Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 7/5/98
"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the corner stone."
In the first half of chapter 2, as we have seen, Paul discusses the regeneration of sinners, once dead in trespasses and sins, now made alive through the death of Christ by faith. In the second half, he joins those redeemed sinners from every tongue, tribe, and nation together into one Body, the Church. Thus God works to construct the grand Temple to the praise and glory of Jesus Christ which Ephesians is about. In v. 19, he pauses to sum up the results and implications of that joining process: "So, then . . ." He now gives us three pictures of what this great Church God is building is like: it is like a Kingdom ("fellow citizens"), a Family ("God's household"), and a Temple, indeed a Temple laid on a foundation on which we can build our lives with the confidence that what we build will matter and will last. If we could ever truly realize what it means to be a part of the Church of Jesus Christ, what a great privilege it is, it would revolutionize our whole approach to worship, to Christian service, to fellowship, to evangelism, indeed to the whole Christian life. Let us therefore examine each of these pictures carefully today.
Being part of the Church is first like being a citizen of a country, of a kingdom. Indeed, the message of Christ was first known as "the Gospel of the Kingdom."
Now, I have always been a very patriotic person, as long as I can remember. Don't get me wrong--I do not believe in "America right or wrong"; I am aware that we are not a "Christian" nation (if we ever were) and that there is much about us of which we ought to be ashamed. But we were founded on the right ideals, even if we have not always lived up to them. So I have always been stirred by stories about our Founding Fathers and the Revolutionary War. When I was a boy, I thought King George III was evil incarnate and religious freedom the greatest of causes for which one could live or die. From a young age I responded to the magnificent rhetoric of the Revolution with chills down my spine. I agreed with Patrick Henry when he said, "I know not what course others may take, but as for me: give me liberty, or give me death!" I empathized with Nathan Hale, whose only regret was that he had "but one life to give for my country." I seconded the Continental Congress when it held "these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights." For, indeed, the only way rights can be inalienable is if they are endowed by the Creator. When the signers of that Declaration pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, I wished I had lived then so I could have pledged mine too. I have never understood people who, at a ball game, do not stand with their hands over their hearts during the National Anthem. I feel ashamed of such people; I feel ashamed for them.
Now, when kept in perspective, I still believe that such feelings are good and right. But I ask you: How do you feel about your citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven? Sometimes we must be ashamed of America; sometimes we must oppose her. But as citizens of the Kingdom, we have a King who will never be touched by scandal, a King of whose justice and mercy and power and glory and wisdom and majesty all that is good in America is but a faint and imperfect reflection. As Americans we live under a Constitution that is the most perfect political document ever written by man. As Christians, our Constitution, our Declaration of Independence, are the most perfect words inspired by God himself. As an American you enjoy the greatest temporal blessings to be found on the face of the earth. As Christians, you enjoy every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.
Would you die for America? If not, I say that you are not even worthy to breathe the same air as the men of my father's generation who put their lives on the line to stop Hitler in WWII, or our brethren who are doing the same thing against Al Quaeda in Afghanistan as I retype this for the Website. Would you give your life for the Heavenly Kingdom? It is easy to say so when we sit here in safety and martyrdom is a distant possibility. But it is a present reality for our brethren in many parts of the world at this moment. Would you die for the Heavenly Kingdom? How much more ought we to pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honors for the cause of Christ! For we are fellow citizens with the saints.
But we are not just subjects of this King; we are his brothers and sisters, adopted by his Father, members of his family. If the privilege of being a citizen of Heaven is great, this is incomparably greater. For if the one privilege is political, the other is personal. If the one is official, the other is intimate. In the one case we are citizens; in the other we are sons. If the one elicits a pride that swells the chest, this evokes a love that fills the heart.
I am not going to dwell on this point today because we spoke much of the doctrine of Adoption in chapter one. But have you stopped to think about what we mean when we use cliches like "brother [or sister] in Christ?" When we pray, "Our Father, who art in Heaven?"
Children of the heavenly Father Safely in his bosom gather. Nestling bird nor star in heaven Such a refuge ne'er was given. God his own doth tend and nourish; In his holy courts they flourish. From all evil things he spares them; In his mighty arms he bears them. Neither life nor death shall ever From the Lord his children sever. Unto them his grace he showeth, And their sorrows all he knoweth. Though he giveth or he taketh, God his children ne'er forsaketh. His the loving purpose solely To preserve them pure and holy.
We start as a kingdom, proceed to being a family, and now we end up as a building? This progression might seem at first glance to be anticlimactic, moving from the political to the personal to the merely physical. But that is because we do not really understand the nature and purpose of a Temple as the metaphor is being applied to us. For this arrangement is truly as climactic as well could be imagined. As citizens we live under God; as his household, we dwell with God; as a Temple, God dwells in us. This metaphor, along with that of the Body, is the highest expression of our relationship to Christ, our unity with him, our destiny in him. (Note how Paul mixes his metaphors in chapter 4, speaking of the "body" being "built.") So this truly is a climactic progression of increasing intimacy, and we are now arrived at the climax. But having expended all my powers of rhetoric in extolling the virtues of the privilege which is ours as citizens and as sons, I have nothing left that is adequate for this. Nevertheless, let us try to notice a few important things about this Temple. The focus is on its foundation.
Now, when I was trying to put myself through graduate school, I worked several summers on construction crews. And there I learned enough about the construction business to know that the most important part of any building is its foundation. If it is not right and square, nothing else will be. If it is not firm, nothing else will stand. Well, this foundation is the prophets and the apostles, squared up on Christ as the chief cornerstone. What does this mean? The prophets and the apostles are shorthand for the Old Testament and the New Testament. The function of a cornerstone in ancient architecture was both to support and tie together the walls. Therefore, what Paul means by this strange language is this: FOR THE CHURCH TO BE BUILT PROPERLY, IT MUST BE BASED ON THE BIBLE IN SUCH A WAY THAT BOTH THE OLD TESTAMENT AND THE NEW TESTAMENT ARE SEEN TO HAVE THEIR COMMON FOCAL POINT IN JESUS CHRIST.
What does this mean in practical terms? Have you not visited liberal churches? I have been to places where the entire sermon could pass by without a single mention of Jesus Christ. Of if he does make an appearance, he is unrecognizable, for there is no focus or emphasis on his deity, his blood, his resurrection, or his coming again. The whole life of such "churches" could be carried on if such things were not even in the Bible. Do not be fooled by the name over the door! If it is not built on the foundation, it is not part of the building.
And therefore we must ask of every aspect of our own ministry: What has this to do with Jesus Christ? Does it proclaim his Gospel? Advance his Kingdom? Highlight the beauty and holiness and majesty of his character? Stir us up to gratitude for his grace, obedience to his will, adoration of his person, enjoyment of his world, longing for his appearing, love for his people, zeal for his cause? If not, we want nothing to do with it. For we are "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the corner stone."
Is your life built on the foundation? Is your church being built so? Is Jesus Christ the cornerstone? Is he the main focal point and support of your life, the goal of your existence? Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid. You are either building on the rock or you are mired in the quicksand. Receive him as your Lord and Savior today. Pledge your life, you fortune, and your sacred honor, and become a citizen of his Kingdom. Love and honor him as a member of his family. And let him indwell you as his Temple, building your life on "the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the corner stone."
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams