Ephesians 2.11-22: A spiritual temple

Today we continue our journey through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians which we began last week. This letter is about life in the Spirit – in the church, at work, in the home, in the community, in the world. This will hopefully be a blessing to us as we read and examine together the words which St Paul wrote to the fledgling church at Ephesus with its many problems and questions. It may just be that the words the Spirit spoke then will also speak to our own situation today in 2012. Last week in 1.3-14 we saw that incredible outburst from St Paul in an exuberant single sentence about the extravagant love of God that has been lavished upon us. Today we will hopefully see the practical outworking of that.


In today’s reading, St Paul has a wonderful vision of the church which is described in stunning detail right at the end of the passage in verses 19-22. Let’s read it again:


‘Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God's people and members of God's household built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.’


It’s a vision, not of a building of bricks and mortar, but of a spiritual building – a temple in fact – a temple made of human beings – with walls made of living stones being built up together. Notice the number of times that the word ‘together’ is mentioned. A temple that grows ever taller, being held together by its cornerstone – Jesus Christ. And even more amazing – God through the Holy Spirit will live there amongst his people. What a concept that is. What a vision. And we are a part of it.


But before we look at that in more detail, how extensive I wonder is your knowledge of building technology? What does the word ‘cornerstone’ mean to you? Today we tend to think in terms of a foundation stone laid by a VIP at the start of the building process. We have one here at St Paul’s in the wall behind me. But in the construction technology of those days a cornerstone was a stone that united two adjoining walls. It is the first stone to be laid and then all the others are placed in relation to that one. It’s crucial if the building is to have structural integrity and hold together.


That’s very significant because the joining together of two walls relates back to what St Paul says in verses 11-16 and we need to look at that before we go much further. He’s talking about the way in which God has brought together two very different and distinct groups of people – Jews and Gentiles. Throughout the Old Testament as I’m sure you know, there is always a very clear distinction between Jews and Gentiles. The Jews are the people chosen by God to be the means of revealing his purposes and glory to the world. In the fulfilment of that aim they had, to be fair, a mixed degree of success. The Gentiles are never excluded completely. All nations and peoples were part of God’s ultimate plan. But the Jews had a special role. They had a covenant with God. They still have a role to play but that’s another sermon. But in those days the Gentiles were like foreigners in an unfriendly land. Hence the references to hostility, barriers and exclusion.

Then Jesus came, and his death on the cross broke down the barrier between the two. His sacrifice on the cross has made it possible for the two groups to be reconciled into one. He removed the hostility, broke down the barrier and created a peace that brought the two together. Jew and Gentile could now be part of one structure, one body, and one church. The foundations were to be the apostles and prophets – those who had at various times declared the message of God to both Jew and Gentile. Jesus himself would be the cornerstone – the one that held the building and especially the two different ‘walls’ together.


The old Jerusalem temple was not only the religious heart of the nation and the place of pilgrimage for Jews throughout out the world. It was also the poltical, social, musical and cultural heart of Jerusalem and a place for celebration and feasting. God had promised to live there. It was the place where heaven and earth met. It was fundamental to the Jewish people. But now Paul says that the living God is building a new temple. Not a temple of stones, arches, pillars and altars – but made from people. It is the people themselves, the community of believers, who are the place where God has decided to dwell. That’s quite revolutionary. God makes his home in the hearts and lives of the people and communities who have declared their loyalty to Jesus Christ.


It’s a wonderful picture – but so what? How does that affect us in our day to day existence here in 2012? Well if all this is true and if we believe it, then we are different. We are distinctive. In what way? Well we can see from what St Paul says. With Jesus as the cornerstone, the whole building is ‘joined together’ or as the KJV says, ‘fitly framed together’ each stone carefully placed to complement those around it. We are being built ‘together’. It’s all about togetherness – about relationships, about how the living stones fit together and relate to each other. In that respect we are to be distinctive. St Paul will have a lot more to say about this as the letter progresses which we will look at in the next few weeks.

We are different to other groupings in the secular world. We are different from the golf club. We are different from the reading circle. We are different from weight-watchers. We are different from political groups. We are different from all these other organisations and groups that exist in our society. Why? Because we are founded on Jesus Christ and he is the one that holds us together and governs our relationships. He has cleansed and redeemed us and given us the gift of the Spirit. So that together we are distinctive hopefully in a positive way.


Maybe the relationship between Jew and Gentile is not as relevant to us today as it was in Paul’s day. We don’t have to worry about that. But there are other challenges that face us. What is our response to racial and cultural diversity? To different age groups, different learning abilities? Are we an inclusive church? How do we respond to people with different interpretations of the bible to us? What is our response to differences in opinion amongst us? What is our response to people who disagree with us? What is our response to people who hurt or offend us, intentionally or unintentionally? How do we live with all of that and more? That’s the challenge today I would suggest.


The challenge is to learn to live together as a distinctive people – distinctive in the way we live and distinctive in the way we cope with life’s issues and problems. Then the world will take notice. Then they will realise that we are more than just another group of people that share the same religious hobby. They will see from our relationships that we are a people who love each other. As Jesus said: they will know that you are my disciples because of the love you have for each other. More of that later in August.


The holy, spiritual temple that is the church of God is something special, distinctive and different. The New Testament is quite clear about that. It’s a breathtaking vision that St Paul gives us but one that we should be working towards. So that God delights to take up residence amongst us.


Let us pray that we will truly be built together into a spiritual temple – a place of transformed relationships, where God will dwell.