Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Church - The Temple

Ephesians 2:13-2213 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”


One of the temptations we often fall into in the Church is to think of the Church as a building. In the New Testament the Church is never a building. It is always a group of people gathered to worship God and to build each other up as the Body of Christ. Most of the churches of New Testament times met in houses or rented rooms, though some met outside. For several centuries the Church did not have legal status. Illegal organizations do not build buildings and put their names on those buildings. The New Testament uses a variety of images to describe the Church: the people of God, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the believers, the saints, the elect, and the field of God to name a few. The New Testament also speaks of the Church as the Temple of God. It uses the metaphor of a building to describe the Church, but it is not the building as building that describes the Church. It is the purpose and function of that building—the Temple of God—that describes the purpose and function of the Church.

Temples were noteworthy for several reasons in the biblical world. They were thought to be the dwelling place of the deity. They were sacred spaces where sacrifices were offered and worship was given. Temples brought people together for a common cause greater than local or even national interests. Often temples were the largest and most beautiful buildings in the city. They were monuments to the great devotion given to the god worshipped there. These characteristics of ancient temples suggest reasons the apostle Paul described the Church as the Temple of God even though he knew very well that the Church was a people, not a building.

The Church is a dwelling place for God (verse 22)

Paul declares in Ephesians 2:22 that in Christ “you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” The root idea of the word “dwelling” is house or home. The Church is to be a place where God is at home. This implies several truths. First, if the Church is God’s home, then God must be present in the Church. This means that Church is not primarily a place to talk about God or to do things for God. Church is a place where we are with God. And since Church is not a building, it is a group of people among whom God is present. If we gather for Church but God is not present, the fundamental reality of the Church as Temple has not happened. In 1 Corinthians 14:25 Paul describes what should happen when an unbeliever or someone who does not understand meets with the Church. That person “will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” When neither church members nor visitors recognize the presence of God, then Church as the Temple of God has not happened among us.

A second implication of God being at home in the Church is that God must be host rather than visitor. Because Church—the gathered people, not the building—is God’s home, He is in control of the activities and sets the agenda. One might think we are confused about whose home it is because we often treat God as the guest and act as if the Church belonged to us. If God is the homeowner, then His values will be those that are lived out in the Church. If God is the homeowner, the Church will become a reflection of His character and interests, not ours.

A third implication of God being at home in the Church is that the Church must be a place where God is comfortable. We do not have to prove ourselves at home. We are accepted for who we are. If God is at home in the Church, we will not ask Him to prove himself. We will accept Him for who the Scriptures reveal Him to be.

The Church Is Built With People (verse 20)

Ephesians 2:20 declares that the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” The chief cornerstone was the first stone put in place in an ancient building. Its length and width edges had to be straight and perpendicular because the walls were laid out by sighting along the edge of the cornerstone. Its vertical edge had to be straight and perpendicular because the walls were aligned to that edge. If the cornerstone was not perfect, the walls of the building would not be straight and might collapse. Paul’s point is the Church always looks back to Jesus for our bearings. If we align ourselves with Him, the Church will be straight and will last. If we become out of alignment with Jesus, the Church will become misshapen and liable to collapse.

1 Peter 2:5 further describes the Church as built of “living stones.” This describes the individual believers that become part of the Church. This means the Church must be highly personal and relational. We exist as people in a relational structure, not as occupants of a building.

We are not free to determine the shape of the Church. Its dimensions and shape were laid out in alignment with Jesus by the apostles and prophets of the first Christian century. Each successive generation consists of more people placed as living stones in the building called the Church. Inanimate stones fit quietly beside each other in a physical building. Being living stones set together in the Church can be more challenging. Sometimes we are put in the wall beside other stones we would prefer not being with. It is not our task to change them or to seek another place on the wall. Our task is to align ourselves with Jesus and to live in grace and peace with the other stones seeking to be together the dwelling place that pleases God.

The Church is a holy temple (verse 21)

1 Corinthians 3:17 declares, “God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” It is hard to be clearer than this. The Church must be holy because it is the Temple of a holy God. A holy God cannot be at home in an unholy temple. A holy God who builds His Church with living stones demands that those stones be holy. Because the Church is God’s and not ours, the Church’s holiness must be God’s holiness.

As the Temple the Church is designed to display God to the world. A church that is not holy provides false advertising about God. We might despair of ever accurately portraying God to the world except for the fact that we have a living example of what such a life would look like. It would look like Christ. Thus the holiness required of the Church means submitting to the discipline of allowing the Spirit to form more and more Christ in us, Christ among us, and Christ through us. The ultimate purpose of the Church as God’s Temple is to bring glory to Him.

Take it home

Don’t hinder God’s presence, in your life or in this community. How do we hinder? Unconfessed sins, stubbornness/hardheartedness, grieving the Spirit.

Focus on relationships, both with God and people. How do we do this? Dialogue/communicate (prayer), Find a way to work together, Look for needs you can meet, Get out of your comfort zone.

Practice love, both to God and your neighbour. The great Commandment. How do we do this? Live out grace (includes initiative, forgiveness), Live in Hope

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