The Churchs One Foundation
October 21, 2012 / No. 3642
Dear Radio Friends,
In our last radio broadcast we began our consideration of the central theme of this letter to the Ephesian church: the mystery of the church. God in His great mercy has blended together into one the saints of the Old Testament with the saints of the New Testament. All peoples, languages, and races of people are now a part of what had been given only to a select body of people before the advent of Christ. Christï¿½s church has broken outside the bounds of Old Testament Israel. It now embraces believers out of all of the world. In Christ we are all members of Godï¿½s household. We are members of His family. We live together with God in the same household.
It is with that in mind that Paul now describes the church in Ephesians 2:20-22 as a building fitly framed together. We read:
And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
The church is compared here to the structure of the temple ï¿½Godï¿½s dwelling place, or Godï¿½s house. We are built into Godï¿½s house founded on, or built upon, Jesus Christ. We consider today the churchï¿½s one foundation.
In these few verses before us Paul compares the church to the structure of the temple in Jerusalemï¿½not that of the temple built in Ephesus in honor of Diana, the goddess of the Ephesians. Paul directs the attention of these Ephesian believers to the temple of Jehovah. Notice, verse 21: you are fitly framed together unto a holy temple in the Lord. Or again, in verse 22: you are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit. The temple to which the church is compared is the temple where Jehovah abode and shared in fellowship with His people.
Paul uses this particular comparison to call our attention to a couple of important truths concerning the church. First of all, the temple was ï¿½fitly framed together.ï¿½ It was made up of various materials, all put together meticulously in their place in order that it might be the temple of God. The temple in Solomonï¿½s day especially, but to a large degree also the temple of Herod that now stood in Jerusalem, was built to a particular specification. Stones, marble, wood, precious metals such as gold, silver, and brass, tapestriesï¿½all were fashioned exactly and joined together for their particular place in the temple. There were certain pillars, certain rooms, certain furniture that were set exactly in their places in that temple in order to function together. All of these various parts had their own special place in the beauty, solemnity, and worship of this building. They were all fitly framed together, or joined together in just the right order, that they together became the one structure of the templeï¿½the place of Godï¿½s habitation. Everything in its particular place, each item serving its own particular function, yet in such a way that it lent to the beauty and harmony of the whole.
In the second place, the figure Paul uses here also points out how this building grew into the temple. Notice verse 21: ï¿½…in whom the building fitly framed together groweth unto a temple.ï¿½ There were indeed various stages in the building up of the temple. The foundation had to be laid with its cornerstones. That was the first stage in building the temple. The walls were then built upon that foundation. The pillars were raised, and the roof was framed. The furniture and decorations were then added, and so on. The point is, there were various stages of development that the construction of the temple had to go through in order for it to grow into its completed form: a temple. All these stages of development took time, and all took place exactly as the master architect ordered.
All of this applies so precisely, so beautifully, to Godï¿½s building up of His church throughout the ages! In the first place, the church of Jesus Christ in this world, like a building, consists of different materials or parts. Paul tells these Gentile believers in Ephesus and the church today that we are built together for an habitation of God. All of Godï¿½s saints, all the individual members of the church, both Old and New Testament (Jews and Gentiles), are built together to make up this temple. We have spoken of this in connection with the church as the body of Christ. All of us are members of that body, having our own particular work and function in that body, yet having our value only as part of the body. The same is true of this example used here in our text by Paul. We are all a piece of the temple of God. Some of us are boards, some stones, some precious metals. Some of us are a part of the roof, others of uppermost courses of stones in the walls, still others are pillars, and so on. Each one of us has his own particular place in the structure of the building, and that in such a way that, without each of us, that building of the church would be incomplete.
Do you see what that implies, people of God? God, the Master Architect, takes people from every walk of life, from every station in life, and from every nation and language and fits them into the building of His church. We may be a man of great wealth and affluence, or we may be a poor laborer, but God takes us and gives us our own particular place in the church. We may be an outgoing and lovable character, or we may be a hard-to-get-along-with, stubborn old saint, but God gives us a place in the church. We may be a Jew or a Gentile, yet God takes each and every one of us and places us in the building of His church. And we all have our particular purpose and function in that church. The church is incomplete without us. Sometimes it may take finding our particular place and work, but it is there!
