The Lord's Day MorningMay 1, 2005
“The Whole Body Together”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Please turn with me to the second chapter of Paul's letter to the Ephesians, and from this section that we are about to read. And as we work through this passage together this morning, I want to draw your attention to four descriptions of the church, because in those descriptions Paul is telling you something of God's agenda for His people; that is, what God intends to make of His people. And this is vitally connected to this challenge that the elders have made to us as a congregation about expanding this house of worship.
First, I want to draw your attention to verse 19, where Paul speaks of us as “fellow-citizens.” Now, that's the image of a kingdom, and I want to talk with you this morning about what God is doing to make His people a kingdom.
Then if you look at the end of that verse, verse 19, you see him speak of us as a “household.” That's the picture of a family. Paul is saying that the church is not only the Lord's kingdom, it's the Lord's family. And I want to talk about how this project that the Elders have set before us is meant to serve that important reality of the church: that we are the family of God.
And then if you look at verses 20 and 21, you’ll see the imagery of “building” and of “temple.” We’re told that we are being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets; and then in verse 21, “in whom the whole building [is] being fitted together, growing into a holy temple in the Lord....” And so there is the picture of the church as a building or temple. We’re not only the Lord's kingdom and the Lord's family; we're the Lord's temple, or building. We’ll talk about what that means.
And then finally, you’ll notice in this passage at least twice the reference to the fact that we are the Lord's body. Look, for instance, at verse 16, where we're told that the Lord Jesus through the cross has reconciled us in one body to God.
And then again, if you look forward to a passage that we're not going to read (to chapter three, verse six), these Ephesian Gentile Christians are being reminded that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of “the body.”
And so we're going to look at each of those themes and see how they pertain to this work that is before us today. Before we read God's word, let's look to Him in prayer and ask for His help.
Our Lord and our God, this is Your word. We ask that by Your Spirit You would enable us to behold and believe and embrace wonderful truth from Your word. Change our hearts. Grant, O God, that we would long more than anything else, with the whole of our selves, to be a part of the furtherance of Your grand design. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God from Ephesians 2, beginning at verse 11:
“Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands–remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the diving wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow-citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
One hundred and sixty-two years ago, to this very month, the Reverend L. J. Halsey preached a message calling for the building of a Presbyterian meeting house here in Jackson. It was May 21 of 1843, and that meeting house was built. It was built just a few blocks down North State Street, right on the northwest corner of North State and Yazoo Streets. Interestingly, before he knew it, Derek chose as his passage to preach from tonight the very passage from which Reverend Halsey preached, just a few blocks down the street, so many years ago.
Now, why was it important to Dr. Halsey to call the Presbyterians of Jackson, a small group then, to build a Presbyterian meeting house? Surely he understood, as our elders understand, that you are the Lord's house. This is a wonderful place for the Lord's house to meet, but you, as the people of God, are the Lord's house. You are what the Lord is building, and it is the job of your pastors and your elders, as we are equipped by the Lord and by His word, to edify you as the building which He is building. The church–the very word means “the Lord's house,” and it refers to the Lord's people.
And the elders are calling us not to build that house, but to build the house in which the Lord's house meets! You see, we're building a house for the Lord's house! That's what Dr. Halsey was calling his congregation to do in that day–a house for worship, a house for discipleship, a house for outreach. And the reason the elders are calling us to expand and enlarge this meeting place, this beautiful sanctuary, is because the Lord's house has outgrown the house that we built for the Lord's house! Some two or three times the numbers of people are numbered amongst the Lord's house called First Presbyterian Church/Jackson, than can fit in the house for the Lord's house that meets here at 1390 North State Street, and so the elders are calling on us to enlarge this place because the Lord's house has outgrown the house for the Lord's house!
But more than that, we're doing this for those who will be the Lord's house in the future. It's very interesting. Dr. Halsey didn't know it, but he was starting a tradition. Every fifty years...over the one hundred and approximately seventy years of the life of this congregation...every fifty years this congregation has embarked upon an adventure to supply the need for a place to worship for the next two generations, for the next fifty years. When Halsey called the congregation to build this Presbyterian meeting house, that house lasted for about fifty years; and then in 1892, another one was built–for the next fifty years. And then in 1951, another one was built for the next fifty years. And now again, for the fourth time in the history of this congregation, this congregation is seeking to supply not something for ourselves, but something for our children and our grandchildren, and for those who are not now here with us. We’re not building this for ourselves (we're already here!), but for those who are not sitting in the pew next to us now. We’re doing this for those who will be the Lord's house in the future.
