Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 2:18-19 (Holman) For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household,. . .”
The entrance of non-Jews en masse into the kingdom of God was no less shocking than would be the entry of a whole colony of lepers into the heart of a major city. Nevertheless, believing Gentiles were included. We really do belong. We are, with the believing Jews, “fellow citizens” and fellow family “members”.
One privilege of being a Christian is to stand shoulder to shoulder, side by side, with other believers as full-fledged citizens in a heavenly kingdom. God makes no distinctions between us, neither should we. Whom God accepts we dare not reject.
It is a privilege to belong to a kingdom we can take pride in. It is natural to be proud of one’s country. With intense feeling, people cheer for country. A rustling flag rouses passions, a national anthem provokes tears, deeds of patriotism stir the heart.
Due to this pride in country, we sense a duty to guard its honor. We must do no less for Christ’s kingdom. Are we proud of our heavenly citizenship? Do we show our colors? Do all around us know to what kingdom we pledge supreme allegiance? Be not surprised at the many outside the Church when we act ashamed to be inside it.
Christ-followers are not only citizens of God’s kingdom; we are also members of His family. The unity which exists between Christians is not a loose attachment. It is rather intense, close, and intimate, as tight as our earthly family bonds are to be.
When the Prodigal Son came home, he felt unworthy to be called a son, and sought only to be a hired servant. His father would not do this. The family bond was too strong to be unknit. The returning wayfarer may be a profligate, but one thing he can never be is a hired servant. He is a son. The family bond is strong, unbreakable.
Loving God as Father entails loving believers as family. A loving dad wants his children to love each other as much as he wants them to love him. A key part of a healthy home is childhood; brotherhood is, also. We are a loving child only if we are a loving sibling. We do not truly love God if we do not love His children.
A good relationship between siblings is not automatic. It has to be developed through the hard work of building a friendship, finding common interests, and respecting the parents’ feelings. Otherwise, sibling rivalries can become serious.
Siblings, be careful about this. Many households have been destroyed by one or more of the children being totally self-absorbed. Just because people live, eat, and sleep under the same roof does not make a house a home. The same condition exists in a hotel. A house becomes a home when filled with mutual giving inspired by love.
Likewise, a congregation is not a church if the people only share the same creed, and meet under the same roof. As in a true family, where the resources of each member are at the disposal of all the rest, even so a true church has to be a collection of servants, each seeking to outdo the others in service.
Eph. 2:20-22 . . .built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.
“The apostles” are the twelve disciples (Matthias in place of Judas) and Paul, men who saw the risen Lord. They were charter-witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, who authenticated their testimony by being willing to die for what they were claiming.
Everything we believe rests on the foundation of the apostles’ testimony. The essence of our faith revolves around events of a historic weekend. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the heart and soul of our confidence, the confirmation and climax of all He claimed and achieved. Thus, the eye-witnesses and testifiers to the events of that weekend provide the evidence and testimony essential for us to believe.
Since the apostles could not be everywhere, “the prophets” were also sent out to spread the truth of God. The prophets received direct revelations from God, and spoke authoritatively to the Church before our New Testament was completed.
These first century “apostles and prophets” are the only believers ever to have Church-wide authority. The fact they are “the foundation” proves their functions were limited to the Church’s formative period. Since New Testament days, there have been no other apostles and prophets. We use the term “prophet” to compliment a bold preacher, but we do not use it in a technical way, to describe an office. “Apostles and prophets” are no longer needed; their results remain in the New Testament.
Beware three dangers. One, do not add to the foundation. The teachings of these first century apostles and prophets underpin us. No one after New Testament days has had the right to speak with church-wide authority. Declarations made after the New Testament are personal interpretations, and not binding on all the Church.
Two, do not subtract from the foundation. Some want to delete from the New Testament foundation what they dislike. Beware this dangerous position. To peck away at a foundation, a person has to be outside the building. This is a hazardous place to be in this particular metaphor. Suspect anyone who claims to be in the building, but is at the same time trying to undermine our Bible foundation.
Three, do not bypass the foundation. Truth is our only basis for unity. Other bases are contrived, artificial, man-made, and futile. The first article of our Baptist Faith and Message wisely states the Bible “is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union.” We want unity with all believers, but it is not something we conjure up. It results from relationships based on being fellow stones in a building. We a part of a building only if we are resting on its foundation.
Note Paul’s progression here as to what we are as believers. We are citizens of the same kingdom, members of the same family, and stones in the same building, built on a foundation that is secure because it is affixed to Jesus the cornerstone.
Ancient builders, to ensure foundations were successfully laid, aligned them from the most important structural piece, the cornerstone. Before construction began, a huge stone was cut out, perfectly crafted and shaped, and carefully set in place.
This cornerstone had to be laid first because every aspect of a building was oriented to it. All measurements and angle determinations were made from it. Its location finalized the building’s shape, and determined the lay of walls throughout.
The cornerstone bore the ultimate weight of the building. Foundations and walls were fused together by being imbedded in the cornerstone. The weight from these walls and foundations pressed not only downward, but also laterally. Every stone in the walls would exert pressure toward the cornerstone.
As stones in God’s spiritual house, all believers relate to Jesus, who is the cornerstone. He determines the selection, placement, and function of every stone in the building. The importance of Jesus being our cornerstone can hardly be overstated.
In ancient buildings, everything depended on the cornerstone. The same was and is true for the Church. For it to be perfectly hewn, God’s first decision regarding it had to be its cornerstone. As the Master Architect designed the building, He looked throughout the Universe in search of the perfect stone, and could find only one. Only One could orient, unite, and bear the pressure and weight of all the other stones.
The burden in carrying believers is huge, but there’s no need to worry. Jesus our cornerstone is strong enough to support the full weight of all believers.
Once imbedded, God’s cornerstone held. It worked. It held the load. God poured “the foundation of the apostles and prophets” around it, and it did not shift. It stayed steady. God has built the walls of His Church against it; it has not faltered. I’m thankful He one day put this stone of a preacher’s son in the wall, and Jesus held firm.
Before we conclude this sermon, note the word “grows”. It emphasizes expansion, telling us the task of building the Church will never be done here. The Church is a cathedral unfinished, and will continue to be erected till the final day, when Jesus returns. Only then will its capstone be affixed.
In the meantime, God expects His Church to grow. Compactness is not enough. Some churches are close knit cliques which resist including newcomers. This is not right. The wall is to be compact, but also growing.
New believers should be gladly welcomed into our part of the wall regularly. We all know people who need to be our fellow-citizens, fellow family members, and who need to move from shifting sand to a firm foundation and reliable cornerstone.