But the blessed aspect of the church is that we are built together with the rest of the church. We are fitly framed together, we are closely joined by God to the rest of the members of the church to form the church. We do not function alone. In fact, we have no value at all apart from our place in the church. We are but a single stone or a piece of wood. We are useless until God by His grace joins us in perfect harmony with the other members of the church. And the function we have in the church is always in perfect harmony with the function of others.
All of this comes to manifestation in the church institute, where believers join themselves together under Christ their head. So if we were to step back and take a good look at the church, we would see that it is not the individual parts of the church in themselves that are the beauty of the church. The beauty and glory of the church is that together all these parts blend together with one another to form the whole. And that whole is the templeï¿½the very abode of God!
That brings us to the second feature of the church of Christ that is pictured in the figure of the building of the temple. The church grows! It grows into that temple. The completion of the temple where God dwells comes about through various stages of development. In each of these stages God takes time to develop and build the church in all its beauty. This could not be clearer to the saints in Ephesus. The church had just entered into a new stage in her development. The plan of the building of Christï¿½s church was laid out in eternity. The first stage of the development of the church was found in the church before the Flood. Then there was the church during the time of the patriarchs. The church entered into another stage of building under the law of commandments contained in ordinancesï¿½the nation of Israel. Now Christ had come and brought the Old Testament stage of development to an end. The courses of stone that made up the walls of the temple were now in place. The church was now freed from the bondage of the law of commandments, from the ceremonies of the Old Testament law. The church had come of age. She now stood in the liberty of the sons of God. The church had grown up.
Now God would add to His church all the gold, silver, precious jewels, and tapestries in order to beautify his temple. The Gentiles had now been grafted in! She was soon to reach the full glory and beauty as the temple of God.
Ah, beloved saints, today the finishing touches of the church are being made. The building of Godï¿½s church has reached its last stages. We dwell in the last days. Soon that building will be completed and will shine forth in all its beauty unto eternity as the habitation of God. Together we belong to that one glorious church that has been built from the beginning of time. God has built His church throughout the ages. What a beautiful building!
There is another aspect of this figure that we have not yet consideredï¿½perhaps the most important aspect. A building that is built upon the sand may look nice for a long time, but it has no firm foundation. And when the winds come and blow upon that building, then that building will topple and fall. It will be ruined and destroyed. This temple of Godï¿½s church must be built therefore on a firm and solid foundation, or the building is useless. For this reason we ought to consider our strength as Godï¿½s people. This is why Paul writes in verse 20 that ï¿½we are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.ï¿½ We are built together, we are fitly framed together, but none of this means anything if we are not built upon this firm foundation.
Notice the figure once again. A foundation is that upon which the entire house is built. When we go to a place where a house is just being started, then we will see the excavating crew dig a large trench. In that trench, forms will be constructed and into those forms the cement truck will pour his concrete. When this concrete dries and the forms are taken away, we will see a solid, concrete foundation in the ground. And on that foundation the entire house will now be built. In Jesusï¿½ day, however, they did not have the convenience of cement trucks. Their foundations were built out of large stones that, for the most part, rested upon the foundation stoneï¿½the cornerstone. The cornerstone was a huge boulder, a rock hewn out of the mountainside specially for the purpose of upholding the entire foundation. It was the stone upon which all the stones of the entire foundation rested. It determined the size and shape of the building, but it was the strength of the building as well. It held both the building and the foundation up.
Vital to the building of Godï¿½s temple was its chief cornerstone. There may have been other cornerstones in the huge structure of the temple, but there was one and only chief cornerstone upon which this structure was determined. The same is true of the church. Vital to the building of Godï¿½s church is our cornerstone, which is Christ. Upon Him alone the entire structure of the church throughout the ages rests. From the very beginning of time to the end the church rests upon Jesus Christ. In Christ, we are told in verse 21, all the building grows unto a holy temple. Only as we are cemented together with Christ in the structure of the church are we able to stand as a church in this world. In fact, our beauty and our glory is found in the fact that we are built upon Christ.
How is this true? How is it that Christ must be viewed as the cornerstone of the church? This is a reality in eternity already. Peter tells us in I Peter 2 that God from eternity carefully chose this precious cornerstone, and in that counsel of our God the church was chosen in Him. He was ordained first of all, and all the members of the church were chosen only as from all eternity they were viewed by God in Him.