And as we do this, I think it's important for us to consider what God tells us that He is doing in us as His people called “the Lord's house,” and I'd like to consider four things with you from this great passage in Ephesians, chapter two.
The first thing I want you to note, you’ll see in verse 19, where God stresses that we are His kingdom. The Lord's house, God's people, is the Lord's kingdom–the place of God's rule; the people in whom God's rule is publicly and visibly manifested. Listen to what He says:
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow-citizens with the saints....”
Now, this idea of being citizens of a kingdom is an idea that stretches all the way back to the Old Testament. God's rule of the world was manifested in His rule of the nation of Israel, but God no longer groups His people together in the institution of a nation-state; He groups His people together in the church. The church, which is the Lord's house, is His kingdom. And the idea of “kingdom” here is not geographical or governmental in the administrative sense; it's active and dynamic. It speaks of the ongoing manifestation of the rule of God in our lives, so God's purpose is to make His people (the Lord's house) His kingdom: the place where His rule is manifested to the world.
Now, the elders know that we need an enlarged house, not because the house that we build is God's kingdom, but because the house that we build will provide a place for those who will be the Lord's house in future generations to learn what it means to be His kingdom.
The highest legal officer in Britain, the Lord High Chancellor, was a number of years ago a very faithful Scottish Presbyterian minister. Under the prime ministrants of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, Lord Micaiah Claisfairn was the Lord High Chancellor of Britain. It's almost a combination of our Attorney General and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, all wrapped up into one. And he loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and he loved his local congregation in Edinburgh, but for over a decade he served in London. And one of the ways he manifested the rule of God in his life was that every Saturday afternoon he got on a plane in London, and he flew to Edinburgh. And then Monday morning, about four o’clock in the morning, he got on a plane and he flew back to London. And he worked all week long. Why did he fly back to Edinburgh on Saturday afternoon and back to London on Monday morning? Because he wanted to be worshiping in the little sixty-member Presbyterian congregation of which he was a part, and to which he had made vows of membership, every Lord's Day morning and evening. Though he was the highest civil judicial officer in the land, he showed that the ruler of his life, that the Lord of his universe, was the living God–even in going back to Edinburgh to church on Sundays.
Well, there are hundreds of ways that we can manifest the rule of God in our lives: through loving our neighbor; through keeping the Ten Commandments; through being men and women of integrity in our professional dealings; through keeping our word...there are a hundred ways that we can manifest the rule of God in our lives. But it is this place above all else that we gather as the Lord's house to learn what it means to be the kingdom of God, and the elders want to make sure that there is room for those who are not with us today, that they might learn what it means to be the kingdom of God.
But look at the second phrase that's used in verse 19. We are “of God's household,” Paul says. That's family language. You’re in God's household, you’re in God's family, Paul is saying. In other words, he is saying that the Lord's house, the church, you, gathered as the people of God, you are the place of God's fatherly favor. You are the people who enjoy together the privilege of calling God “Father, Abba.” You gather Lord's Day after Lord's Day, as we sang in the opening song, To God Be the Glory, to come to the Father in the name of the Son, and to give Him praise. We are the family of God. But do you notice how the New Testament stresses that our experience of God as Father is especially in the context of the family of believers?
Think of it: does Jesus teach us in the Lord's Prayer to pray “My Father, who is in heaven....”? No. He says pray, “Our Father, who is in heaven....” Now why would Jesus do that? To stress the reality of the communion of the saints: that if we're united to Jesus Christ, we have God as our Father. But if we are united to Jesus Christ, then we are also united to all those who are united to Jesus Christ, and so come to the One who is not simply “my Father,” but “our Father, who is in heaven.” Think of what Paul will say in Ephesians, chapter two, to the Ephesian Christians. He wants them to experience the greatness of the love of Christ...how? “Together with all the saints.”
One of the ways that we are challenged in the experience of what it is corporately to be the family of God is that your pastors can't be with you on Sunday morning. We have two services, but we have three rooms where we're meeting, and there are literally some Christians with whom I cannot join in the same room for worship every Sunday of the year. Some of our church family are so desirous that other believers who are worshiping with us or visiting with us can come into the sanctuary that they themselves go to Hutton Chapel or Lowe Hall, and as hard as I try, I can't see them. I can't be with them. We cannot as a family, in the same room, go to the Lord in worship. And our elders are saying that it's time that we provide a facility that will allow that family to come together–still have to do it twice on a Sunday, but at least we can be in the same room together, lifting up our praises to God, who is our Father.
