These are my notes for teaching the Cornerstone midweek Bible study on Wednesday, September 16, 2020.
THREE PICTURES OF CHURCH
Part 12 of Ephesians
Our New Identity
Let's begin this evening with a review of our studies in Ephesians. In chapter one, we discovered what we are. Christians have a new identity - we are holy ones or saints who are IN Christ. Everything God wants for us, he gives us in Christ; for example, love, adoption, redemption, forgiveness, inheritance.
Christ Is Supreme
Then, at the end of chapter 1, we caught a glimpse of the supremacy of Jesus Christ. He is risen and exalted over the universe and over the unseen spiritual world of angels and demons. He is also the head of the church.
From Death to Life, Sin to Salvation
In chapter two we discovered how we became what we are. First, we found that we were spiritually dead and prisoners to sin and Satan. As a result, we were subject to God's wrath or displeasure. But God who is rich in mercy and love made us alive, raised up with Christ, saved us from sin and Satan. This wasn't our doing. No, God saves us by his grace received through faith. Now, we're raised up and seated with Christ in the heavenly realm.
God's Peace Plan: One New, United, Humanity
In the second half of the chapter we were introduced to God's peace plan. Once, we Gentiles were far from God, outside his covenant with Israel, excluded from citizenship in his people, far from hope in the promised Messiah. But God did not leave us like that, abandoned and alienated. Now, in Christ, we have entered into peace with God and every believer. We've experienced reconciliation with God and with every Christian and we have access to the Father. The church is one humanity, one body, one, united, people of God.
And now we've arrived at verse 19 of chapter 2. Let's read it now.
(Ephesians 2:19-22) Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
THREE PICTURES OF THE CHURCH
Paul sums up the impact of salvation and the peace plan in verses 19-22. He describes our new situation in Christ with three models or metaphors of the church.
Knowing what these metaphors mean will help us overcome the three worst experiences of modern living: isolation, alienation, and insignificance.
CHRISTIANS CONNECT IN ONE NATION - verse 19.
We used to be foreigners and strangers in relation to God's people. When Paul wrote, foreigners were considered enemies and godless and to be avoided. And strangers were people without a home country, sort of like refugees, and therefore, without rights or status. But that desperate situation all changed in Christ.
Now, we are fellow citizens - Jews and Gentiles - with all God's people in a new nation, the church. Israel was defined by ethnicity, traditions, borders, and the Mosaic covenant. The church has no borders and includes everyone who is in Christ by faith, regardless of their passport, ethnicity, or religious background. The apostle Peter expands on this idea:
(1 Peter 2:9) But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
The church is a new, holy, nation, a vast interconnected web of people who follow Jesus by faith. Think of the implications.
We are connected to people here and around the world. Knowing this metaphor of the church helps us overcome the feeling of isolation.
There are people all around the world who don't look or talk like me but, because they know and love Jesus, they are my fellow citizens; they are forgiven like me, they're full of new life like me, they're seated with Christ like me.
I'm fascinated by the behavior of crowds. I love watching soccer fans and concert goers. Think about it: we sit or stand beside strangers and we know nothing about them except this: they love my team; they love my band. And that connects us in a way.
But our faith in Jesus connects us in far deeper and much more permanent way to more than a billion people. And to the people in our local church and small group. There is no reason to ever feel isolated.
CHRISTIANS BELONG IN ONE FAMILY - verse 19.
We are family. We are members of God's household. We are brothers and sisters in his family. In chapter one, Paul told us that God has adopted as his children in Christ. In chapter two, Paul told us that we have access to the Father through Christ. In chapter three, Paul will describe Father-God's love for us.
On the one hand, the family metaphor is about belonging; it's about getting close to God; it's about being welcome and accepted and loved permanently and forever, through the fire, in the valley, in victory and in adversity, in life and in death.
(Romans 8:33-35, 37) Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ... 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Have you ever watched a human momma-bear? Lots of soccer moms are momma bears. They stand up for their kids. Don't go putting down my kid. Put my kid in the game. Don't mess with a hungry soccer mom. God is the ultimate momma bear for his household. For those in Christ, when the whole world's against you, God is for you. Always. Without fail. No exceptions. Even if you've made a big mess of things. You're in the family.
The family metaphor is also about belonging to each other. We have brothers and sisters in Christ everywhere we go. While the "woke" folk want to divide us into identity groups, Jesus breaks down the walls. There's only one identity that interests him: Family of God. He brings folks together in one new family, the church. The world is a place of deep and irreconcilable alienation. Us vs. them, left vs. right, and so on. But the church is a place of healing and reconciliation.
CHRISTIANS FORM ONE TEMPLE - verses 20-22.
The temple metaphor takes us into the deep purposes of God. God has always purposed to live with his people. In the Garden of Eden, God walked with them. In the Exodus, God lived with his people; first in the tent of meeting, then in the tabernacle. Later in Israel's history, God revealed his presence in the temple in Jerusalem. Sadly, due to Israel's consistent, unrepentant, injustice and idolatry, God's glory left the temple. Much later, God returned to Israel in Jesus Christ. But he was rejected and nailed to the cross.
But God is relentless and he now fills his church; not physical buildings, but all of his people. We are in Christ and Christ is in us by his Spirit.
Paul tells us four things about this temple:
Its foundation is the teaching of the apostles and prophets. Today, we look to the Scriptures that preserve their teachings. Everything that is lasting and authentic about the temple-church is built full square on this foundation.
Its cornerstone is Jesus Christ. The Cornerstone is part of the foundation and its role is to keep everything lined up. The person and work of Christ is what we build on. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul teaches us that attempting to build on any other foundation is like building with straw; it will collapse or burn down.
Its building blocks. We are the building blocks. Everyone in Christ is joined to the foundation and to each other. Jesus fits us all in.
Its purpose. The temple-church is holy, set apart for God, because it is filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit.
What this temple metaphor tells us is this: no Christian is insignificant. Not one of us. No, we are the temple of God. His glory lives in us. God's presence on earth is in us. We fulfill God's ancient and eternal purpose. One day, the splendor of this temple will be fully revealed:
(Revelation 21:3) And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
Have you heard of neuroplasticity? It's a very exciting discovery about how the brain works. Basically and very simplistically - because I'm a pastor not a neuroscientist - it is possible to change the neural pathways of your brain. The result is we think in new ways.
I believe that careful, constant, exposure to the core truths of the Bible changes how we think about life, adversity, the future, hurts, and basically everything. And this really matters because our emotions are connected to our thinking. So ... if you're experiencing all kinds of negative emotions, you can change that by changing your thinking. And you change your thinking by focusing on biblical truth.
The three truths we've considered today: we are God's nation, God's family, and God's temple; we are connected, we belong, we are significant, can be used to change our thoughts and thus our emotions and thus our resilience or wellbeing. We can face our giants. We can prevail over adversity. We can conquer our darkness. We can live for the glory of God.
I suggest that you craft the truths we learned today into a daily affirmation, and you speak it out loud every day. Speak it. Believe it. Claim it. Live it. Do it for 30 days and then another 30 days and your brain will be changed and your thought life will be producing healthy, positive, helpful emotions.