In time, too, the church is built upon Christ. Consider ourselves, people of God, apart from Christï¿½what are we? We are nothing more than pieces of scrap thrown upon a pile and ready to be cast out. Such is what our spiritual state has rendered us. We are not only useless, but undesirable in ourselves. We are so polluted with our sin. When man fell into sin, we were cast upon the pile by God to be burned. But God in His great mercy and grace sent Jesus Christ into this world. And Christ not only removed us from the pile but made us beautiful in His blood. He cleansed us and then took us and most graciously put us in the building of the church. He made us a part of the churchï¿½that grand and glorious temple of God in this world. He made us valuable in connection with Him. In that way we, not only as individual believers, but also as a church in this world are built upon Him. We find and draw our life out of Him and His work for us. He even now lives as the very head of His church and reigns over all things for the benefit of that church. We can definitely say, as Paul does in our text, that we are a holy temple in the Lord, that is, as united together with Christ by faith.
Upon that foundation stone which is Christ is built the foundation of the church itself. This foundation, we find, is made up of the stones of the apostles and prophets. Remember, we said that the foundation must also be strong if it is to hold up a building. The temple of God is strong only as it is built upon a solid and firm foundation. That firm foundation that God now lays upon Christ (who, remember, is both the strength and stay of the foundation as well as of the whole building), that rock solid foundation, is the apostles and prophets. Sounds pretty shaky to me! Iï¿½m sorry, but the apostles and prophets were just men as I am. They were sinners who were prone to stumble and fall just as I am. They not only sinned, but they certainly could make mistakes. That sounds like a pretty shaky foundation to me! The church rests upon mere men. Even if these men rest upon Christ, they are still but men. That makes a very weak foundation! Yet, that is what Godï¿½s Word here says. And though the Romish church still insists that the church in fact rests upon mere men, this cannot be the meaning of our text.
Consider who the prophets and apostles were. They were ministers of the Word of God. To the prophets in the Old Testament and the apostles in the New, we learn in II Corinthians 15:9, was entrusted the Word of reconciliation. We learn in II Peter 1:19-21 that they were given a sure Word of prophecy to which we do well to take heed. It is not therefore the prophets or apostles themselves personally upon which the church is built. It is upon the Word that they were led by the Spirit of truth to speak and infallibly record for us in the Scriptures. The Scriptures are the firm foundation referred to here in our text. The Bible is the authoritative Word of God to His church. And the apostles and prophets were used by God to record that infallible Word.
Do you see what this implies, dear listener? First of all, if we as a church institute or as believers throw away the infallible Scriptures as wholly and completely the Word of God, then we have lost our foundation! A true church of Jesus Christ is one that is built upon the Word of God, and therefore upon the apostles and prophets. Deny the Bible, remove sections of it, say that it is not word-for-word the Word of God to His church, then your foundation is destroyed and your church will crumble and fall. The same is true if you place the authority of the church above that of the Bible. The Scriptures are our highest authority. They alone determine truth! Deny this and you are no longer a true church of Christ, because the Bible is the firm foundation of the church that rests upon Christ! Christï¿½s church is built upon the foundation of the Word of God as spoken through the mouths of Godï¿½s teachers and ambassadors.
The end or completion of this building is that it is a holy temple. The church of all ages founded on the apostles and prophets has, dwelling in her midst, God Himself. Just as God dwelt between the cherubim in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, so also does God dwell in his church. She is a holy temple. In her is the presence of the holy God. And He dwells in her though His Spirit. The Spirit of truth is in the church and leads and guides her in this world. That same Spirit dwells in each of us as individual members of the church, leading and directing us. God very really therefore dwells in His church. Now already. In heaven the building of the church will be completed. There God will dwell in us perfectly. But already now we are the holy temple of Jehovah. God is in the midst of her! In that we find the glory of the church.
The church is not an institution of man. It is a divine institution established, preserved, and indwelt by God Himself. It is an institution that is founded on salvation from sin, earned for us through the cross of Jesus Christ. It is not an institution set up by God to provide social services. It is not a social club reserved for the families of the social elite. It is a highly spiritual institution that administers the Gospel to sinnersï¿½to poor, wretched, miserable sinners. In that is found the beauty and grace of the church. There is nothing in this world that can compare to her! There is no one in the world that can be happier than those who are a part of that true church of Jesus Christ! And there is no other institution that can replace the church in the affections of Godï¿½s saints! We swear allegiance to the Lord of that church. We are no more strangers or foreigners. We belong to the family of God!