I thought the division and strife of the election would end after the election was over, but I was wrong. I now think that it has just begun. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Human beings can learn to get along in peace. But they must be shown how. Jesus showed us how, and we Christians are to follow the way of Jesus and show the world how.
This is what Paul talks about in Ephesians 2:18-22.
Strife, division, and hostility are not new in our day. They have been present since the beginning of the world when Cain killed Abel. But God has always called us to live differently in this world, and Jesus showed us how this could be done. One of the primary areas of division in Paul’s day was the religious/political division between Jews and Gentiles. You take all the political strife of our day and put it together with all the religious strife of our day, and that is what you have with the Jew and Gentile strife of Paul’s day.
And in Ephesians 2:18-22 he tells them, and therefore us, how to live in peace and unity with each other.
Below are some notes for how I would preach this sermon today. What follows these brief notes is how I preached this sermon almost 20 years ago. As I read through those old notes, I was amazed at how much my thinking has changed in two decades. I imagine that two decades from now I might look back and think the same thing yet again. Such is life; such is theology!
Anyway, here are my brief notes for how I would preach Ephesians 2:18-22 today:
Ephesians 2:18. Access through the Spirit. Not through buildings or voting booths.
Ephesians 2:19. We are no longer aliens and strangers … although we are, for our citizenship has changed. We are now citizens of heaven, members of God’s household. But since we are citizens of heaven, this makes us foreigners and strangers in this land. When we live and vote, we operate according to the rules and regulations of the country from whence we come, the Kingdom of God. We work in this land to introduce the people here to the rules and ways of the Kingdom of God. We vote and work in a way to help people see that there is another way, a better way. A way of peace, love, grace, forgiveness.
Ephesians 2:20. This new way is built on the apostles and prophets, but primarily on Jesus Christ. He is the chief cornerstone and the true guide for how to live this way. We do not follow Moses, Mohammad, or Mahatma Gandhi; we follow Jesus. We do not put an R or a D after our name, but a cross. We do not identify as liberal or conservative, but as Christ-follower.
Ephesians 2:21. Only in this way will God’s temple in the world rise up, not as a temple built with human hands, but as a the people of God who follow Jesus into the world to love and serve whomever we meet.
Ephesians 2:22. This is where God lives, and this is how God moves in the world. Do you want to see God’s work in this world? Then live together in peace and harmony with one another, working to reveal Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God to this world, and when you do that, God will show up and people will say, “Truly, God is in their midst. Truly God is dwelling among them.”
Below are the sermon notes for how I preached this passages about 20 years ago… If you read through it, please note that I disagree with what I say about “salvation,” with what I say about prayer, Bible study, and church attendance, and what I say about the overall point of the entire passage of Ephesians 2. Basically, I disagree with everything… Ha!
When I was in college in Chicago, there was a joke on campus that in Chicago, there were only two seasons. Winter and Construction. The Moody campus is in the middle of downtown Chicago, and it seemed that there was always some sort of construction going on near the campus. I learned that first year to sleep with ear-plugs in.
I am sure most of you have been around construction sites. Maybe you have walked by one at some point in your life. Maybe the house you are living in was constructed for you. Maybe you have worked at a construction site. Maybe you were unfortunate enough to live next door to a construction site.
If you were to ask me to think of one word describing the atmosphere at a construction site, it would be noisy. Noisy! Construction sites are full of men shouting to each other, hammers pounding, saws cutting, cranes lifting, jack hammers thudding, drills drilling, and a hundred other noises.
Construction is a noisy thing.
But did you know that when Solomon’s temple was constructed—as you can read about in 1 Kings 6—it went up silently? No hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was ever heard at the temple site while it was being built (6:7)! Can you imagine how strange it would be to watch a building rise up from the ground without hearing a sound?
It would set the building apart from all others, wouldn’t it? It would make that building special … sacred.
I’m not going to tell you how King Solomon did it—it wasn’t a miracle—you can research how he did it by reading 1 Kings 6 for yourself. The point I want to make is that the temple was built without any noise.
Many people speculate why Solomon chose to construct the temple without any noise. Part of the reason, I am sure, is because it was a special building. It was where God would dwell. It was holy, and Solomon wanted it to have an atmosphere of peace and order rather than the normal construction atmosphere of noise and chaos.
But there is another reason that the temple was built this way—a reason not even Solomon was aware of. This reason was prophetic. Today, in the church age, there is no more physical temple. But a temple is being built. And it also is being built silently. You cannot hear it go up. It is also invisible. You cannot see it rise from the dust.
What is this building, you say? Ephesians 2:18-22 explains. This is the final section of chapter 2. The whole chapter shows us as Christians our new position in Christ. Ephesians 2:1-10 showed us what we were like as individuals before we were saved, what God did to save us, and what we have as a result. Ephesians 2:11-22 tell what we were like corporately before we were saved, what God did and what we have now and in the future as a result.
The main idea of this passage is that we, as believers, are being constructed into a building, a holy temple, a dwelling place of God.
Before Paul explains to us what we are being constructed into, he needs to lay the groundwork. Before he tells us what we are becoming, he gives us the key that gets us in the door, the title, which shows who the building belongs to, and the foundation, upon which the building stands.
I. The Key (Ephesians 2:18)
Ephesians 2:18. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.
Have you ever heard of those types of raffles where they are giving away a car or in some cases a house, and when you buy your ticket, they give you a key, and if your key unlocks the door, you are the winner?
In those kinds of raffles, there is only one key that works. No other pattern will open the door. In fact, that is what a lock is for. That is why you have car locks and door locks and padlocks and bike locks. Only those with the key can gain access. Though there are a million keys, only the one that fits the lock will work.
Paul has already told us what the key is in Ephesians 2:8-9. If you want to open the door of salvation, the key, which God made by His grace, can be yours through faith. If you believe in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, you are saved! You have been given the key that unlocks to door to heaven.
And Paul mentions three things about this key in Ephesians 2:18. These three things are like the cut or pattern of the key. Paul says first, that it is through Him that we both have access. Who is this Paul is talking about? The previous verses make it clear that it is through Christ.
The second aspect of the key is that it is by one Spirit. This is the Holy Spirit. He is the one that indwells us and seals us, and ushers us into God’s presence.
The third aspect is that it is to the Father. Previously, before we were saved, because of our sin, we were separated from God. But now, through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, we have access to the Father.
That means you can go to him anytime and anywhere. Church is not the only place you meet God. You can meet with him in your car. You can meet with him at home. How? Through prayer and Bible study. Once you have been granted access, it is a connection that is never down. You always have a direct line to the Father.
Before we move to v Ephesians 2:19, let me mention quickly two miscellaneous points about 18. The first is the word both. He says, we both have access. Remember, Paul is talking primarily here about the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. Jews, remember, thought they were the only ones that had access to God. And even among the Jews, only the High Priest on the Day of Atonement could enter into the Holy of Holies.
Paul says “This is no longer the case! All have access. Both Jews and Gentiles have access. There is no privileged race or person. There is no privileged class or position.”
Some religions and cults teach that only priests and pastors have access to God. That is not true. Catholicism teaches that Mary, the mother of Jesus has privileged access to Christ. That is not true either. First Timothy 2:5 says there is one mediator between God and man—Christ Jesus. If you want to go to God to confess your sins, or to ask for a request, you can! You don’t have to go through Mary. You don’t have to go through me. You have the Top Level Access key. Hebrews 4:16 says that now we ourselves can come boldly before the throne of grace.
Prayer is a privilege for the Christian that we often take for granted. Churches in New Testament times were so effective and full of power because they were overwhelmed with the privilege of prayer! Previously, they had to go the temple and had to go through the priest to get to God. But now, each one, could go to God, anytime, anywhere about anything.
We have lost this excitement—this intimacy—this revolutionary and life-changing power tool that God has given us in Jesus Christ. My prayer for myself, and for this church, is that we return to an understanding of the power and privilege of personal times of prayer.
Think about it. “Through prayer, you can enter the throne room of God, kneel down before the Sovereign of the Universe, and address Him as…Father!” That is astounding to me! Yet—to my shame—to our shame—how little we take advantage of it.
The other thing about this verse is that it is an excellent verse in defense of the Trinity. All three members are present: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. People who deny the Trinity have a hard time explaining this verse.
So in Ephesians 2:18, we’ve seen the key that grants us full access, let’s now look at the Title in Ephesians 2:19.
II. The Title (Ephesians 2:19)
Ephesians 2:19. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,
Just like there were three parts to the key, there are three parts to the Title. The first is the title we used to have. Paul says you are no longer strangers and foreigners. Some of your translations might say aliens. Same idea.
The term strangers (xenos) is a word for a short time resident—a transient. In today’s terminology, we would say “homeless.”
The term alien or foreigner, (paroikos) is a word for a person who is living in a country other than the one they were born in. They have no inheritance rights, no secure protection under the law, no voting rights. In our day, we would call them illegal aliens.
These two terms together show how much we do not belong. These are repeated ideas from Ephesians 2:12.
We were strangers and foreigners, but we no longer carry that title.