Thirdly, notice what Paul says: we are a building, we are a temple, we are the Lord's building, the Lord's temple. See verses 20 and 21. We've been “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”
It's the place of His presence. We are the people who enjoy the blessing of communion with Notice here it is stressed that God is building us, His people, into His temple. God. We just read from Psalm 11 this morning, and Psalm 11 has one of those...it's not the only time it's repeated in the Old Testament...that phrase that “the Lord is in His holy temple.” Now, what's that a reference to? It's a reference to the manifestation of God's glory in the tabernacle and later in the temple in the Old Testament. The temple or the tabernacle...that was where the people of God experienced the visible manifestation of the nearness of God to His people.
Well, in the New Testament there is no building that is the temple of God. In the New Testament, Jesus is the place where we meet with God and experience the manifestation of His nearness to His people, and His people gathered in His name is the place where that experience is entered into by God's people. You remember Jesus stresses this in John 4, when He's talking to the woman at the well in Samaria.
And so, though the elders know that we are not building a temple of the Lord, yet we are building a place where the temple of the Lord can meet in spirit and in truth to worship with one another and to commune with God through Jesus Christ.
But we're reminded here that it's God Himself who must build that temple. We can't directly build that temple. First of all, that temple's built with living stones, not with bricks. We can't draw people savingly to Jesus Christ. We can share the gospel, but the Holy Spirit has to do that. God is the architect and builder of this living building, this living temple, but what we can do is provide a place where that living temple can come together to meet with the living God. And the elders are calling on us to do that.
Finally, look at this language in verse 16: we're not only God's kingdom, we're not only God's family, we're not only God's temple, we are the body of Christ. Listen to what Paul says in verse 16: “...that He might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross....” He emphasizes this in verse 6, that we are fellow members of the body. Now, Paul uses this to bring into sharp focus what we have in common, and what we have in common is Christ (if we're Christians). We may be Gentiles, or we may be Jews; but if we're trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are one body, one family, in one kingdom. We’re one temple. Even, Paul will use the language “we're one man.” We maybe have gone to different elementary schools, or we went to different high schools, or we went to different universities, or we grew up in different neighborhoods, or we're involved in different vocations, or we're from different cultural backgrounds, socio-economic classes; but the thing that we have in common is the Lord Jesus Christ. We’re united to Jesus Christ, and because of this we have a shared life with one another. We’re a body; we belong to one another. We’re utterly devoted to one another. Our benefits are for one another's benefits. We celebrate this in the doctrine of union and communion with Jesus Christ, and Paul is reminding us of that there. There's nothing that is to be allowed to come between the unity that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ.
But if we're the body of Christ, and if we're devoted to one another, it also means that we are utterly devoted to the mission of our Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are utterly devoted to God's mission in this world: and what is that mission? His mission is to build His people, to build His house, to build His church.
Stephen Marshall said many, many years ago, that
“...all the glory that God looks for in eternity must arise out of this one work of building His church. This one work shall be the only monument of His glory to eternity. This good world, this heaven and earth that you see and enjoy the use of, is set up only as a ship, as a workshop, to stand only for a week. And when this work is done, God will throw down the piece of clay again, and out of this He looks for no other glory. But this piece, the church, He sets up for a higher end, to be the eternal mention of His holiness and honor. This is His metropolis; this His temple; this His house.”
Marshall is reminding us that God's great design, His plan, His mission in history, is the church. Our homes will go; our universities will go; our impressive public buildings will go. Even this beautiful sanctuary, or one that replaces it, will go one day. But the Lord's house will last forever, and the question is, will you invest in something that is an investment in that Lord's house which lasts forever?
The elders see this as an opportunity for us to invest in something that will last forever. Think of it, my friends: there is only one institution in this world that will last into eternity, and that is the church, that is the Lord's house, the people of God. This house is for the service of that house.
Dr. Halsey, when he was concluding his sermon 162 years ago, finished it with a stirring challenge that puts this in perspective. He said, “Let us all give something, and our reward shall be in the reflection of after-years: that whatever good this congregation is able to do through this house, I have borne a part in that work.” You see the spirit of that. I invest in this house, so that I have some small part of the ministry to the Lord's people that will be done in it in the years to come; because after all, that will be the only thing that transcends this age and carries on into the age to come.
May God bless His word. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, we pray that You would give us hearts to see what lasts, where our investments will return eternal dividends. We pray, O God, that You would build Your house. We know that all we can build is a house for Your house. You’re the only one who can build Your house, but O Lord, we would do what we can to see that Your house is built up into the people who are Your kingdom, Your family, Your temple, and Your body. And we ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
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