So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
The Mystery of Christ
First of all, let me remind you where we are in this letter. Paul is explaining what he will later refer to as “the mystery of Christ” (Eph 3:4). In Ephesians 3, he says, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph 3:6).
Despite the protest of some Jewish Christians, the Gentiles were equal members with them in the church. Though the Gentiles were once “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel,” God “brought [them] near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:12-13). “So then,” Paul says, “[they] are no longer strangers and aliens, but … fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19).
You can probably imagine the tension it created. I still remember the challenges that I faced in the aftermath of my conversion. Suddenly, my world revolved around Christ. I wanted to talk about him. I wanted study the Bible. But the same wasn’t true for most of friends. I still wanted to go out drinking with them, but my conscience began protesting, “Don’t do it.”
I knew that I belonged with the saints in the church, but it was a difficult transition. In my church, there were hardly any people my age. Plus, I still had worldly interests which were not shared by others. I felt as though I was forcing myself into someone else’s family. It was uncomfortable at first.
Look around this room. How much do we really have in common with one another? Danaé and I don’t have any kids, but some of you do. I like watching baseball while some of you are thinking, Baseball? Is that still around? I could listen to the music of Bob Dylan all day long, but you might consider that torture. Maybe you enjoy running or fishing, but I would much rather sit on the patio with a good book.
Some of us grew up “churched.” We’ve sat on pews listening to Bible stories as long as we can remember. Some of us, however, were approaching midlife before we learned that a man named Jesus died on a Roman cross. Our backgrounds and experiences are radically different.
Just imagine what the church would be if we came from different countries and wildly divergent cultures. Unity would feel like a pipe dream. Even the drawing power of God can’t reconcile some people. Right?
Wrong. The early church is proof that even groups who were once hostile to one another can come together in Christian unity. It may take time and maturity, but we shouldn’t underestimate “the manifold wisdom of God” nor “the working of his power” (Eph 3:10; 7).
Christ Gave Himself Up For the Church
Before we dig into the text, I feel that I should dispel a few common myths about the church.
1) We do not attend church; we are the church.
The Bible never refers to the church as a place, building, or location. For example, there’s a verse in Acts which says, “The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem” (Ac 11:22). I have never known a building to have ears.
When the Bible talks about the church, it speaks of believers who are born of God and united by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2) The church does not exist to serve our felt needs.
People tend to shop for churches as though they’re buying a new car. I want one with air conditioning, comfortable seats, and a quality sound system. If the church doesn’t satisfy their every desire, then they move on to the next and maybe the next.
A few years ago, I spoke to a gentleman who raved about a new church he had joined. After a little research, I discovered that his church does not believe in the deity of Christ. When I brought this critical issue to his attention, he said, “Oh, but I feel so good after every service.”
I begged him to examine himself. I feel pretty good after eating dessert, but I wouldn’t sacrifice meat and vegetables for it. You can’t live on dessert alone, and shallow feelings, no matter how positive, aren’t worth sacrificing the truth.
3) We marry the church; we don’t date it.
In his book, Stop Dating the Church, Joshua Harris describes the uncommitted Christian in three ways.
First, he’s me-centered, always looking for he can get out of church. He has no interest in serving others. Rather, he expects the church to serve him.
Second, he’s independent, never wanting to get too involved with other people. He keeps his distance. Perhaps he tries his best to slip in and out without anyone noticing. He certainly doesn’t want to be a part of the church outside of corporate gatherings.
Third, he’s critical. He approaches the church as a consumer. If they don’t have what he wants and exactly what he wants, then he goes elsewhere. He’s always right; everyone else is always wrong.
Jumping ahead in Ephesians, Paul makes it clear that we cannot be half-hearted, uncommitted members of the church. In Ephesians 5, he says:
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Christ did not give a piece of himself for the church; he gave all of himself. He served the church by sacrificing for the church. His interest in her was not shallow or fleeting. He cared enough to pursue her holiness. In other words, his priority was the church’s welfare which he proved by dying for her. Of course, God has called us to follow his example.
When you are dating someone, there is very little commitment involved. Boyfriends and girlfriends come and go. Those relationships can often be self-serving until they evolve into something more. Marriage, on the other hand, is a firm commitment. God commands us to love one another until death does us part. There isn’t room for selfishness or constant criticism.
The same is true in the church. Selfless commitment is required because God designed the church so that its members should come together as (1) citizens of the same country, (2) members of the same family, and (3) bricks of the same building. You’ll notice that Paul uses all three metaphors in this passage.
Fellow Citizens With the Saints
He says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints” (Eph 2:19).
“Congratulations,” he says. “God has awarded you citizenship in his kingdom. All of its rights and privileges now belong to you. You were a citizen of the kingdom here on earth, and the devil was your king, but not anymore. Your citizenship is in heaven, and Christ is your King.”
