The Peacemaking Church Model Sermon #8
1 Our Church: A Dwelling Place for God?
19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Ephesians 2:19-22; sermon uses verses 11-22 1
Purpose: By focusing on the biblical image of the church as God’s dwelling place, this sermon will help your church to look forward to the next steps of personal and corporate peacemaking – including the formation of a Peacemaking Team.
Introduction: “We hope you have a pleasant day in [Denver] or wherever your final destination may be.” Many of us hear those words when our airline flight has landed. The flight attendant tells us to enjoy our time in the city were we’ve just landed. “We hope you have a pleasant day in [Denver] or wherever your final destination may be.”
How about us? What’s our final destination? Have we arrived? Or as your kids might “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” Our church is on a journey…a journey toward building a culture of peace. And today, in one sense, we come to the end. At least it’s the end of our 8-week emphasis on being biblical peacemakers. In our small groups and in this series of message2 we’ve looked at what it means for us as believers when our Lord says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”
We’ve looked at Four G’s: those biblical principles that Scripture provides to guide our response to conflict:
We looked at those good desires that can grow into demands and fuel conflict. Do you remember the “7 A’s” of confession? We looked at the radical nature of God’s forgiveness of us – and in turn, our forgiveness of others – through the Four Promises of Forgiveness.
In sum, the Lord has used his Word and the power of his Spirit these eight weeks to begin a powerful work in our midst.
[At this point, if you have permission to share, you may want to cite personal examples from your our own life and the lives of persons in the congregation.] God has really been working in our midst.
So…where do we go from here? Does our Lord say to us “Welcome to a culture of peace…have a nice day…you’re arrived at your final destination”? The truth is that we haven’t arrived yet…we’re still growing as individuals and as a church. God has blessed us tremendously these last eight weeks, and I’m excited to now look toward the future and see where he’s going to take us as peacemakers.
And so today I want to look to the future God is opening up before us as he builds a culture of peace in our midst. And I want to look at that future through the lens of the New Testament book that says more about the church than any book – the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
Let’s look at Ephesians chapter 2, verses 11-22 for a picture of what the church is like. Please open your Bibles to Ephesians 2:11-22. Hear the Word of the Lord as I read: [READ TEXT HERE]
There are several images we might use to describe the church after reading this section of Ephesians. One that comes to my mind is “community” – the community of Christ that is our church. So let’s look at the church through the eyes of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:11-22.
Our Church: the Community of the Lost (vv 11-12)
How many of you struggle to admit you’re lost when driving? If you’re like me, you might drive around a long time before you’d humble yourself, get out of your car, and ask the gas station attendant for directions. We’re reluctant to speak the truth: “I’m lost.”
But that’s exactly what the apostle Paul says: you were lost. In your own strength, you couldn’t find your way to God no matter how hard you tried. And so our church is the Community of the Lost.3
Look at how Paul begins this section of Ephesians: he reminds us of our past, our condition before Christ. Look at verse 12: he tells the Ephesians to remember that before their conversion, they were “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.”
Before they met the Jewish Messiah Jesus, these Gentiles had no hope of ever being a citizen of Israel. Of course, before Jesus there was the occasional Gentile who had hoped in the God of Israel (like Cornelius, the Roman soldier in Acts 10 who had already converted to Judaism), but most Gentiles had no interest in becoming Jews and most Jews had little interest or care for Gentiles.
Gentiles regarded Jews as strange, weird, godless people…“they don’t even worship idols…they must be atheists,” thought the Gentiles. Gentiles thought of Jews as these odd, separatistic folks who kept to themselves in their own little world by practicing circumcision (which most Gentiles regarded as a sick and disgusting mutilation); by refusing to work on Saturdays; and by keeping a kosher table – refusing to eat pork or any meat that had previously been sacrificed to pagan idols.