Rather, also in Ephesians 2:19, we are fellow citizens with the saints. We often think of saints as having special rights and privileges; special access to God. But Paul says we are fellow citizens with them. Whatever they have, we have. Whatever rights they own, we own. In fact, in Ephesians 1:1, Paul says that all believers are saints.
If you have believed in Jesus Christ for eternal life, you are a saint! That is your title. Bob is St. Bob. Dayle is St. Dayle. Genevieve is St. Genevieve. We are fellow citizens with the saints. This again is a reversal of what we saw in Ephesians 2:12. There we did not have citizenship, here we do.
Citizenship was a prized possession in the time of Paul. Men and women would work their whole lives and pay huge amounts of money in order to become citizens of Rome. But if being a citizen of Rom was special, imagine how great it is to be citizens with the saints? According to Ephesians 2:19, that is what we are.
Thirdly then, we are also members of the household of God. Now think about it. What is better? Being a citizen of Rome, or being a heir to the throne of the Roman Empire? America is not a monarchy, so think of England. Which would you rather be? A citizen of England, or a prince or princess of England? Of course we would want to be the prince or princess! And Paul says here, that is what we are.
Our third title is that we are members of the household of God. Not only are we saints because we are citizens, we are princes and princesses because we are members of God’s household. These are the titles we have in Christ.
Paul, in working toward the building God is making us into, has talked about the access key we have in Christ, the titles we have in Christ and now, in Ephesians 2:20, the foundations upon which the building will stand.
III. Foundations (Ephesians 2:20)
Ephesians 2:20. … having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone,
You know the foundation is the most important part of any building. If the foundation is bad, the building will be bad. This is the truth found in the story of wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27. Ravi Zacharias tells a story of visiting the arts building newly opened at the Ohio State University campus. He says “It’s white scaffolding, red brick turrets and Colorado grass pods evoke a double take. But puzzlement intensifies when you enter the building, for inside you encounter stairways that go nowhere, pillars that hang from the ceiling without purpose, and angled surfaces configured to create a sense of vertigo. The architect, we are duly informed, designed the building to reflect life itself—senseless and incoherent.” Ravi Zacharias continues, “When the rationale was explained to me, I had just one question: Did he do the same with the foundation?”
We all know, as this great Christian thinker revealed, that if the architect had used senseless and incoherent rules in his foundation, the building never would have gotten off the ground.
Foundations are the most important part of any structure. And a spiritual foundation is no different. God is building us into something, and He has taken great care to make sure we have a strong foundation.
Again, like the key and the title, the foundation has three aspects. The first is apostles. The apostles, of course, were those who personally witnessed Christ and were taught directly by Him. There are no more apostles today. But the apostles left something for us—they left writings about Christ. We know these writings as the New Testament. Paul says here that the first foundation we have is the writings of the apostles which is the New Testament.
Paul, of course, did not have the complete New Testament as we have it today…in fact, as he was writing this letter, he was writing part of this first foundation, but he knew of other letters and accounts of the life of Christ that were written by other apostles, and so he mentions them here as foundation number 1.
Second, he mentions the prophets. This is a way of saying the writings of the Old Testament. The Old Testament is not made up of only prophetical material, but only prophets did the writing. Sometimes they wrote history, sometimes they wrote wisdom literature, sometimes they wrote prophetically. But the second foundation is the Old Testament.
The third foundation is the main theme that both the Old and the New Testaments are about. If there was one big idea found in the whole Bible, it is, as Paul says in Ephesians 2:20, Jesus Christ, Himself being the chief cornerstone. All the Scriptures point to Christ. He is the scarlet thread on every page. He is the fulfillment of every law. He is the beginning and the end. He is what it is all about.
Therefore, although the Old and New Testaments are foundations, Christ is the chief foundation. Paul says here that Christ is the chief cornerstone. When a building in ancient times was being built, the first and most important stone to be laid was the cornerstone. If it was prepared and laid correctly, the building would be square and strong. If it had imperfections and was laid poorly, the building would be flawed and weak (cf. Isa 28:16).
It is just like when you’re laying shingles on a house, or plowing rows in a field. The first shingle and the first row must be perfect, or all the rest will be out of place.
Christ is the chief cornerstone upon which God builds, and since Christ is perfect and without blemish, the building will be perfect as well.
Having looked at the key, the titles, and the foundations, Paul now moves to the building itself in Ephesians 2:21-22.
IV. The Building (Ephesians 2:21-22)
Again, just like the other points, there are three aspects. Beginning in Ephesians 2:21: In whom the whole building, being joined together. This building Paul is talking about is a building in Christ. The “in whom” points us back to Christ as the chief cornerstone. It is in Christ that the building is being joined together. It is in Christ that the building is being built. We are a building in Christ.
Next, also from Ephesians 2:21, this building grows into a holy temple in the Lord. Did you know this construction was going on? Just like Solomon’s temple, this temple is being built silently. We cannot hear it. In fact, this construction is even invisible—we cannot see it. But Scripture tells us it is true. We are being built into a holy temple in the Lord.
There are two words in Greek for temple. The first, hieron, is used for the whole building and vicinity. It is used for the temple grounds. That is not the word used here.
The word used here is naos. It has in view just the part of the temple where God dwells.
In the Old Testament, God’s presence was in the Holy of Holies—the most sacred part of the temple. That is what is in view here. But, as I mentioned, only the High priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and that only once a year.
But when Christ died on the cross, the veil which separated man from God in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This symbolized that the breach had been filled. The separation had been spanned. The wall had come down.
In A.D. 70, the temple was destroyed. Does that mean that God no longer has any temple? No! 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19 tells us that Christians are now the temple of God. We are each a temple individually, and we are also being built into one glorious temple for God. We are the new Holy of Holies.
Ephesians 2:22 says the same thing a third time, but in a different way.
Ephesians 2:22. … in whom (that’s in Christ again) you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Ephesians 2:21 said we are a building in Christ and a temple of the Lord. Ephesians 2:22 says we are a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. We are a dwelling place for God’s Spirit, or the Holy Spirit. We’ve talked about this before. One of the thing the Holy Spirit does for the believer is that He indwells us. He dwells in us. We are His dwelling place.
By the way, we see the Trinity here again, don’t we? A Building in Christ, a temple for the Lord, and a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. God the Son. God the Father. God the Holy Spirit.
This is what we are, and this is what we are becoming. It is our present and our future.
So let me ask you a question. What is the church? We speak of this room we are in right now as being the sanctuary, but really, Biblically, what is the sanctuary of God? What is it He is building? What really is church growth?
A friend of mine once sarcastically defined church growth as bodies, bucks and bricks. If you get more bodies in the seats, if you got more bucks in the offering plate, and if you add more bricks onto your building, then you are growing. Is that right?
No, that is not right. Paul has shown us here that the building, the temple, the dwelling place of God is the people who make up Christ’s body. It has nothing to do with this physical structure. It has nothing to do with denominations. It has nothing to do with how many programs we have. It has nothing to do with how many people attend.
In fact, when we understand how God views the church, it is possible that the group with the fewest number of people is actually the largest church in town.
You ask, “How can that be?” Well, think about it. What is church growth? What is God most concerned about? What is Christ building?
He’s building you … me … us. We are the stones that make up the building in which God dwells and of which Christ is the cornerstone!
Therefore, growing a church begins with you. Church growth does not occur when we fill up these seats and when we get bigger budgets and nicer buildings. Church growth occurs when you learn about God and His Word; when you fellowship with each other; when you pray; when you obey God. That is true church growth. You are what God is building, because you are a part of His church.
Related to this is the idea that church will no longer be perceived as a program that some people put on for others to watch. Church is not a play. It is not sitcom. It is not movie. It is not something I and a few others do on Sunday morning for you entertainment. Since we are all the church, we all need to participate, whether it is on Sunday morning, or during the week. Some of you might be wondering how. The answer is by knowing your spiritual gifts and putting them into practice.
When we perceive that the church is people, not a building, not a denomination, not a set of programs, we realize that what is important is the people. If this building burns to the ground, the church will still exist. If all our programs stop functioning, the church will still exist.
The largest church in town is that gathering of believers where the greatest percentage of people are using the gifts God has given them. If the church has ten people, and all ten are using their gifts, they are 100% church. But if a church is 500 and only 50 are using their gifts, that church is only 10% church. God wants the 100% church much more than he wants the 10%.
So let me ask you: Are you a holy vessel, fit for the Lord’s use? What in your life needs to go? Are you available for the Lord to use? Do you have an area of ministry? Are you involved in some way in this church other than just by attending on Sunday morning?
In a basketball game, nobody wants to be a benchwarmer, but if you come Sunday after Sunday, are not giving during the week or on Sunday morning of your time…or giving of your resources, you’re a benchwarmer in the most important game of your life. Don’t be a benchwarmer. God wants to construct you into so much more. Let him start building through your life, and you will be amazed at what He can do.
Emily O'Brien says
I’m old enough to remember when the burning division of society was how long a man’s hair ought to be – whole families split up over this issue, and who remembers it now (except old folks)?
Teresa Harmeyer says