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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:The Building of God's House (Nation)
Text:Ephesians 2:19-22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Communion of Saints
 
Added:2007-12-17
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Read:  1 Peter 2: 4-12; Ephesians 2: 11-22
                       
Text:    Ephesians 2: 19-22
 
Sing:    Psalm 122: 1, 2, 3
            Psalm 147: 1, 6
            Psalm 118: 6, 7
            Psalm 84: 1, 2, 5
            Hymn 56: 3    
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
            All around us there is lots of building going on. Alberta is seeing a construction boom. Many of us live in neighbourhoods where all kinds of structures are being erected. And so, most of us are able to see structures being erected from the foundation up. Most likely just about all of us have been part of the building project in one way or the other, whether remodelling our own home, building a home from scratch, or being part of the building industry. And so we all have somewhat of an understanding of the building process. If you want to do it right, then you have to pay close attention to a lot of detail. A lot of skill and patience are required, along with all kinds of tools and material.
            Above all you need to have a skilled builder in charge of the whole project. He has to see to it that all the trades and sub trades work harmoniously together, and that they all work from the same building plan. If that is not the case, then the building won’t stand up to the ravages of time.
            In the text of this morning the apostle Paul also speaks about the erection of a building. That building, however, is not made up of ordinary bricks and mortar, or of regular wood or nails. No, that building has as foundation the apostles and prophets. The people are the stones. And so they are living stones. And the cornerstone, the most important stone of the building, is Christ himself. He is the one who gives shape and direction to that building.
            Paul uses this analogy of the church as a building to make us understand the concept of church. He uses different analogies as well. He also speaks about God’s church as God’s nation, or as God’s household.
            By using these metaphors he wants us to understand how everything fits together, how God is involved, and how we are involved in the church. He describes to us what a church should look like and who should belong to it. He describes to us how the church is put together.
            The question is, do we have the same vision as Christ? Do we want to build a church in the same way that Christ has shown us? Are we living and constructive members of God’s household? Do we want to use the same kind of stones as he does? In other words, do we want to include the same kinds of people as God does? Do we afford the same privileges and honour to everyone within God’s house? I will preach to you this morning about: 
THE BUILDING OF GOD’S HOUSE (NATION). In that house (nation) you are:
            1. Equal stones (fellow citizens);
            2. Solidly founded (secure citizens);
            3. Constantly under construction (full citizens).
            In chapter 2 of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul concerns himself with the relationship between the Gentiles and the Jews. He wanted to clear up any misunderstanding and any misconception about their relationship to God and to each other. In so doing Paul wanted to make sure that the Christian Jews understand that the Gentiles are not second-class citizens of God’s kingdom.
            Why do you think he would deem that necessary? Well, the Jews had always seen themselves as God’s special people. They are his nation. They are the apple of his eye. They have privileges that the other nations do not have. You would think, however, that when they became converted to Christianity that then their thinking would change. However, that was not right away the case. Some of them continued to see themselves as special in God’s sight. It is very hard to change long-held attitudes. That's also hard for us today. There are also people in our midst whom we, in our own minds, relegate to second-class citizenship.
            And so Paul deems it necessary to elaborate on this. Leading up to this text he reminds the Ephesians that the dividing wall between the nations has been abolished by the blood of Christ. There is no longer any hostility between them. No, the Lord Jesus Christ has united the Jews and the Gentiles. Christ has made the two one.
            What is the result? Well, that is what he explains in our text. He says that they’re no longer foreigners and aliens. Foreigners are those people who travel in a country where they have no citizenship. They are strangers there. They do not have rights there.
            That is even the case today. If you want to settle in a foreign nation, then you first must become a citizen, or at least a landed immigrant, before you are allowed to work, get a driver’s license, or obtain health care or other government benefits. There are other restrictions as well. That is because you just don’t belong.
            Paul also speaks about aliens. Aliens are those people who dwell in the midst of a nation, but who do not have full citizenship. That was the status, for example, of the Gibeonites in Israel. They were second-class citizens. They were allowed to live in the land of Israel, but they were not really part of it. They were a nation within a nation. Although they lived in Israel, they were not really part of it. They were distinct. They had to fend for themselves.
