When we talked last week about being “raised up,” we talked about how we are saved by grace, and we have value, worth and dignity in Christ. God is glorified when God is seen in us, shining through the cracks of our brokenness, making something new and better of us to accomplish good works He has planned for us. But as we continue reading Ephesians, Paul is going to talk about purpose. Why are we here? What good am I? What can God possibly do with me, and how will he do it? Let's pick up in Ephesians 2 beginning at verse 11:
"So never forget how you used to be. Those of you born as outsiders to Israel were outcasts, branded “the uncircumcised” by those who bore the sign of the covenant in their flesh, a sign made with human hands. You had absolutely no connection to the Anointed; you were strangers, separated from God’s people. You were aliens to the covenant they had with God; you were hopelessly stranded without God in a fractured world.
But now, because of Jesus and His sacrifice, all of that has changed. God gathered you who were so far away and brought you near to Him by the royal blood of the Anointed, our Liberating King. He is the embodiment of our peace, sent once and for all to take down the great barrier of hatred and hostility that has divided us so that we can be one. He offered His body on the sacrificial altar to bring an end to the law’s ordinances and dictations that separated Jews from the outside nations.
His desire was to create in His body one new humanity from the two opposing groups, thus creating peace. Effectively the cross becomes God’s means to kill off the hostility once and for all so that He is able to reconcile them both to God in this one new body. Jesus, the Great Preacher of peace and love came for you, and His voice found those of you who were near and those who were far away. By Him both have access to the Father in one Spirit.
And so you are no longer called outcasts and wanderers but citizens with God’s people, members of God’s holy family, and residents of His household. You are being built on a solid foundation: the message of the prophets and the voices of God’s chosen emissaries with Jesus, the Anointed Himself, the precious cornerstone. The building is joined together stone by stone—all of us chosen and sealed in Him, rising up to become a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you are being built together, creating a sacred dwelling place among you where God can live in the Spirit."
In Ephesians 2, Paul uses three analogies to show how our role in the church it to live and build together in a sacred church community where the presence of God is both welcome and obvious: One body (Identity) One citizenship (Allegiance) and One building (Purpose). As Christians, we are part of a church. We aren’t just raised up so we can shine. We aren’t saved in isolation. We are raised up together so that we can bring the practical application of God’s goodness into the world. So, let’s make this practical.
In high school, I was on a basketball team. Ten individuals had to become one. We were united. We were a Flame (which was our mascot). Our identity was worn proudly on our shirts. Our allegiance shifted. When we went out for the team, we had to choose basketball over a lot of other things, and we had to give up our independence to the will of the coach. We all had a purpose: win. If you watch March Madness or the NBA, the team that clicks is the team that wins. The Pistons who won the NBA championship several years ago weren’t the best players in the NBA. They were the most united.
In marriage, two individuals become one. Sheila and I were united almost 25 years ago. We were no longer our own; we were not only “one,” we had a claim to each other. Our identity was now wrapped up in the other one. Our allegiance shifted. We had to choose each other over our family and over other people. We were now surrendered to the will of God and the desires of the other. We are united in purpose (at least ideally), whether it’s vocations, or mission, or raising kids.
In church we see the same principle, but in some ways it is much, much more complicated.
One Body (Identity)
We are all part of one body. This addresses the issue of Identity. It’s not just a question of who I am anymore. It’s a question of who we are. And the “we” is everybody committed to following Christ. The barriers that come with this are huge. At that time Paul wrote to all the churches around Ephesus, the Jew/Gentile barrier was the biggest hurdle (and the one mentioned here). But there was also men/women, slave/free, rich/poor, etc. When individual people form the “body” of Christ on earth, it’s hard.
- We unite emotional with intellectual.
- We unite people who worship God best through music with people who worship God best through study or hiking or praying or painting.
- We unite people who grew up with the Bible or in church with people who didn't.
- We unite Charismatics with Traditionalists.
- We unite introverts and extroverts.
- We unite the expressive and the stoic.
- We unite Republicans and Democrats.