Listen to the solemn warning which Paul gave the Philippians concerning false teachers. Notice the contrast he makes:
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:17-20)
Do you see the difference? Citizens of the earthly kingdom worship themselves. They set their minds on earthly things. The implication is that citizens of God’s kingdom worship the true King and set their minds on heavenly things.
More to the point, we are citizens of the heavenly kingdom together. Remember that Paul is building a case for the practical exhortations he’ll give in Ephesians 4 where he says, “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called … eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1; 3). He goes on to describe how we are working together, always moving toward maturity and unity.
As fellow citizens of this kingdom, we depend on each other. We are working together to acheive the same end.
Earlier this year—maybe it was last year—I read a book called The Poverty of Nations where the authors explained how an impoverished nation could theoretically improve their circumstances. Personally, what I found most interesting was their description of the free market system. Using the example of a pencil, they described how many different industries and people are involved in creating a single pencil. It is surprising.
Millions of people are involved in producing pencils. Even after someone has figured out to use the various elements to create a pencil, others have to supply those elements. The graphite comes from Sri Lanka. The wood comes from Oregon. There’s also lacquer, carbon, brass, nickel, and rubber needed. People have to extract, produce, manufacture, deliver, sell—a lot goes into these convenient writing utensils that we never think twice about.
We’ll get into the practical aspects of working together as we move into Ephesians 4. For now, just make a mental note of Paul’s first metaphor here and think about its implication. We are citizens of the same kingdom. Better yet, we are citizens of an eternal kingdom. We are saints together forever.
Members of the Household of God
Furthermore, we are members of one family. Paul says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19).
Quickly, Paul’s metaphors become intimate. In case the thought of being citizens of the same country doesn’t convey genuine unity, he describes the church as a family. Specifically, we are the family of God living in his household. Of course, the sense of belonging is much stronger within a family than a nation.
Hebrews 2 says:
For it was fitting that [Jesus], for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers. (Hebrews 2:10-11)
Perhaps my favorite passage along these lines is found in Romans 8. Paul says:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:14-17)
Paul’s use of the word “adoption”—the word is huiothesia in the original Greek—is interesting. More times than not, the Bible speaks of our entry into God’s family as a birth. For instance, John 3: “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3). First Peter 3: “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1Pe 1:23).
But a total of five times in the New Testament, Paul and only Paul uses the word huiothesia (adoption). Romans 8:15: “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons.” Romans 8:23: “We wait eagerly for adoption as sons.” Romans 9:4: “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption.” Galatians 4:5: “God sent forth his Son … so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5). Then, Ephesians 1:5: “[God] predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ.”
Believe or not, I’ve known people to be troubled by the Bible’s mixed metaphors in this area. Are we born into God’s family or adopted? Generally, those who are bothered by these seemingly contradictory analogies prefer to think of us as being born, not adopted. They think that birth implies a stronger relationship.
The fact is, it’s both. Do you remember my golden rule for Bible study? If the Bible says it, then we should believe it.
You may be surprised to learn that adoption implied a stronger relationship than birth in the ancient Roman world. The Romans thought of the birth of a child as getting what you get whether you like it or not. According to Roman law, you could disown your natural child. After all, it’s not your fault that he came out as he did.
Adoption, on the other hand, was your choice. You could have no justification for disowning a child whom you willingly chose, knowing what you were getting. In William Ramsey’s commentary on Galatians, he says:
The Roman-Syrian Law-Book … lays down the principle that a man can never put away an adopted son, and that he cannot put away a real son without good ground. It is remarkable that the adopted son should have a stronger position than the son by birth, yet it was so.
Of course, the opposite was true in Jewish culture. Ramsey writes, “Among the Jews, adoption had no importance, and hardly any existence. The perpetuity of the family, when a man died childless, was secured in another way. … Only sons by blood were esteemed in the Hebrew view.”
These metaphors do not contradict each other. Rather, the authors of the Bible use them to convey the fullness of our relationship to God. We are born in that we enter into a new life within the family of God. We are adopted in that God legally, positionally claims us as his children. John actually brings these metaphors together when he says:
To all who did receive [Christ], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
We are born, yet we are also subjects of a legal process if you will.
The point is, we are God’s children in every way posssible and nothing can ever change that. There is no chance of God ever disowning us. Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (Jn 6:37). Paul says, “We are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Ro 8:17-17).
A Dwelling Place For God
Paul uses one more metaphor here in Ephesians 2. He says:
You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
In other words, we are bricks in God’s temple. Peter describes believers as “living stones … built up as a spiritual house” (1Pe 2:5).
Let’s not confuse this analogy by thinking of the church as a physical location. As I said before, the church is not a building. The people who make up the church, however, are like bricks in a building. God places us together to create a dwelling place for his Spirit. But the church is the people.
In fact, Paul speaks of individual members of the church as temples of God. He tells the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1Co 6:19-20). So let’s not carry the temple metaphor further than Paul intended.