            That is also how it used to be for the Gentile Ephesians to whom Paul writes. Ephesus is, of course, not in the land of Israel. Paul is referring to the spiritual Israel. He says, at one time you were excluded from that. For he says to the Ephesians in verse 12, “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.”
            Well, says Paul, that is no longer the case for you today. That does not happen in the new Israel. There are no foreigners in God’s nation. You are all fellow citizens. You are all part of God’s nation. When it comes to citizenship, there are no differences between you. Everybody has the same rights and privileges and responsibilities. There are no strangers or aliens in God’s kingdom.
            In order to illustrate that further, he comes with another metaphor. He uses the image of a family. For he says that they are together members of God’s household. To equate nationhood with family is an easy transmission for Paul to make. Israel was like a family. They all have the same ancestor. They are all children of Abraham. They are related to each other. And so they are a family together. As family you look after each other. You protect each other. You understand each other. You speak the same language. You have the same customs. You are familiar with each other.
            By extension Paul also refers to a smaller family unit. However, the Israelites had a different understanding of family as we do today. A family did not consist of just members closely related by blood, as it is with us today. No, when you spoke about a family in those days, then you would include the extended family. It would be a father and mother with their married children and their children. The family also included the servants. When you referred to the family then you included all of them.
            Within a well functioning family there is intimacy. There is fellowship. You eat and you sleep together. You play games together. You talk together and you share with one another. You cry and you laugh together.
            Well, says Paul, that is also how it is with you. As members of God’s household you have a very intimate relationship with each other and with God. The word that Paul uses in the Greek language for ‘household’ is the same word that the Greeks use for the building itself, for the house. We do the same thing with regard to church. When we speak about a church, then we can refer to the building, or to the people. And so, it is an easy transition for him to make from household to house. He says, together you make up the building.
            In order to describe the many facets of the church he develops that image further, so that they understand even better how they relate to each other. He says, they are not just the inhabitants of that building, but they are also the living stones. The apostle Peter uses that same image in 1 Peter 2:5, where he says, “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood.”
            We are living stones. We are both the building and the content of the building. As living stones we are also the builders. For God uses man to build his church. We have to build each other up. We have to reach out to one another and to include one another. 
            Let me ask you, how is that here in this church? No doubt, there are a lot of positive things happening here in his church. Good fellowship. I would not be surprised if the Lord would commend you for the way that you are building.
            But, there is always room for improvement. This church is far from perfect. And therefore each and every one of us must look at himself to see whether or not he is contributing to the building of the church. Don’t look at others. No, look at yourself.
            And so let me ask you, what kind of living stone, what kind of builder are you? Do you want to include the same building blocks as Lord Jesus wants to include? Remember what he said, we are all fellow citizens. The Lord Jesus includes all kinds of people. He also includes stones, for example, that have rough edges. And stones that are a little bit cracked. He uses stones of different shapes and sizes and colours. And he uses weak stones as well. And he harmoniously arranges them so that the structure becomes a beautiful building with much variety and great strength. In order to erect such a building, you have to strengthen the weak stones, and shave off the rough edges of the other ones, and cut down the ones who are too large because of their swollen heads. We must all be molded into the right shape. That is how God is building his church, and that is how we should be building the church.            
            It takes a lot of work and adjustment in order to build a building like that. It is a lot easier to throw the stones with the rough edges and the odd shapes out. God, however, does not do that. He includes the brother and sister, for example, who had a difficult childhood, and who because of that have difficulty relating to others. He includes those who are difficult to get along with. He includes the shy ones and the boisterous ones. He includes the one who have severe struggles with physical and mental health. He finds ways of reaching out to all of them and making them part of the structure. He wants to find a place for each and every one them. He wants to smooth out the rough edges. Paul says in Ephesians 4:16 “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
            Let me ask you, do you also do that? Do you do your part? Whom do you talk to after church? Do you seek out strangers, do you try to include them and make them feel welcome? What about those who have recently joined the church, do you know who they are? Do you go up to them and try to get to know them? Are there people here in this church building whose name you don’t even know?
