Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 07/12/1998
" . . . in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit."
As we've said some 37 times since we began these studies, God's eternal purpose is to build his Church, and that purpose and that building are the great themes of Ephesians. Last week we saw something of the blueprint of this grand temple constructed of living stones to the glory of Jesus Christ: it is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus being the chief cornerstone. That is, it must be founded on Scripture in such a way that the Old and New Testaments are seen to have their common focal point in Jesus Christ. Today we learn something of the construction techniques by which the structure goes up on that foundation and something of the purpose for which it is being built. Let us examine these verse carefully, for they set Paul off on a train of thought that will carry him half way through chapter four.
To understand this passage fully we must first see how it fits in to the whole argument of the book. Chapter one was an overview of God's work in salvation. 2:1-10 goes back and takes a more detailed look at one aspect of that work: the regeneration of sinners by Grace, so that those who were dead in their sins can become living stones. Then 2:11-22 is concerned to bring those saved people, those living stones, together into the one structure of the Church. Today we see that this section concludes with the idea of the Growth of that building into a holy temple. Therefore, in 3:1 Paul will say, "For this reason . . ." For what reason? Because God is growing his Church. But then in 3:1-13, Paul gets carried away into a digression, a "tangent" as it were, marveling over the wonder of God's grace. In 3:14 he returns to the thought in 3:1, repeating "for this reason." It is the same "for this reason," meaning that we are now returning to the train of thought at the end of chapter two: the growth of the Church. So 3:14-21 is growth viewed from the standpoint of the individual Christian until Christ dwells in his heart and he is filled up to all the fullness of God with the knowledge of the love that surpasses knowledge (3:17-19). 4:1-16 then is concerned with the corporate growth of the Church through the spiritual gifts of the individual members. Finally, 4:17 to the end of the book turns to how we should live in the light of our position in this growing Temple which is the Church. All this flows from the passage we are looking at today! So it is a crucial passage indeed, and we must understand its message if we are to follow the rest of the Epistle.
Undoubtedly as Paul wrote this verse he was thinking of Herod's Temple in Jerusalem and Solomon's Temple in the Old Testament. Both used the same remarkable technique of construction explained in 1 Kings 6:7. "And the house, while it was being built, was built of stone prepared at the quarry, and there was neither hammer nor axe nor any iron tool heard in the house while it was being built." The stones were pre-cut with tongue and groove at the quarry for a specific pre-planned position in the growing walls, cut so perfectly that no mortar was needed. When they got to the site, they only had to be set in place. And so well was this done that I am told that at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, which is all that is left of Herod's Temple, the fit is so perfect that after 2,000 years it is still impossible to insert the blade of a knife into the seams and joints between them. That is the idea behind the phrase "fitted together."
Now, we must not press this analogy too hard. Some of us Stones still need a great deal of chipping after we get to the site! But clearly by reminding us of this picture Paul has two emphases. First is the Individuality of the Stones. Each was designed for a specific spot in the wall. These were not prefabricated bricks, not interchangeable cogs in some ecclesiastical machine. Each was unique and irreplaceable, and if any were missing the building would be incomplete. The primary job of the workers after the stone was on the site was to find the place prepared for it and set it in that place properly. And yet this is the one part of Temple construction that is sadly neglected today. Have you found your niche? Your place of service? Are you exercising your spiritual gift(s)? Do you even know what they are? If not, the process of building grinds to a halt, the whole project suffers, and you yourself are unfulfilled. Most churches today are just collecting the stones together, but never set them in their places so that they become load-bearing parts of the walls.
The second emphasis that flows from this picture is on the Preparation of the Stones. A great deal has to happen before you become part of the Church! What is that preparation? Conviction of sin, calling to faith by the Holy Spirit, leading to repentance and faith and the new birth. It means a change of attitude from "I'm OK" to "God be merciful to me, a sinner." It is a change from "I am the captain of my fate" to "Jesus Christ is Lord." It means a change from being dead in sin to being alive in Christ. Now, as I said, this metaphor must not be pressed too hard. There is a lot of growth that must still take place after we are set into the wall, a lot that can only take place after that. But if these changes have not taken place, you are not yet a Christian at all, not yet ready to be placed in the Church.
It follows that a lot of churches are trying to build with stones that do not fit. They pile them up at the construction site and say, "but look how big we are!" But it is all raw material and scaffolding. Very little actual construction is taking place at all, because the prescribed techniques are not being followed. After all, it takes a lot more scaffolding and machinery when you are trying to build with uncut, unprepared stones! And when all that scaffolding comes down, what has been built? Very little.
Once the prepared, i.e., regenerate, saved stones have been set into the wall, the metaphor shifts from the architectural to the biological. Now the building becomes a Body, and as such it grows. How? By the stones being fitted in place (4:15-16). It does not matter how sound the doctrine, how deep the teaching, how powerful the preaching, how up to date the methods: saints who are content to remain spectators will not grow in grace, and a church made up of them, i.e., of saints not set in place in the walls but just lying around the construction site not bearing their load in the structure, will not grow either. I only mention this principle today, for it will engage our attention throughout much of chapters 3 and 4.
Two things are said about the purpose for which all this is being done. First, it is a Holy Temple. Holiness should be the mark of the Church. What is holiness? It is not wearing black, it is not a reverent (or bored) tone of voice; it has nothing to do with stained glass, candlelight, or incense (though these things may have their place). The root meaning of holiness is Separation. It refers to being set apart from the world, set apart for God. It means separation from all which is impure, defiled, or sinful. It therefore means a positive and powerful goodness, godliness. Is that the first impression the Church gives today? Do people say, "There's something different about those folks. They are not like the rest of the world. There is an integrity in their walk, a goodness in their attitudes, a strength of their character, a wholesomeness in their approach to living that I do not find outside the circle of their fellowship." Is that what people say about us? It will be to the extent that we are being built into a Holy temple.
Second, and more basically, the Church is to be a dwelling of God. I say more basic because it is the presence of God that makes the Temple holy. Not all the most elaborate preparations, the finest materials, the most advanced construction techniques, the best of intentions can make a temple holy. Not all the sincerity, self sacrifice, and celebration of ritual on the part of the members can make a temple holy. Only the presence of God can do that. And therefore we return to the place where we finished last week. To be a citizen of the Kingdom is to live under God; to be a part of his Family is to live with him; but to be his Temple is for God to live in you. And that is the ultimate end toward which all this teaching leads us.
The upshot of it all is this: when the Stones have been prepared, and when they find their place in the load bearing walls, their places of service, THEN the assembling of the Congregation together will fill the sanctuary with a powerful and undeniable manifestation of the presence of God. Then people will be saved and lives will be transformed and the whole building, being fitted together, will grow into a holy temple in the Lord. That is what we should pray for and work toward above everything else. Will you?
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams