This is the third and final message in the short series following the reopening of church services at Lansdowne Evangelical Free Church.
The video is below. This is still being pre-recorded rather than being done “live” at the Sunday service, because we have not yet mastered the technology. However, pre-recording has the advantage of allowing a little more time to preach since Sunday service times are restricted. So, the video is the “full cream” version of the sermon.
Below the video, I have reproduced the notes that are sent out to those who do not have internet.
What is essential for the life of the church? In these times, when everything is so different, and many of the things that we are used to are missing from church and life, we need to focus on the essentials.
We saw in Ezra 3, the message preached after reopening, that the first thing was to get right with God through sacrifice. The first thing for us is Christ – without Him, there is no salvation, no life, no church.
But they also built according to the word of God – and so must we.
So, last week, we looked at the foundation of Christ. This week, we are going to look at the foundation of the word of God.
Today’s passage concludes with the image of the temple, but how is this temple to be built?
I) The material of the building (v19) – Jews and Gentiles
Paul is speaking specifically here to Gentiles who made up most of the church in that city. It is important that they (and we) see that to come to Christ is a truly great privilege.
“So then”: It is linked to what has been said before (v11-18). Christ’s work has brought peace with God to Gentiles as well as Jews. He has brought peace (v17) and given all who believe (regardless of ethnicity) access into His presence in prayer and worship (v18). Therefore, everyone who believes becomes the building stones of His holy temple.
“So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens” – no longer foreigners without allegiance and aliens that don’t belong. The Gentiles are “fellow citizens” – with the same standing as other citizens. You, if you have believed in the Lord Jesus, have been brought into full citizenship of the kingdom of God.
Also- “saints” – part of God’s holy people, those set apart for Him. These people, who were lost and far off (v12-13) – people like you and me – have become clean, set apart for the Lord.
They/we have also become “members of the household of God.” (So there are two pictures here of belonging – kingdom and family). The Christian is not a guest but a full member of God’s family, a full child with full rights and access to the Father.
What has this to do with the word of God?
The whole gospel message is so amazing that it can only come through revelation. It cannot be found out through philosophy or politics; it has to come from God’s word.
Furthermore, Paul’s message that Jew and Gentile are one in Christ, was totally revolutionary in his day. So, again, it could only come by divine revelation – the word of God.
In today’s divided world, the same message needs to be heard – and it is only found in the Bible: Just as the word states that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, so there is neither black nor white in Christ. From “made in the image of God” through to “all have sinned” through to “by grace you have been saved, through faith” – all of these things break down every man-made division. Only the word of God does that.
We all come to church with our backgrounds and ideas, which are all different. For local church to be built, to reflect our unity in Christ, we need the word to reveal the truth and bring change.
II) The foundation of the building (v20) – Christ through His apostles and prophets
The church did not come about through human invention. It was brought into being by God Himself. In establishing the church universal (that is the true church, the people of God throughout the ages), He laid the foundations that are described in v20.
Every single local church, if it is to be a true church, must be built upon these same foundations. It must be built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus being the cornerstone.
We saw last week about Jesus being the cornerstone, so I’m not going to repeat what I said then. The centrality of Christ, the first stone laid in the foundation, the One who holds everything together, is obvious to any believer.
But why “apostles and prophets?”
These are the people who taught and revealed the word of God to the early church and laid the foundational truths that are now contained for us in sacred scripture.
You see the same pairing in 3v4-6. This is key to understanding what Paul is talking about here. There, he is referring to something that has “now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets,” which he says (3v6) is the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plan of salvation.
So the apostles and prophets were bringing revelation of God’s plan in Christ, which was promised in the Old Testament, but only fulfilled when Christ came. This was then revealed to the apostles and prophets and recorded for us in scripture.
They are those appointed to lay the foundation of God’s word for His new covenant people: those who were personally commissioned by Christ Himself (the apostles) and the NT prophets, who brought God’s word to His people. That foundation has been preserved for us in the New Testament scriptures.
The sense of the phrase in verse 20 is “the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets” rather than the people themselves. These truths are once and for all, permanent foundations.
Although some churches today call their leaders apostles and prophets, the ministry of apostles and prophets, in this sense of laying the foundation of truth for the New Testament church for the rest of time, has been completed. There is no new scripture.
So today, our job in laying foundations in local church is to stand on that same foundation that was laid by the early church apostles and prophets, not to add or take away from it, and not to move from it.
Does that mean we only proclaim the NT? No, because the NT carries on the revelation of the Old. We proclaim both – the whole of sacred scripture.
We build a firm foundation in our local church by the continued preaching and application of God’s word. Everything that we do must be according to it.
III) The growth of the building (v21) – Christ through His word
Church is not meant to be static. Solid foundations lead to growth:
“In whom” – Christ (the cornerstone) applies the word to His church and that is the means whereby the church is built up. We saw last week that Christ’s death and resurrection has brought life to His church. This life is revealed to us by the word of God and applied to us by the Holy Spirit.
This is why these two things are together as the foundation of the church – the only Jesus who can save you is the Jesus revealed in scripture. The only One who can build you up in your faith is the Christ of scripture. The truth about Him feeds the soul and illuminates the mind and stirs the emotions. The commands of His word challenge the will.
So people are saved through the gospel, as revealed in the word of God. People are built up through the gospel applied to all of life, as revealed in His word.
“The whole” – all of us and all the different ministries that God has given us are to be according to Christ and His word.
We are “joined together.” That unity of being citizens and family members (v19) is seen as our minds are renewed through His word and we grow in both maturity and visible unity.
IV) The purpose of the building (v21b-22) – the manifest presence of God
Paul here uses the same illustration as 1 Peter 2 – the temple.
Of course, each individual Christian is indwelt by the Spirit of God. This is a glorious truth that we see in 1 Corinthians 6:19. But Ephesians 2v22 is more than individual indwelling, but the fact that the Lord is with and among His people.
We see this when the church gathers; the Lord is among His people. We see it also in part even when we can’t physically gather in the same place, because each household gathers expectantly around His word to hear His voice.
Notice the word “dwelling” – the Lord is permanently with His people who are built according to Christ and His word. There are times when we are more aware of His presence, but His presence with His true church is permanent.
We have here the triune God – v4, “But God”, v21 “in the Lord”, v22 – “in the Spirit”. The true church exists through divine power and is a place where divine power and presence are seen, because it is built on divine truth.
As we are built upon the fixed foundation of divine truth, so the church is the dwelling place of God on earth. What a privilege! This is the church! There are many great religious buildings on the earth, but the simple gathering of ordinary believers, built on Christ, nurtured through the unchanging apostolic foundation of scripture, is the place where God Himself dwells by the Holy Spirit.
We have to be a people of the Word. To preach it, hear it, believe it, apply it and do it. That is how we will grow. That is how we will worship right, live right and show the unity that we have in Christ. That is how the church will stand out in the world.
- Pray for your own attitude to the word, and for the church’s. Pray that the leadership would stay faithful to the word and preach it in the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Listen to it, apply it to your own life, respond to what God is saying.
- Pray for growth – your own and the rest of the church. Pray for maturity and for people to be added to the church.
- Thank God for the permanence of His presence and pray that all of us would be aware that He is with us. Let’s pray that, when we are scattered living as church in the world, and when we are together, we will know for sure, by His Spirit, that He is with us.
These things lockdown cannot take away. Praise His name.