            And what about the elderly who belong to this church? Do you seek them out? Do you go and talk to them? Or what about the brother or sister with whom you had some difficulties in the past? Are you now ignoring him or her? What about the brother or sister who are difficult to talk to? Those who are not smooth with the tongue? Do you avoid them? Whom do you invite over for coffee? Whom do you go and visit? How concerned are you about those with special needs? Those who are physically or mentally handicapped? Do you even mention them in your prayers?
            And what about being involved in the church in other ways? Do you volunteer your services? How active are you? In other words, how are you building the church? In what way are you involved in the building process?
            Brothers and sisters, you cannot build a church together, if you do not also interact with each other. Don’t be a little island to yourself. There are people who think that they can be part of God’s church by watching religious broadcasts on the TV, or by listening to the radio. They would rather stay home. And they have all kinds of excuses. After all, those TV evangelists bring God’s Word too. And they bring it in a very entertaining way. What’s wrong with that? Well, what do you do after you watch one of those worship services, or listen to it on the radio? Do you then give your TV or your radio a big hug? That’s preposterous, isn’t it?
            Or what about Cyber-church? There are those who get their spiritual needs fed by interacting with others through the Internet.
            Do you know why such worship is attractive to some? Those kinds of relationships do not demand anything from you. Oh sure, you may send some money once in awhile, but the reality is that such individualistic worship does not require anything from you. You don’t have to do anything. It just caters to your own good feelings. And nobody hold you accountable. When you are part of such an invisible body, nobody cares about how you conduct yourself. You can do your own thing.
            But, that's not how God deals with his church. That’s not what church is all about.
            Brothers and sisters, there is no substitute for attending church and worshiping together and having fellowship together. Church life is not about making you feel good. It is not about serving you in the first place. But it is about serving God and each other. As a matter of fact, that is why Christ came. He came in order to be a servant. He did not seek his own welfare. But he sought our welfare. And we have to follow his example.
            It says in verse 20 that the church must be built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. If you know what that means, then you will also be an active member. And then you will also treat your brother and sister in the right way. We come to the second point, namely that the church is solidly founded.
2.         The church is solidly founded because it is built on the apostles and prophets, and on Christ. Paul does not mean to say here that the apostles and prophets have to be put on the same level as Christ. The apostles were the witnesses of Christ’s ministry while he was on earth. And they were chosen by the Holy Spirit to spread the Word. They had to tell the world all about Christ, what he did and what he stood for. They had to write it down and pass it on.
            The text also mentions the prophets. Most commentators agree that these are the New Testament prophets. The book of Acts mentions several them. For example in Acts 15:32,mention is made of Judas and Silas, who, as it says there, themselves were prophets, and who said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers.
            Since the Bible during the time of Paul was not yet complete, the apostles and prophets were needed in order to bring God’s inspired word. The Holy Spirit inspired these people to tell of the salvation through Jesus Christ alone. After the canon was completed, those offices ceased to exist. Of course, we now today are prophets, priests and kings, but not in the sense that we have here. It is not as if now we as prophets are inspired by the Holy Spirit. No, only God’s Word is. God based his church on the teachings of those prophets and apostles. That is why we also call ourselves an apostolic Church.
            But the chief cornerstone is Jesus Christ. Paul borrows that image from Psalm 118: 22, and from Isaiah 28:16 which is quoted several times in the New Testament: here and for example in 1 Peter 2:7, 8. The Lord Jesus Christ himself also refers to himself as the cornerstone that the Jews have rejected.
            Now, a cornerstone in the construction of buildings in those days was the first stone that was laid, and was placed at the corner of the building to be erected. That cornerstone was very important for it would determine the lay of the walls and the cross walls throughout the building. All the other stones had to adjust themselves to that cornerstone. The cornerstone would also be the stone that supported the superstructure and that would finalize the shape of the structure. The cornerstone served as the orientation point.