- We unite people who think marriage is awesome and people who think marriage is a nightmare, so when we talk about the church as the Bride of Christ, or we use marriage analogies for God’s love or our relationship with God, we have to be careful
- We unite people who work for PCC and RTL and people who have had abortions, so we speak truth with so much grace, and we offer the hope of God’s healing by being a part of the healing of others.
- We unite people who think ‘family’ means home and people who think ‘family’ means hostility.
- We unite people who love that God is a Father and people who cringe at that connection because of their fathers.
- We unite people we just don’t like, and people who let us down, and people who ignore us when we need attention, and people who pay too much attention when we want to be left alone, and people who are hypocritical, and people who are a little too transparent…
It’s hard. But God plans to reconcile us to God through this “one body.” Christ died not only to save us as individuals but to unite us as one humanity. We are individual ambassadors, yes, but the church is the corporate ambassador.
One Citizenship (allegiance)
We are all citizens of a new country. This addresses the issue of Allegiance. As a Christian, a citizen of the Kingdom of God, my time, my money, my emotions, my relationships are all surrendered as an act of allegiance and obedience to Christ. In the Old Testament, God commanded that His people not worship any of the other pagan Gods. In the New Testament, this worship of idols has more to do with priorities. No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). You can’t serve God and something else.
As citizens in the Kingdom of God, we pledge our allegiance to something greater than our wants and desires. We pledge our allegiance to something greater than America. My money is God’s, my reputation is God’s, my sex life if God’s, my time is God’s, my entertainment and vacations and work and friendships – all God’s. And that’s hard, too, because we like being the ruler in our Kingdom of Me. Jesus said,“By this the world will know that you are my disciples: that you love one another.” (John 13:35)
If we want to be a disciple, we have to accept the authority of Christ and follow. If we want to be a follower of Christ, He will demand our allegiance. Being our own authority figure is not an option for us if we are followers of Christ.
One Building (purpose)
Being “built up” does more than just establish comraderie. It gives us a purpose. What are we here for? What plan does God have for our life? We are being placed by the Master Builder to form the walls of a sacred dwelling place, a holy temple, where God can dwell in Spirit. We sometimes over-personalize the fact that the Spirit of God dwells within us. We only claim it personally, and we forget that the Bible also talks about it the Spirit of God dwelling in us corporately.
When Paul made this claim, he upended the prominent role of the temple at that time. The temple building was the heart of the Jewish nation – politically, socially, musically, morally, etc. It was also the heart of Greek and Roman communities too (think of Cult of Diana in Ephesus). Many believed the temples were where heaven and earth met.
Paul made it clear: we don’t have to go to a geographical place or a particular building to go to a place where the Spirit of God dwells. The Spirit of God dwells with God’s people. So, what difference does that make? How does it tie back in to the previous analogies? There is an interesting comment in Philippians where Paul talks about a fruit of Spirit-filled living that is often overlooked.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Philippians 2:1-2)
Paul is basically saying, “If the work of God in you has done anything at all, you should have the same mind (the mind of Christ), the same love (agape, self-sacrificial), and be in one accord.” We let God unite us. Because Christ is in us, we build unity by asking for forgiveness – and we are able to do the hard work of forgiving. Because Christ is in us, we build unity by speaking truth humbly and with grace, and by listening humbly and with grace. Because Christ is in us, we build peace by entering into life together with a very different and very challenging people and make it work.
So we are raised up not just for our sake, but for the sake of others in the church. There are lots of other ways we can talk about using our gifts and talents, but this is a foundational purpose that all of us can participate in no matter our education, background, abilities or skill level. We can become part of the ‘body’ of believers; we can give our allegiance to Christ; we can become part of what God himself uses to build a sacred dwelling place where God lives in Spirit.
- What are our divisions today? Race, culture, gender, economic or marital status? Spiritual or educational background? Different ways in which we experience God?
- What tends to hold you back from participating as a part of the church body?
- How would our corporate life together change if you fully gave your allegiance to the lordship of Christ?
- What are the implications of the church being the temple of the Holy Spirit? If we were all conscious of that, how might our lives change? If the American church were purposefully conscious of this as we address social issues, do you think our approach would change or stay the same?