Conversely, the Jews regarded Gentiles (with good reason many times) as sick and perverted pagans who engaged in idol worship and gross sexual immorality, and who had no regard for the Holy One, the God of Israel. In the minds of many Jews, it was with good reason that some portions of the Old Testament called down a curse upon those pagan idolaters who did not follow and revere the God of Israel.
What would happen with the coming of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth? Many Jews came to see that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the son of David, the promised King in the line of David, and the Son of God. But even more Gentiles came to believe in this distinctly Jewish Messiah. They came to see that Jesus had come not only as Messiah of the Jews, but as Messiah, Savior, and King of the whole world!! Gentiles in the early days of the church were being converted in droves. We might think “Praise God!”…but no, this caused large problems in the church. The problems of race, mistrust, prejudice and conflict in the church were as difficult then as they are now.
You can even see just a little hint of this mistrust in verse 11: “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (that done in the body by the hands of men)…”
Paul notes that these Gentile Christians in Ephesus were even called by a name: the “uncircumcised.” What would a Christian Jew in Ephesus call a Christian Gentile? “The uncircumcised.” You can even imagine what they might say…
“Those Gentiles don’t keep the Law of Moses, they’re not circumcised, they still act like pagans; they may believe in Messiah Jesus just like we Jewish Christians do, but you have to wonder…Do they really measure up to all we’ve done? If they really want to believe in Messiah Jesus, to be the best Christians, they’ll need to become like us: work a little harder; be circumcised; be sure to keep the Sabbath, and keep a kosher table. If you want to please Jesus, that’s what you’ll need to do.”
Paul, of course, doesn’t buy that attitude at all. He knows, in his own words in Galatians 5:6 that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” But here in Ephesians 2 he reminds the Gentile Christians of how some Jews regard them in order to set the stage for verses 13-14 of Ephesians 2. We might think of Paul as saying:
You Gentiles know that some Jews still consider you to be far off, separated from the people of God. AND INDEED, YOU ONCE WERE!! BUT…But, in light of God’s grace, says Paul, remember Eph 2:8-9. Remember Eph 2:8-9.
Do you remember Ephesians 2:8-9?? Look in your Bible just about an inch up the page. What has Paul just told his readers? “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” And in light of that, (remember that Paul says “Therefore” in verse 11, right after Eph 2:8-10) in light of the fact that you’ve been saved only by God’s grace, Paul tells them to remember their former state. Remember you were separated from Christ; you had no stake in Israel – God’s chosen people; you were strangers to the covenant of God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants; and, powerfully stated, you were once without hope and without God in the world.
Do you remember that? Do you remember your former state apart from Christ? Do you remember how far off from God you were prior to Christ? You were separate from him; you weren’t at all a part of God’s people; you had “no hope and were without God in the world.” Those of you who have trusted Christ in your later teenage years or as an adult probably remember your state before Christ. You remember what it was like…
Or do you? Has it been so long since you trusted Christ that maybe you no longer think about your life before Christ? Paul says to you “Remember where you were before Christ.” Remember your lost state before you were united with Christ.
What if you trusted Christ when you were quite young? [Possible illustration here of conversion at a young age] What if you have no dramatic conversion story to tell of a former life of heinous sin? God says to you, “Think about the life that you were rescued from before you ever had to experience sin in all its depths.” Even if you were converted at a rather young age, Scripture is clear that you were and are a sinner saved only by God’s grace. Remember that, and count it as one more blessing of God that not only did he save you, but he graciously saved before you had to experience some of the worst effects of sin. Without a doubt, God says that regardless of whether you received Christ at a young age or much later in life, you were without hope and without God in the world.
On the other hand, there may be some of you here today who have never yet trusted Christ, never made him your treasure in life. You may have an interest in God, in Jesus, in what this “Christian thing” might be all about. You may have come to church all your life. You might be searching, wondering what really is the truth. What is the Bible saying to you right now? It’s telling you a message you may not want to hear: regardless how you may feel right now, the Bible says that without Jesus Christ you have no hope and you’re without God in this world.
You have no peace with God. And a result you may lack peace with others. But thank God, that’s not the end of his message to you. There is yet hope.
Christian, you were lost before Christ. You were alienated. You were without hope and without God in the world. And so, our church is the Community of the Lost.
But, thanks be to God, it doesn’t end there. Because…
Our Church: the Community of the Redeemed and the Reconciled (vv 13-18)
Paul now goes on in Eph 2, verse 13, to give an amazing contrast. Grace has come. Once you were alienated, lost, estranged, without hope and without God in the world. Verse 13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”
Through the blood of Christ, that’s the key. Why? Why is the blood of Christ necessary? Our sins, our wrong acts and violations of God’s law that we knowingly and willingly chose, those sins had separated us from a holy God. But God, in his great mercy, provided a means for us to be acceptable before him: by the death of God’s sinless Son on our behalf, the righteousness of Jesus (the purity, the holiness, and perfect obedience of Jesus) have been transferred to us, while Jesus has willingly taken on the punishment for our horrible sins. All that, and so much more, is what Paul means when he says that Gentiles “have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” That’s the hope we have in Christ. Our hope was purchased by the blood of Christ. Our peace was purchased by the blood of Christ.
The death of Jesus on the cross has brought Gentiles near, and it’s brought near every one of you who have trusted Christ…you are no longer separated from Christ, you are now a citizen of Israel, you’re a recipient of the promise of the covenant. God’s covenant with his people now applies to you – you’re one of God’s chosen ones.
Paul now expands on this idea that Gentiles who were formerly lost have been brought near through the death of Jesus. Look at vv 14-16. In some of the densest, deepest theology in Ephesians, Paul makes his point by making reference to the Temple in Jerusalem. And this is an important point we’ve got to understand if we’re going to understand Paul here: the Jerusalem Temple had a wall dividing the “Court of the Gentiles” from the “Holy Place” with a sign threatening death to any Gentile who transgressed the boundaries.
The Temple of God in Jerusalem – the very place on earth promising “access” to the one true God – was marred by a human dividing wall that symbolized both the wall dividing human beings from one another, and the cosmic wall separating God from humanity.
For humans, it was a vertical dividing wall that showed the hostility between Jews and Gentiles. God’s house (which Isaiah and Jesus said was to be a house of prayer for all peoples) was not open to outsiders. The gracious promises of God to bless all peoples through Abraham “…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12) had been perverted – the Temple in Jerusalem had become a symbol of the division that existed between Jews and Gentiles.
But now, says Paul in verse 14, Jesus has become our peace. [READ vv 14-16] He has broken down in himself that very wall that divided Jew and Gentile by abolishing the Law that the Jews had used to serve as a divider between themselves and the Gentiles. You see, God’s Law in the Old Testament was his gracious gift to Israel and to the world; sadly, however, many Jews had sinfully used the Law as way to maintain their pride and self-sufficiency – “we Jews keep God’s law…we earn God’s favor by keeping the Law…” They used the Law as a stick to beat up Gentiles and to actually keep Gentiles away from God.
But Jesus has now, says Paul, abolished the Law so that he might create in himself “one new man”, a new “race” of people, if you will, in place of Jew and Gentile. Thereby Jesus destroys the hostility between Jew and Gentile, by destroying that hostility on the cross and creating this new man in one new body, the body of Christ. And not only does he reconcile one hostile people group to another, but he reconciles all of us to the God from whom we were estranged and at war because of our sin. “He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.” For Christians in conflict, the blood of Christ brings peace with God and with other believers.
Then notice finally in this section, how Paul grounds all this reconciliation among different believers: in the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Verse 18: “For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” Note Paul’s use of “for”…“for” gives a reason, it’s like “because.” How can there be reconciliation between radically different groups of believers in Jesus? Because, verse 18, through Jesus we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
Our church is the community of the Redeemed and the Reconciled. We’re reconciled to one another because we’re reconciled first to God. And the ground of that reconciliation with each other is the Spirit of Jesus at work in our own lives.