            In other words, without the Lord Jesus Christ, you cannot build a church. He is the one who gives the direction and the shape to the building. He is the one who supports the whole structure.
            And therefore, if you go against the teachings of Christ as you yourselves are busy building the church, then you are not building right, and then the construction will not last. It will not even stand up.
            At this point you may wonder what church we are speaking about here. Are we speaking here about the universal Church, or the local church? Well, we are speaking about both. You see, the Lord Jesus Christ is the master builder. And he is the cornerstone of that whole building. And that building is still under construction. It’s not going to be completed until the last day. And that church is going to include all believers, from the beginning of the world to the end. It is going to include all the Old Testament believers, and all the New Testament believers. It is also going to include believers from all kinds of denominations.
            That, however, is what God does. He sees that great big building being erected right now all over the world. That building construction is completely visible to him, but is not totally visible to us. In that sense, as also Professor Schilder has said, you can speak about an invisible church. It is, he said, onafzienbaar, invisible. Only God can see the whole structure.
            Paul, however, is addressing the church at Ephesus. He is speaking to a church in a specific location. That church has visible members and visible office bearers. Each and every one has been given his or her own responsibilities. God has given them the duty to be builders of his church. And that church there in Ephesus is a microcosm of that great church that the Lord Jesus Christ is busy building to the end of time. And now, if the church at Ephesus is not building according to the blueprint of Christ, then their part in that building process will not last. It will not be used. Then God will use different stones.
            God has made that church at Ephesus a family, a household, a building together. It is a very tiny part of the superstructure. Nevertheless that tiny structure has to reflect all the qualities of that great big superstructure. And if you are building crooked walls, or using cheap construction materials, then your part of the building will not last.
            The wonderful thing is, as it says in the text, Christ is the cornerstone. He is also the cornerstone here of the St Albert Canadian Reformed church. I do not have to tell you that this is not a perfect church. Far from it. But, in this church we recognize the Lord Jesus Christ as the architect. That is why we constantly go back to his Word. And then, when we make mistakes, as we do all the time, then we ask for forgiveness. And then he will set things right again. As long as we want to listen to him. Time and again we go back to that cornerstone, to make sure that we are in line with him. And he will perfect us. He will do that to the end of days. For his church is constantly under construction until the last day. That brings us to the third point.
3.         Paul says that this building which is joined together, rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. Brothers and sisters, that is what it is all about. That building that Christ is constructing, is first of all a holy building. Holiness refers to purity. It refers to dedication to God. Anything that is holy is separated from everything that is defiled. And that is why God is busy with us. He wants to make us holy. He wants to make us holy not just as individual people, but as his church. He wants to make us holy together.
            And it is not just any building that Paul is speaking about here. No, he is speaking here about a temple. God is building a holy temple. In the Old Testament the temple was a special meeting place between God and his people. It was in the temple where God’s glory dwelt, where he himself dwelt. But when Christ came, then he made the temple obsolete. He himself became the temple. That is clear, for example from John 1:14 where it says that “the Word (that is Christ) became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” And from John 2:19-21 where the Lord Jesus speaks about his body as the temple of God. He says there, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
            Brothers and sisters, the Lord Jesus Christ is no longer here on earth. He is in heaven. But now God, through his Holy Spirit, dwells in us. Christ dwells in us. Now we too are temples of the Lord God. We ourselves are holy buildings.
            Most of us have never seen a temple. However, temples are some of the most beautiful buildings you’ll ever find here on earth. The temple that Solomon built was a most beautiful structure, overlaid with gold and silver and constructed of all kinds of exotic woods. But now God refers to us, and also to the church as temples. This temple of God is a thing of beauty. The temple of Solomon no longer exists. But the spiritual temples, that is the church, and that includes you and me, are permanent structures. They last into eternity.
            What a great comfort, brothers and sisters. God has made you and me his temples. We as church are also the temple of the Lord. The temple is not yet complete. But it won’t take too long. In the meantime, let us make sure that we are part of God’s building plan. Let us be builders together. And God will see to it that it will be the most perfect building ever constructed. How good and pleasant is God’s dwelling. Amen




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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