics. The physical traits found in our genetic codes are passed on to our physical families. In a much more important way, in our spiritual family, we have characteristics passed on to us by our Heavenly Father (righteousness, holiness, and fruits of the Spirit). This is why we try to be sure people are "born again" before they become part of this church. If they don’t have the spiritual family likeness, they won’t fit in and there will be no peace.
D. As A Family We Can Be At Home Together:
Someone has said, "Home is a place, where when you show up, they have to let you in." I love to be at home with my physical family. There I don’t have to act ministerial. I can wear my favourite pair of old Levi’s, faded beyond blue with holes in both knees. I don’t have to shave on my day off at home. I can take a nap in the middle of the den floor. I can be at home! In much the same way, we can be at home with our spiritual family. We can be ourselves, not some plastic ministerial image of what a good Christian should be. I don’t mean that you should be so at home that you wear your oldest jeans and don’t shave! I do mean that you can be you.
What an impact a family of God can have!
A travelling man came into a hotel to secure a room for the night. Upon being informed that every room in the building had been taken, he was naturally quite perturbed, until a portly gentleman standing nearby kindly offered to share his room with him. The offer was thankfully accepted. Upon retiring, the portly man knelt and prayed, tenderly mentioning his guest for the night in his petition. In the morning his host informed him that it was his custom to read a portion of the Word of God and pray before taking up the responsibilities of the day. The effect upon the man was moving; a strange feeling came over him; something had been working in his heart all the night. When gently pressed by this stranger to accept the Lord Jesus as his personal Saviour, his resistance went down in a heap. A soul had been won for Christ! But who is this humble ambassador of Christ, who so strikingly resembles a member of President Wilson's cabinet? When business cards were exchanged before parting, to the guest's amazement he read, "William Jennings Bryan, Secretary of State."
James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 400.
3. We Are Stones In God’s Temple! vv.20-22.
Let’s examine three elements in God’s temple: the foundation, the Cornerstone and the building stones.
A. The Foundation Of The Temple:
The Teaching Of The Apostles And Prophets.
Notice the tense of the verb, we have "been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets." This is past tense. "The apostles and prophets" have already laid the "foundation." You don’t put up the walls until the foundation is laid. For 2,000 years God has built His church on that "foundation" that was laid out in the 1st century. We have a historic faith!
What "foundation" did "the apostles and prophets" lay? They laid a "foundation" of divine revelation and God-breathed teaching. "Prophets" were not OT but NT mouthpieces of God. They were extremely important servants of the kingdom. They are not the "foundation," but the teaching they left behind, specifically the NT is the "foundation" upon which our faith is built. Look with me to 1 Cor.3v10-11. Here Paul describes himself, an apostle as "a wise master builder," an architect… but Jesus is the "foundation." Do you see the point, anyone that denies the full revelation of the NT denies Jesus.
B. The Cornerstone Of The Temple:
The Lord Jesus Christ:
Paul leaves no doubt, "Jesus Christ Himself" is "the chief cornerstone." The "cornerstone" was the major structural part of the buildings of ancient Palestine. It had to be laid out perfectly and it had to be strong enough to support the full weight of the building because everything else depended on it. The "cornerstone" of the Jerusalem temple was 29 feet long and the size of a railroad boxcar.
John MacArthur writes: "The cornerstone was the support, the orienteer and the unifier of the entire building. That is what Jesus Christ is to God’s kingdom, God’s family and God’s building." For centuries throughout Israel’s history, the "cornerstone" was a metaphor of the coming Messiah. Hundreds of years before Christ, Isaiah proclaimed, "Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily be disappointed" Isa.28V16. Psalm Ch.118v22 says, "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone." As Jesus quoted that verse in Matt.21v42, He added "This was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes" As the "cornerstone" of the church, Jesus supports us all. He holds us together. He determines our symmetry, shape and style. Psalm Ch.18v46 cries out, "The LORD lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let the God of my salvation be exalted." End Quote!
C. The Building Stones of the Temple:
Paul uses the same analogy found in 1 Peter Ch.2v5 which says, "You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house." If Jesus is the "cornerstone" and the divine teaching of the apostles is the "foundation," then we, believers are the "living stones" of the building.
Psalm Ch.40v2 says, "He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, Out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock." Jesus took us as dead stones from the pit of sin, gave us life and now shapes us to be "fitted together" as "living stones" of His "holy temple." The phrase "fitted together" comes from a Greek term that suggests that every stone is set in place perfectly. This means nothing is misplaced, misshapen, or imperfect. Using a carpenter’s term, everything is "plumb." Together, as a "holy temple" we are a "dwelling place of God." Though we may call a building a church or even "God’s house," it is just brick, mortar and wood. The real "temple" is the people. We are the church; we are God’s house, His "holy temple" wherever we meet!
The building is not yet complete. God is still adding stones. It will not be complete until everyone who will believe has. We are like the great cathedrals of Europe that took centuries to build. You’ve seen those headless frames painted to represent a muscle man, a clown, or even a bathing beauty? Some of us have had our pictures taken this way, and the photos are humorous because the head doesn't fit the body. As we picture Christ as the head of this local body of believers, would the world laugh at the misfit or would they stand in awe?
Once Arturo Toscanini was rehearsing the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in playing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. They played through the entire work without interruption. After the finale there was a long silence. Everyone was moved by the music. Then Toscanini spoke. "Who am I? Who is Toscanini? I am nobody. It is Beethoven. He is everything." In the church, Christ is everything. He is "all in all."
Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
My brothers and sisters, if we could but put this thought into practice how powerful the church of Jesus Christ would be in a world of fallen mankind. Let us therefore build His church with joy and allow the world to see the joy of the Lord which is our strength.