If your wife or your husband is also a believer, the Holy Spirit that gives you access to the Father gives her or him access, too. If your siblings or your in-laws are believers, the same Holy Spirit is giving them access to the Father too. Or if you are unreconciled to your Christian children, Paul says that the same Holy Spirit is at work in each of you, and you all have been brought near by the peace available through the blood of Christ.
That doesn’t mean that reconciliation is easy – it’s hard work, and can take time and patience. But the ground of reconciliation is always there: Christ has reconciled us to God through his death, and by that perfect life and death has made possible real and genuine reconciliation between brothers and sisters in Christ, because you’re all part of one body – the body of Christ.
The Scripture also tells us that, just as Christ has brought reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles, so he can bring reconciliation between different Christians today. Jesus has done it all. He’s the reconciler. He’s the peacemaker. He’s broken down the hostility between Jews and Gentiles. He’s broken down the hostility between races. If there’s still hostility there today between Christians of different cultural or socio-economic backgrounds, it’s not because Jesus hasn’t done his job – he’s broken down the dividing wall.
And the apostle Paul says to us here today that the Holy Spirit is alive and at work in the lives of all believers. He is our peace; he’s our peace with our children; with our spouses; with our parents, our siblings, our friends, our co-workers, our brothers and sisters in Christ here today. He’s brought peace…he’s brought reconciliation. He’s bigger than all those issues.
So that’s what he calling our church to be: the community of the Redeemed, and the community of the reconciled.
So, how do we do that? It’s fine for me to tell you this, but how do we do it?
In one sense, the Lord has already provided you, through his Word and the power of this Sprit, with the tools and the power you need to be a peacemaker. For many of us, the Lord is tugging at our hearts, showing us to whom we need to go and with whom we need to be reconciled. And so, we just need to do it – to go.
But we as leaders of the church also know that for a culture of peace to “stick”, to really be embedded into the life of our church, we will need to give support to peacemaking. And we want to provide that support by enlisting the help of some of you. I know that there are some of you here today who’ve been feeling a pull these last eight weeks…you can feel a desire to be a part of a larger effort to build a culture of peace here. That’s where we need your help.
Our concern as leaders is that this peacemaking emphasis not be a “flash in the pan”, a one-time occurrence. No, we want to “embed” peacemaking by making it an ongoing ministry of our church. Just as in the past we’ve shown a commitment to our children, to our seniors, or to evangelism by committing ourselves to a ministry to kids or to an evangelism ministry – so now we’re asking you to consider whether God might be placing a call on your life to be part of our new peacemaking team.
Might you be a part of that? I don’t know what the Lord will do. But I can tell what the Lord is looking for…and what he’s not looking for.
If you like to “fix” people…if you desire to get in somebody’s face and show them how they’re not being a peacemaker…Well, then maybe the peacemaking team is not for you.
On the other hand, if you’re motivated by the grace and forgiveness that God has given you in Christ to be a channel of peace for others, pray about whether the Lord might be leading you to be involved in our peacemaking team: working with the church’s leadership, and under the authority of the church’s leadership, to be those who have three major responsibilities for peacemaking:
To be those will “guard the flame” of peacemaking in our body. Someone once said that “Christians leak.” No matter how much truth you pour in me, I do leak and you need to fill me up again. And sometimes we’re all about a quart low on peacemaking. That’s where the Peacemaking Team comes in: the team will be those persons with a passion and vision for peacemaking in our church. They’re the ones who will “guard the flame” of peacemaking in our body and keep it burning brightly.
The team’s second responsibility follows right out of the first: these persons will be equipped to do a good deal of the teaching on peacemaking for us: in Sunday School, in small groups, or in our new members class.
Finally, the team will be equipped to assist you in conflict. We all need help sometimes – it’s biblical. Jesus says to get one or two others to help you in a conflict if you need it. And so team members can work under the authority of our church’s leadership to provide biblical counsel to you one on one if you’re in a conflict. Or they could even help you sit down over coffee with a person you’ve got a conflict with.
