We Are Joined Together

| Ephesians 1:20-23; 2:8-10,19-22

Week of July 26, 2020

The Point:  When we come to Christ, we also become a part of the body of Christ.

The Body of Christ: Ephesians 1:20-23.

[1:20] that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, [21] far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. [22] And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, [23] which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.  [ESV]

“Spiritual Power [1:19-23]. How do you make spiritual power apparent to God’s people who are preoccupied and oppressed by this material world? Paul who would give us hope lifts our eyes from this world and causes us to focus on another power from One above. Our hope resides in understanding the power above and the power here. The Hope Above [1:19-22]. First, Paul says the power that is available to God’s people is immeasurable greatness. Then he tells us the nature of that power. The power that is at work in our behalf is resurrection power, able to overpower sin and death. For those once dead in sin, new life is possible; and because of this divine provision, maintaining our witness before adversaries and our hope in adversity is not futile or impossible. The power that is at work in our behalf is also the sovereign power that places our Savior and Advocate above all rulers and forces of this world. To explain this sovereign power Paul mentions virtually every dimension of authority and strength that we would recognize in this world, from political rule to physical might to spiritual forces in this age and in the age to come, and says simply that Jesus is greater than them all. He is the head of everything. And this great power that is at work in our behalf is church power. What Christ is doing with his power is to the church. We might expect the apostle to say that what Christ is doing with his power is “for believers” or “for you,” instead of “for the church.” He could have said such things and been perfectly consistent with what he writes elsewhere. Christ does express his resurrection and sovereign power in behalf of us as individuals, but that is not Paul’s point here. The point that the apostle is making is that the power of Christ is expressed not merely for individuals, but for the church of which you and I are only a part. He who created all things and who is the head of all things and who continues to fill all things is ordering all things in the interest of the church. There are powerful implications for those who gather corporately to worship God and to learn to fulfill his purposes. We cannot truly fathom the magnitude of the apostle’s promise that Christ, who is head over all things, is filling creation with his purposes for the church. The universe is being constrained in its course, bent in new directions, for the good of the bride of Christ. As much as our perceptions may seem to deny this truth, the battles that rage, the leaders that rise, the events that occur do not thwart his agenda. History inexorably marches forward toward the triumph of the church of Jesus Christ. He is using all things to shape and reshape the world for her sake. The whole creation is being conformed to purposes that serve the glory of Christ’s church. This is a compelling reason to be a part of the church. The entire world is Christ’s bouquet to his bride, the church. But how does he prepare this bouquet? What instrument is Christ using to fill up the earth with his eternal purposes? It is the church. The Hope Here [22c-23]. That for which the universe is being filled is itself the instrument of his filling. Jesus is changing the world for the good of the church by means of the church. He who is head over all things and gives the universe its full purpose also fills the church that gathers in his name. As such, the church, the body of Christ, is the present instrument of his filling the universe with his purpose. The eternal, universe-conforming power of God is present in the world through the church, and this power is working in the world for the church. This filling of the world with Christ’s purpose for and through the church is the corporate hope we alone possess. No other agency on earth has this promise. God gives no other institution the promise or the power that it will be salt and light in the world. The world will ultimately and eternally yield to the influence of the church, because it is the body of him who is head over all and, thus, it contains and exerts his power in behalf of his own glory. Our mission does not end at the threshold of the church door, nor is it limited to matters the world calls “religious.” All of culture is our domain, all enterprises are of our interest, and all that is beautiful is ours to enjoy and cultivate. All that is here he is head over. Therefore we have a right to be concerned for it and to bring it under the lordship of him for whom it was created and for whose glory it is designed. The church is God’s instrument for world transformation and renewal. Paul’s following words are a blueprint for the ministry of local churches that will produce mutual love and personal purity so that believers are prepared for godly service in every dimension of their lives. The church is called to be the church so that by her proclamation of the gospel in word and deed her people will be prepared to advance his kingdom wherever he calls them to be salt and light in the world.” [Chapell, pp. 70-76].

The Household of God: Ephesians:  2:8-10,19-22.

[2:8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

[2:19] So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, [20] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, [21] in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. [22] In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.  [ESV]