Notice the layers of this temple. First, we have the foundation along with its cornerstone. Second, we have the building of the temple. Third, we have the purpose of the temple. If you prefer, Paul describes the foundation, the formation, and the function of God’s temple.
1) The church’s foundation is the apostles, prophets, and Jesus Christ.
What does Paul mean by that? I assume that you understand the significance of a foundation. If not, I’ll let Jesus explain it. At the end of his sermon on the mount, he said:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
It makes perfect sense. Doesn’t it? Since the entire structure rests on the foundation, a solid foundation gives stability to a building. A poor foundation, of course, makes the structure unstable.
More importantly, compare how Jesus described a solid foundation with what Paul says. Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Mt 7:24). Paul says, “You are … built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Eph 2:19-20).
What is the church’s foundation? In short, it is God’s Word. The prophets, the apostles, and Jesus himself, the Word incarnate, all delivered the truth of God in one form or another. They spoke it. They wrote it. Jesus, in particular, revealed it through his person.
Let me read a paragraph from our church’s official confession of faith. The very first paragraph states:
The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and His will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in diversified manners to reveal Himself, and to declare His will unto His church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now completed. (1689 Baptist Confession)
Notice what Paul says in the next chapter as explains the mystery of Christ. Verse 4-5:
When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. (Ephesians 3:4-5)
You may ask, “How do we make the leap from the prophets and apostles to the written Word of God or the Bible?” Jesus didn’t describe the foundation of the church as men such as the apostles. Rather, he referred to his words or teachings. I believe Paul is implying the same here in Ephesians 2.
It’s not that God has built his church on the prophets and apostles as though they hold pope-like positions. But they were his chosen means to deliver the truth. Consequently, the words and teachings which they leave behind become the foundation of the church. As the Baptist Confession says, God’s former ways of revealing his truth have passed, making the written Scriptures necessary.
Of course, let’s not overlook the most important piece of the foundation: Christ himself. Without the right cornerstone, the foundation will not be straight and the entire structure will be unstable.
Everything in the church hinges on Jesus Christ. Our lives, our salvation, our confessions, our faith, the truth—Jesus is the cornerstone of it all. Through Isaiah, God prophesied, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation” (Isa 28:16).
Notice that God did more than lay a foundation; he is the foundation. Furthermore, he is a proven cornerstone. He passes the tests required to use himself as a cornerstone. In ancient times, a builder would carefully examine stone after stone until he found the perfect rock to serve as the cornerstone. Again, without the right stone, the entire foundation will be unstable.
If Jesus and his truth are the foundation of the church, then what does that imply? What are we to assume if God is uniting us not on our personal preferences or cultural commonalities, but on the truth of his Word? It means that truth matters. The church cannot be a social club where anything goes. Right?
The question is, where do we draw the hard lines? Paul tells the Romans, “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Ro 16:17). The Bible offers many other similar warnings.
Though I had every intention of tackling this subject today, I’ll save it for later. We do need to talk about it. There is so much confusion and so many false ideas within contemporary Christianity that we need to know how discern these matters. When Paul says, “Maintain the unity of the Spirit,” to whom does that apply? (Eph 4:3). Clearly, we’re not to seek unity with everyone.
We’ll talk about it soon enough.
2) God builds the church to function together.
Paul says, “The whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph 2:21).
I won’t take the time to read it now, but I encourage to look at 1 Kings 6 where the construction of Solomon’s temple is described. The builders went through painstaking efforts to find, quarry, shape, and carry stones from one location to the site of the temple. They didn’t want to do the noisy, messy work in the place of the temple, so they carefully made the pieces before later fitting them together.
God is doing the same with his church. He is shaping and fitting the pieces together. He is carefully and intentionally joining together each and every component.
In the end, we will become a perfect structure. What did Paul say in Ephesians 5? “[Christ] might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27). But we’re not there yet. Peter said that we are still “being built” (1Pe 2:5).
3) God builds the church to be his dwelling place.
Paul says, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:22). He’s not talking about one of those small chambers used by the heathens to hold their dead idols. Paul is describing a living temple for a living God.
Can we take just a moment to appreciate the weight of this statement? We are the temple of the Almighty. He lives within us. The God who created and sustains the entire universe dwells within us.
How does that shape the way in which you think? Better yet, how that transform the way in which you live?
When writing to the Corinthians, Paul applied the reality of being God’s temple this way:
The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:13-20)
While Paul focuses on the sin of sexual immorality since it was most relevant to the Corinthians, we could think about that lesson as it relates to every aspect of life. You are one spirit with God. In turn, your behavior consequently affects the temple of God. You will either desecrate or consecrate the temple. You will either dishonor or honor God with everything you do.
At the same time, our actions will negatively or positively impact the church collectively. We are bricks of the same temple, members of the same family, and citizens of the same kingdom. We can either support and build up or destroy and tear down one another.
Most importantly, we are united by the Spirit. Let our prayer be the same as Moses who said, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here” (Ex 33:15).