There are four main bones in every organization. The wish-bones: Wishing somebody would do something about the problem. The jaw-bones: Doing all the talking but very little else. The knuckle-bones: Those who knock everything. The back-bones: Those who carry the brunt of the load and do most of the work. Which one am I? That is the practical question to which our text points. Our text tells us that we are part of the church. We are part of one body. It means that one of us is an eye, and one of us is a hand. We need eye-hand coordination! How can we do that? Well, first we need to recognize how we all fit together, and why God has done things that way. Then we will be to see clearly how we are each to function in the body of Christ.
Paul gives us three images that each tell us that we belong together, and that we belong to God. And what I say here is nothing new. Others better than I have said it in the past. The three images are of a kingdom, a family, and a temple.
The first image is that of a kingdom. That’s what Paul means when he talks about being a citizen. Roman citizenship is the background to what Paul is saying here. Roman citizenship was a great privilege in those days. Paul was a Roman citizen. It meant that one could walk from one end of the Roman empire to the other, and fear no harm, because all those countries knew what would happen if they even so much as touched a Roman citizen. Roman citizenship was hard to obtain. You could be born with it, as Paul was, since his father was a Roman citizen. Or you could buy it. But citizenship in God’s kingdom works a little differently. It is true that no one has the ability to take away a Christian’s place in the kingdom. Someone might make you a martyr. However, that is not the same thing as losing your citizenship. Nothing can separate you from the love of Christ. Not even death. That is the privilege of citizenship in God’s kingdom. However, there is more. Being a citizen also means that you are fellow-citizens with everyone else who is also a citizen. As Paul says here, “you are fellow citizens.” What we translate as two words, “fellow citizens” is only one word in Greek. Remember, Paul is talking to Gentiles. He says that the Gentiles are now fellow-citizens with the Jews as they are both in Christ Jesus. We must never forget that this can only happen in Christ. Salvation does not happen outside of Jesus Christ. But when we all come together as Christians, we can see that God’s kingdom is huge, larger than Rome, larger than the United States. It consist of people from every people group under the sun. We are all fellow-citizens.
The second image that Paul gives us is that of a family. He says that we are part of the household of God. Households tended to be large in those days, since they were not just parents and children. It also included extended relatives, servants, and even friends, sometimes. But it was at the same time large and close-knit. The amazing thing here is that we are described as being part of God’s family. If you are reconciled to God by the blood of Jesus Christ, then you are part of the family of God. You are a child of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. You, who were once the enemy of God, you are now a child of the King. It is one thing that enemies be made friends. That can happen. But how often does it happen in human experience where enemies not only become friends, but adopt each other? I remember a story told about reconciliation wherein a man had murdered a woman’s husband and served time in prison for it. After getting out the wife of the murdered man sought him out in order to seek reconciliation. She invited him to see her family. She invited him to meet her children. She served him a large, gourmet meal. The man said something like this, “Christians are the only people where, if you murder them, they will invite you into their family. I am not a Christian yet, but the Man upstairs sure is knocking.” That is an illustration of the power of God. He doesn’t just become friends with us. He invites us into His family, even after our sin had murdered His Son on the cross. We are fellow-citizens, and members of God’s household.
But we are also part of the temple of the living God. As we have seen before, God has opened the way to the Most Holy Place by Christ’s sacrifice. We now have access to the Father. But there is more than that. Paul is telling us that we are the new temple. It is not merely that we have access to God. It is that we are living stones being built up into the dwelling place of God. The largest temple of the ancient world was the temple to Diana at Ephesus. It was one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. It was huge, and took many years to build. The worship of Diana overshadowed everything else that went on in Ephesus. So, for Paul to say, “There is a more wonderful temple, a larger temple, and one that is not dead like the Ephesian temple, rather it is made with living stones,” that would resonate loudly with his readers. Paul is telling us that there is a more wonderful temple that has better worship, better stones, better foundations, and a better cornerstone. How was a temple built? Well, first, a foundation was laid down. The builders would start with the cornerstone. That cornerstone was perfect, since it had to be perfectly square. Paul mentions that we, the new temple, are built on just such a cornerstone, Jesus Christ. It is His person and work which form the basis of this New Temple, the church. After the cornerstone was laid, the rest of the foundation would follow. Paul tells us that the foundation is the teaching of the apostles and prophets. In other words, the Bible is the foundation of the church. We sing about this when we sing that the church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. Now, this might be a bit confusing. In one passage, Paul tells us that there is only one foundation, Jesus Christ. Here, he says that the foundation is the prophets and apostles. Which is it? Well, it is both. Paul uses language as he needs to use it. When Paul says “the apostles and prophets,” he does not mean that human beings as human beings form the foundation. What he is saying is that it is what they teach that is important. The apostles and the prophets wrote the Bible. The Bible tells us about Jesus. And so the Bible is the foundation for the church. We also sing about how firm a foundation is laid for your faith in His excellent Word.
There is no other foundation for the Christian life. One of the biggest problems that Christians face today is the problem of culture. The Bible says one thing, but all our friends in the world out there say something else. And sometimes, even our fellow temple-stones say something other than what the Bible says. By what rule do we live our lives? Are we living our lives by what the Bible says? If we have been reconciled to God by the blood of the Lamb, then how could we live our lives by any other standard? The Christian life is lived on the foundation of the Bible. Whatever decision we face must be approached by saying, “What principles from the Bible guide me here?” All too often, our first question is this, “What will work?” We need to rethink our standards. The first standard is the Bible. The Bible tells us that greed is wrong, that sex before marriage is wrong, that dressing immodestly is wrong, that holding grudges is wrong, that forgiveness is required, that we worship God on Sunday rather than working, that we get along with our fellow citizens and temple stones. This week, as you are faced with a decision, try to remember to ask this question first, “What is Biblical?” You ought not even to consider doing something that the Bible forbids. It doesn’t really matter how well it might work. It is not an option. A little lie here and there might make your life a whole lot easier in one sense, but the Scriptures say you must not.
Another application of our text here (and that flows from the previous one) is that we must look out for the good of the whole church. It is very easy to think, “Me, me, me.” That is what the world thinks. They think that it is all about me. But the world is not all about you or me. God only is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. That is why we come here on Sunday to worship God. We do not worship ourselves. But even if we do not worship ourselves, it is still very easy to think of one’s own best interests first. Paul says in Philippians that we are to regard one another as better than ourselves. How about going through a mental list of the members of this church and thinking to yourself that that person is a better Christian than you? Would you be willing to do that? But further than this, even, when you are considering doing something, ask yourself this question, “will this action benefit other people, or am I doing it only for my own good?” Especially we need to ask whether or not such an action will harm others in the church. If it will harm others in the church, then it is not an option. One stone in the temple cannot go about trying to destroy other stones in the temple. The temple will fall down! Don’t do it. Always think about what you are saying before you say it. We are not islands to ourselves, but are rather part of a larger reality, the church.
Charles Colson wrote a book entitled The Body, wherein one chapter is entitled “Extending the Right Fist of Fellowship.” In that chapter Colson describes what happens when one member of the church has it in for someone else, and fails to exercise Christian love and forbearance. That case actually resulted in a fistfight in the sanctuary during the worship service! Paul warns against that ind o behavior when he warns us about devouring one another.
So you are a citizen of God’s Kingdom, a member of the family of God, and a stone in the temple of God. You have become so because of Christ’s righteousness, not because of anything you have done. God has transformed you. And now you must act like it. The Holy Spirit will enable you to this task. As Paul says in the very last two words of the chapter, “in the Spirit” or “by the Spirit.” it doesn’t really matter what translation is used, the point is the same: the Spirit enables us by indwelling us. And so, make use of the means of grace. Be filled with the Spirit, and not with the spirit of the age. Trust in the Word of God as the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and remember that you are part of the larger whole, God’s glorious bride, the church.