“Why I Must Proclaim His Grace [2:8-10]. Paul next gives us reasons why we must fulfill our God-given calling to make this gift of grace known. God certainly could work without us, but by working through us his kindness is made plain and our humility is made precious. To Ensure My Humility [2:8-9]. So important is it to Paul that God’s kindness gets full credit that his summary of this passage takes away every avenue of personal credit for our salvation. Paul says that we are saved by grace through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God [8]. Grace is his unmerited favor; it comes to us through faith in what he has done. But even that faith is a gift, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, a product of his hand, created in Christ Jesus – made by God through union with Christ – to do good works not of our devising, but that he himself planned in advance for us to do [10]. Grace is of him, faith is of him, our union with Christ is of him, the works we do are of him, and the intention to do them is of him. So there can be no boasting or pride, but only an acknowledgment of the kindness of the gift of God. To reiterate, there can be no boasting or pride, but only an acknowledgment of the kindness of the gift of God, because this emphasis ensures our humility and clarifies our mission. The clear statement of Scripture and the witness of my own heart both affirm that my salvation is unmerited and unearned. To Enable Ministry [2:10]. The good that God wants to do he has ordained to do through us. There need be no aloof sitting on the sidelines waiting for God to work because of his sovereignty and our finitude. He has already told us that he has prepared us for good works and, then, in this same passage describes what is good to him: making known his kindness to a world that must glorify him [7]. This is not because God needs us to do so, but because he has so ordained to use us for such a glorious purpose. And the way that he has ordained for us to do this is the proclamation of who he is as he has revealed himself to us in the person of his Son. We do not have to know all the answers to divine mysteries to be able to proclaim him. Yes, we are responsible to defend the faith and proclaim more than simple truths about God, but we are not ready to address the challenges of doctrine, church, culture, and world until we acknowledge that we will always be little children crawling into the lap of the Father to ask him how he works. Only in that attitude of humility, filled with the knowledge of his love and person, are we ready to speak to the world of a God who loved us when we could not love him back, and saved us when we could not save ourselves. For only as little children delighting in the opening of a gift beyond our highest hopes and fondest dreams can we really begin to show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus  [7]. May God keep each of us such a child of his heart, and keep our heart humble before him, as the grace of the kindness of God in Christ becomes our greatest joy and eternal message.” [Chapell, pp. 85-90].

“Built Tough, Built Together [2:19-22]. We are Dear to God [2:19]. Paul puts before us the grand consequence of the cooperative work of the Trinity in our behalf. Through the cleansing work of Christ we can now approach the heavenly Father. The word Paul uses to describe our “access” to God is used in New Testament times to describe access to a throne room. Our Father is a King. Paul’s careful wording reminds us that we can enter the presence of the King of the universe and seek his favor because he loves us as his own children. By the sacrifice of the Son, the effects of our sin have been washed away. Now we – although of Gentile origins – can approach the Father with the same status as the covenant people of old. And the Holy Spirit himself ushers us forward, announces our presence, and carries our petitions. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit unite in heavenly power and compassion to grant us purity, peace, and purpose. The trinitarian theology of this passage is reminiscent of other trinitarian texts in Paul’s letters [1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6], but here there is a special emphasis on the effect of their cooperative work on our corporate status. Having access to the Father means that we are no longer foreigners and aliens to the covenant [19a]. Alienation from God and isolation from his promises and privileges characterized our former status, so that we were without hope and the comfort of God in this world of loneliness, trouble, and transition. But it is no longer so. We are no longer aliens and foreigners. We are fellow citizens with God’s people [19b]. Having citizenship in the ancient world meant that you had special rights and protection. This is why the city officials at Philippi, who had beaten Paul and Silas without a trial, became so alarmed when they learned the two were Roman citizens [Acts 16:38-39]. The officials knew that the protection and power of Rome could be exercised against them for their treatment of its citizens. So when Paul here reminds us that we are fellow citizens with God’s people, he is reminding us that we have the power and protection of heaven. We are as treasured as any of the covenant people. Countering the vulnerabilities we feel in our travel through this world, Paul says we have the privileges of our heavenly citizenship to protect us. Our privileges are not exhausted in our citizenship. Paul says that in addition to having the rights of citizens, we also have the benefits of being in God’s family [19c]. Here the apostle narrows the circle of intimacy for those now in the Ephesian church. Paul makes this relationship even more special by reminding the church that it is not just any family of which they are members; they are members of God’s family. Paul wants us to understand the great privilege and comfort that come from knowing that God claims us as his own family no matter what our past difficulties or failures. Through Christ we not only have access to our Father’s presence, we also have access to our Father’s heart. There his Spirit advocates for us with tenderness beyond our provoking, and pronounces to our heart what the heavens announce to the world: “You are our child, and you will always be. We are Secure in God [2:20-21]. Paul changes metaphors from speaking of being members of God’s family to being built on the foundation of apostles and prophets. The change is really a beautiful development of Paul’s thought. Members of God’s family are literally referred to as the “house-ones,” or “house-people.” The word for household [19] in Greek has the same root as the word for aliens in the same verse, and as the four building terms found throughout 2:20-22. Thus the term naturally leads to consideration of how solid and secure is this house. Paul describes two aspects of its construction to communicate how secure is the heart-home of God’s people that does not change even if their circumstances do. He speaks of its foundation and its cornerstone. Paul says that the Ephesians are the fulfillment of a building process with foundations laid by those whom God inspired to impart his will in both the Old Testament and the New. The words of the apostles and prophets coordinate. The inspired messengers of the New Testament are speaking in continuity with those of the Old. The inclusion of the Gentiles was not a surprise or an afterthought; the foundation of the Scriptures was laid broadly enough to include us. God always intended for us to be part of his plan. Those that God inspires to lay the foundation for understanding his purposes have indicated that the father’s household was always intended to include many nations. The light to the nations was always intended to bring others to the Father’s home. We are welcome despite our differing backgrounds. And if the foundation of the apostles and prophets does not itself assure us of the welcome God intends for us, our security in his home is shown to rest on the unshakable cornerstone of Christ himself. In his death and resurrection, Jesus stands as the chief witness to the enlarging and enfolding intention of the Father. It is by his sacrifice once for all that the barrier between Jew and Gentile is destroyed. No longer is there a ceremonial partition between those inside and those outside of God’s house. Jesus, the One who exactly represents the will of the Father, indicates that the Father’s home is for both those near and those far away, for those included and those excluded, for those once united to the covenant and those separate. His sacrifice is the ultimate testimony on which we can rest our claim of God’s love. His is the cornerstone of our assurance, a divine stone that cannot be shaken, a rock upon which the hope of all who trust him is sure. The witness of the apostles and prophets and the unassailable testimony of the Lord who sacrificed himself in our behalf are the inspired foundation and divine cornerstone of our assurance of his love no matter the temporal transitions and earthly troubles this life may hold. Knowing of God’s provision of his Son, and seeing the eternal and holy purposes of the house that God builds on this divine cornerstone, Paul writes, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord [21]. The household that rests on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and depends upon the cornerstone for stability and design, is fulfilling a heavenly purpose so that it is not merely a house but also a house of God, a temple. When we rest on the foundation of God’s Word and build on the cornerstone that is Christ, then we too are fulfilling a holy purpose, even when we may not seem to be achieving much of any purpose at all in the eyes of the world. The way that God expresses his glory through us is beautiful and cause for his praise. God makes our lives a temple for his praise even when we may not think anything special is happening to or through us. We are All Vital to God [2:22]. God’s scheme is grand. The scope of the foundation and the strength of the cornerstone are impressive. But we should not overlook God’s use of individuals to fulfill his purposes. Each has a purpose that is remarkably expressed by the apostle as he describes how we function together and how the Spirit functions within us. In the picture that the apostle has constructed, we are no longer foreigners and aliens, but family members of God’s household. The house beneath us is laid on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. All rests on the cornerstone that is Christ, a rock so solid that the house rises heavenward as a temple to fulfill God’s holy purposes. But what are the bricks that form the walls of this house of God as it reaches towards heaven and fulfills divine purposes? You are. I am. You are being fitted into an eternal plan for the house of divine purpose that God is building. Each one has a purpose that is tied to the purpose of another as we rise to become what God is building. What makes us ultimately know the vital nature of our service to God? Understanding that not only are we being built together, we are also indwelt by his Spirit. This building composed of dear and vital human elements is itself alive and filled with the Spirit’s power. God lives in the house he constructs by building our lives together. What Paul communicates is that the days of glory are not past. God did not work among his people only long ago. The God who brings us together indwells us for his purposes now. There is still a task for his church, and he dwells in us so that we may fulfill it. Until he comes we are in his plan for each other and for this world. This sense of purpose is what will inspire us to fresh courage, faithfulness, and zeal when the world and even our colleagues may view what God calls us to do as small or meaningless. With assurance of such love, security, and purpose, his Spirit still indwells us so that our life will be a temple for his purposes and praise.” [Chapell, pp. 120-133].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What does Paul teach us concerning the church in 1:20-23? What does he mean by using the metaphor “body” to describe the church? Describe the relationship between Christ and the church in 1:20-23. What resources are available to the church from its “head”?
  2. Describe what Paul says about grace and faith in 2:8-10. What does Paul mean when he writes that our salvation is by grace … through faith? What is the relationship between our salvation and good works? Why does Paul insist that our good works are the necessary result of our salvation and not the cause of our salvation?
  3. What conclusion (so then) does Paul make in 2:19 from what he has written in 2:11-18? What does it mean to you personally that you are no longer alienated from God but are now fellow citizens with the saints?
  4. Paul now adds three more metaphors for the church in addition to “body” [1:23]: household, building, and temple. What does he teach us concerning the nature of the church with these metaphors? What are the foundation and cornerstone of the church? How does your church show that it is built upon this foundation and has Christ as its cornerstone?
  5. During our six week study of Ephesians, be alert to what Paul says about the nature of the church and how the church is to function as the body of Christ.

References:

Ephesians, James Boice, Baker.

Ephesians, Bryan Chapell, REC, P & R Publishing.

Let’s Study Ephesians, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.

The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

Ephesians, Frank Thielman, BENT, Baker.

The purpose of this article is to provide additional reference resources for those Sunday School teachers who use Lifeway’s Bible Studies for Life material.