We’ll be talking more about the peacemaking team in the coming weeks. For now, just seek the Lord on whether he might want you to be a part of this ministry.
So, not only are we the community of the Lost (or should we say formerly Lost?). And not only are we the community of the Redeemed and the Reconciled. Now Paul gives a powerful image of our church: a dwelling place for God.
Our Church: a dwelling place for God. (vv 19-22)
Paul is ready now to come to his conclusion in this part of Ephesians. He tells these Gentiles in verse 19 “Consequently” – so then, you people who once were far off, who were not part of God’s covenant people, but who have now had the dividing wall of hostility broken down, who have been united in Christ into one new man, who have been reconciled to God in one body through the cross of Jesus…So then, consequently, (verse 19)
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
Paul’s conclusion is that these Gentiles now have a totally new status in Christ. They are no longer like the “strangers and aliens” in the Old Testament, those non-Jews who attached themselves to the people of Israel – but who always had a certain second-class status. No: they are now fellow citizens with God’s people. Note the reversal here of verses 11-12: formerly they were excluded, but now they’re part of God’s chosen people. They are members of God’s household.
And in verse 20 Paul starts to meld one metaphor into another, as he says that his readers are like stones in a building that has a foundation of Christ’s apostles and prophets, and that has a cornerstone of Christ Jesus himself. You people, says Paul, are being built into a building, but don’t worry – it’s solid. We can be confident because the foundation of the church is built on the solid foundation of Christ. You know yourselves to be weak, crumbly stones. But the cornerstone, the foundation stone, the thing this whole building stands on, is Jesus Christ.
Verse 21 spells out that this “building” is growing – it’s like a living building – it’s growing to become a holy temple in the Lord. The old Temple had a dividing wall, a sign of hostility. But the new temple is the newly formed people of God themselves. There’s the temple of God; that’s where God chooses to dwell; there’s where he can be found. Look at verse 22: And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
These Gentiles had been so lost. They had been without God and without hope in the world: strangers and aliens, cut off from the people of God. And now, God says, “Everything has changed. I am building you all into a dwelling place for me by my Spirit.” The Lord is making our church into a dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.
A few words of application for us: The core question of all of this is Who is your cornerstone? Whom are you built upon? And God’s answer is “I’ve provided your cornerstone, your foundation – Jesus Christ himself and his atoning death for you.”
What is God is building us to be? Verse 22: our church is being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. That’s pretty heady stuff, isn’t it? Sometimes life probably seems a lot more mundane than that. But no, says God: as people reconciled to God and then to one another, you are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives.
Now that’s a vision that we as a church body can strive for…we can strive for it because it’s God himself who is building us together. Note that Paul doesn’t say “You are making yourselves into a dwelling place for God”…
“No,” says Paul, “you are being built together,” (that is, God himself is building you) “into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” God’s Spirit, the Spirit that’s alive and active in our individual lives, the Spirit that’s alive and active in our homes, the Spirit that’s alive and active in our corporate body, is building us into a dwelling place for God. We don’t deserve it, we haven’t earned it, but God has graciously given it nonetheless.
Ultimately, it’s not about us. It’s about God dwelling in his people by the Spirit. And we are that people. You are a dwelling place for God, built on the firm foundation of Christ.
Transition sentence: our church is the community of the Lost; the community of the Redeemed and the Reconciled; the community built on Christ to be a dwelling place for God.
That sounds like a tall order. More than we might think we could possibly accomplish…a people at peace, a people reconciled to one another, a people who are a holy temple, a people who are a dwelling place for God? But Paul has a word for us there, too. Later in Ephesians, after his powerful portrait of the church and all that God calls it to be, he prays for the church, and then in 3:20-21 in the benediction to his prayer he says:
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…”
It is a tall order. We can’t do it, but He can. He can do immeasurably more abundantly than all that we ask or think – according to His power at work in us. “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen”