By R. L. WYSER
Text: Ephesians 2:19-22
All of this emphasis on the military today makes me feel at home. I was born into a military family and until I was seventeen, I knew no other environment. One thing that I noticed about the military is that it has an obsession with initials. There are initials for everything. There is the CO, the NCO. There is KP, AWOL, and TDY. Now we hear of EPW, MIA, KIA, WIA, and POW. But the most used is the often mentioned and always lived by, RHIP, which means rank has its privilege. It is one of the paradoxes of our country that, even though we live in a republic that allows us representation and we conduct our affairs of government in a very democratic way, the military is very much an authoritarian dictatorship which is made up of dictators that run from lesser to greater until finally you reach the greatest. Rank has its privileges. When I was growing up in the military we saw it in the officers; club, the officers’ golf course, and the officers’ housing.
Paul is saying that with God it is not that way. As Christians, we all have privileges. In this passage we find three simple, vivid, memorable figures of speech that give us grounds for gratitude concerning our privileges as Christians. The first reminds us that we are no longer strangers and aliens, but we are citizens of God’s kingdom. The second says we are not outsiders, we are members of the family, and that we can feel at home in God’s family. The third moves beyond that. It takes us to a higher atmosphere and says that each of us is a living stone in the great temple that God is building, the scaffold of which will fall when Jesus returns and God’s temple is seen for what it is.
THE BELIEVER HAS BEEN MADE A CITIZEN IN GOD�S KINGDOM
In order that we understand it better, Paul first states this negatively before he states it positively. In Ephesians 2:19, it says, “You are no longer foreigners and strangers.” He takes a backward glance. He retrospects. He takes a page out of the spiritual autobiography of every one of us and that is the time we felt alien, we felt strange, and we felt out of the kingdom and out of the family of God. One reason salvation is so luminous, so light, so bright, to the apostle Paul, is because he always sets it over against the darkness and the emptiness of what it means to be lost. That is, he doesn’t mind stating the negative in order to be able to state the positive. We sometimes are negative to talk about the negative, like the old song, “Home, home on the range, where never is heard a discouraging word.” But the truth of the New Testament is that outside of the church, there is nothing to be thankful for spiritually, and we can’t see truth unless we see error. We can’t be grateful for the light unless we look at the darkness. We can’t appreciate being saved unless we understand lostness. So Paul points first to the darkness to life without God in order that we might be grateful for the life in Christ. In fact, in the second chapter he uses some of the most memorable language to express life outside of the Lord. In verse 12 he says, “Remember at that time you were separated from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel, foreigners to the covenant of promise, without hope, without God in the world,” consequently foreigners and aliens. Paul piles up expression upon expression to help us understand how bright salvation is by understanding how dark the other side is.
When the Titanic sank in 1912, it was the ship that was supposed to be unsinkable, but the only thing it ever did was sink. When it took off from England, all kinds of passengers were aboard, millionaires, celebrities, and people of moderate means and poor folks down in the steerage. After the ship went down, they put a list up in the Cunnard office in New York. It carried only two categories, lost and saved. Grim tragedy had leveled all distinctions. And there are only two groups in any congregation, the lost and the saved.
Buffeted by temperamental winds, tossed by angry waves, the derelict ship moves across the waters of the Midnight Sea. No steady hand at the wheel determines her course. No compass points her port. She is only a battered hulk, biding her time upon the waves until the elements send her at last to the burial ground of forgotten ships. Once a useful vessel bearing her cargo, fulfilling intended destiny, now only a broken wreck drifting to her inevitable doom. Saddest of all dramas enacted upon the seas is that of the derelict. There is nothing beautiful about her. Forlorn she seems, somehow, with her ragged sales tossed to the mercy of the winds. No longer is she fulfilling the purpose for which she was made. Never again will her helm swerve gently to the prompting of the wheel as she glides gracefully toward an appointed port. The sound of voices, the pull of the ropes, all of these is only vague hints of yesterdays, which she will never know again. What is her story? Perhaps a fever raged, taking one by one the members of her crew until now that battled hulk carries in its cabin a cargo of grim skeletons. Perhaps a storm threatened and the men, unable longer to manage her in the raging seas, took to the lifeboats. We do not know. For ghost ships cannot speak. But this we do know. She is only a derelict. Tomorrow she may be gone, unwept, unhonored and unsung. No one will mark her end, no one will miss her, and with her into the graves of the sea will go the memories of windy capes and torturous channels. The winds that made her wise will play a ghastly requiem over the waves which claim her, and then there will be only the stretch of sea gain. The derelict will be forgotten forever.
Even as the sea’s saddest tale is woven about the derelict ship to drift upon her bosom, so the saddest story written in the Great Book of Life, is that of the derelict soul. How often we pass them as we journey over the sea of life. Ships that pass in the night. Haunted souls attempting to guide their broken boats over waters, which can only be safely navigated under the guidance of the master pilot. Souls, which sway to the will of every wind that blow and every wave that, try their slender spires. The derelict souls of life. How pitiful they are, and how needlessly so. How horrible it is to be lost!
The epitaph of Charles Starkins is written in legalese and filed in the records of the New York State Correctional Service Department. He breathes, he works every day, but he is a dead man so far as the State of New York is concerned. His death came one morning in 1953 with a rap of a judge’s gavel sentencing him to life in prison for the murder of his father. Under a 171-year-old state law known as civil death, Starkins’ marriage was dissolved. His children no longer had a father, and there was no court, which could take his case. Seven years after Starkins walked through the front gates at Sing-Sing Prison, he was told that his children had been adopted. The state legislature is now considering a proposal to repeal the civil death law. Lamented Starkins, “When you’re sent to prison, you still have your feelings. Your love and concern for your family, that just don’t stop. You’re still a human being.” In February 1970, Starkins was paroled but he had lost track of his family.
All who spurn God’s mercy so freely offered in the Lord, are dead in trespasses and sin. (Ephesians 2:1) They are alienated from spiritual life until they are quickened into life through the Savior who said long, long ago, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have (it) more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
The most horrible, horrible word in the English language is the little word, lost. When you consider in the light of eternity and in the light of its spiritual meaning, it is the darkest word in the history of all language. It means separation from God. It means eternal dwelling in the land of eternal punishment. It means the opposite of Heaven. It means the extreme opposite of righteousness. It means Hell. It means separation from God. It means no peace. It means no happiness, no joy. It means separation from the good, and companionship with evil. It means all there is that is wrapped up in darkness into which no sun shines. It means the starless night of eternity. It means sunless day forever and ever. It means all there is in the punishment of sin, and the wrath of God, and the indignation of a wrathful sovereign. Lost. Lost. Lost.
If we are lost, it is willfully and willingly, lost perversely and utterly; but still lost of our own accord which is the worst kind of being lost. We are lost to God who has lost our hearts’ love, confidence and obedience. Lost to the church, which we cannot serve. Lost to truth, which we will not see. Lost to right whose cause we do not uphold. Lost to Heaven into whose sacred precincts we can never come. Lost, so lost, that unless almighty mercy shall intervene we shall be cast into the pit that is bottomless to sink forever. Lost. Lost. Lost.
Better a whole world on fire than a soul lost. Better every star quenched and the skies a wreck than a single soul would be lost.
Look at the implications of what Paul is saying. Every one of us started out as a foreigner and an alien. These two technical words in the Greek New Testament means everyone who is not a citizen, either by birth or absence of privilege. Paul looks suggestively and illustratively at what it means to be without the Lord Jesus Christ. The word translated, foreign, means someone traveling with a passport, passing from one nation to another. It is the Greek word xenos. It gives us the word, xenophobia, the fear of something foreign.
I don’t think that I am an easily intimidated person, but there is one place where when I stand there is a sense of intimidation that always wells up in me. My heart beats a little faster. I find that my palms are perspiring. My breath is shallow. My eyes wide open with expectation. And it is when I stand at the immigration line where people stamp the passports. There is always something that looks superficial about those people. They sit there regal in his or her domain and they have over your life for a few minutes, the power of getting in or getting out of a country. I usually feel a little more intimidated when it is time to get out than when it is time to get in. Foreign.
The second word he uses is alien. It means a permanent resident alien, a foreigner dwelling in another state that is on the fringe and is just tolerated. It was the circumstances of Ruth in the Old Testament book that lived on the fringe of Hebrew society. In Rome, such a resident alien had to pay a tax just to live there. They were in Rome but they were not of Rome. In many cities, including Chicago, there are legal and illegal resident aliens. Some of them have to live a miserable life in the sense of not belonging. Paul wants us to get a sense of the atmosphere of those words when he makes reference to the fact that every one of us was like that in reference to the Lord, the church and the kingdom, the city of God, even Heaven itself. We begin as alien and foreigners. We were outsiders, and it is only by an active of God that we become insiders. For some of us it happened so early that it is hard for us to remember what it was like to be an outsider. For others of us who recently have exchanged the visa of a lost life for the passport of the kingdom of God, we remember vividly what it was like to be an outsider and now to be an insider. We need to remember that all of us started out as outsiders and we became insiders. We are all naturalized. We are all receivers of citizenship. There are no natives in the kingdom of God. That may be painfully simple to some of you, but it is not clear to many people. There are those who feel that because I am an American, I am a Christian, a believer. There are those who believe that because my parents and grandparents belonged to the church, that they are all right. There are those who think that as long as they are not against the church, and are loosely connected with the church, that they are part of God’s kingdom. Paul gives us a reminder. No, you are an outsider, an alien, a stranger, until you by personal choice committed your life to the Lord, and then you became an insider and a citizen. There is no tenure. It is all by grace. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people.
We know that Israel was God’s chosen nation, but they rejected their redeemer and suffered the consequences. The kingdom was taken from them and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. (Matthew 21:43) This new nation is the church, a chosen generation, a holy nation, and a peculiar people. In the Old Testament, the nations were reckoned by their descent from Shem, Ham and Japheth, according to Genesis 10. In the book of Acts, we see these three families united in Christ. In Acts 8, a descendant of Ham is saved, the Ethiopian treasurer. In Acts 9, a descendant of Shem, Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the apostle. And in Acts 10, the descendants of Japheth, the Gentiles in the household of the Roman soldier, Cornelius. Sin has divided mankind, but the Lord Jesus unites by his spirit. All believers, regardless of national background, belong to that holy nation with citizenship in Heaven. (Philippians 3:20-21)
We don’t have a sense of excitement that Paul had about that. He was an Israelite, but he had moved about the Greek-speaking Gentile world and he never lost his sense of excitement of going to a place like Ephesus, where pagans had gone to the temple of Diana and butted heads on the ground in front of an image of a pagan god, and Paul had swept them into the kingdom of God. Now they were as much a part of the kingdom of God as Abraham or Moses, or David or Paul; and he never took that for granted. It was always a thing of astonishment to him. Paul was proud of being a Roman citizen. We find that in his letters and in the book of Acts. Very few among the one hundred million who lived in the Mediterranean basin were Roman citizens. But there was something else, which Paul was much prouder, and that was that he was a citizen of the kingdom of God by the grace of God.
How can I know that I am a citizen of God’s kingdom? There are three ways.
A citizen conforms to the laws of the state while an alien does not know or respect the laws or conditions of the state.
This leads to humorous situations in international travel and in international relationships. For example, there are whole parts of this planet where it is impolite to say, “No.” It is just not said in polite society. If you ask a person, “Will you do this?” they will not say no; they will say, “Yes,” but what they mean is that I’m going to tell you why I’m not going to do that. For example, among the Japanese, the word, yes, means I hear what you are saying. It does not mean that I necessarily agree with you and will do what you are asking me to do. In Bulgaria when people shake their heads no, it means yes, and yes means no. In Italy, if you do not speak with gestures, it is an indication you are bored. In Saudi Arabia, it is a tradition to conduct business with everyone present, even your competition. If you say to a Saudi, “Let’s speak privately about business matter,” they will simply lean closer to you and listen more attentively. The okay sign means okay in the U. S. In France, it means zero. In Japan, it means money. In Brazil, it is a gesture that is not done in public. In China, they tried to market Pepsi under the slogan, “Come alive with the Pepsi generation.” When they translated that into Chinese, it came out, “Pepsi brings your ancestors back to life.� You could imagine the puzzled Chinese buying their first Pepsi wondering what it would do to the generations of their families. Billy Graham ran into the problem one time in a crusade when he was preaching through an interpreter in India. He said, “I am just tickled to death to be here.” The interpreter, because there are no figures of speech in the Indian language, translated it, “I am just so glad to be here that I scratch myself until I died.” Well, that is humorous, but it also makes a point. If I am a citizen in God’s kingdom, I understand the language and I live by the principles and the traditions of the kingdom of God. I respect them. If I am not a citizen, then I am like an alien. They are strange to me. They give me difficulty.
An alien lives on a visa, but a citizen lives on a passport.
In times of crisis, an alien will not be loyal but a citizen always
will be loyal.
THE BELIEVER HAS BEEN BORN A MEMBER OF GOD�S FAMILY.
You find that household language all over the New Testament. In I Timothy 3:15, Paul wrote to Timothy, “I want you to behave that you may know how to behave in the household of God.” Over and over again you read about the household of God. Moses was faithful to the household of God. (I Peter 4:17) “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God.” (Galatians 6:10) “Let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Paul wants us to understand that the second Christian privilege is the certainty that I belong to a family, and that family is God’s family, and that household is a household of faith. I have a human home, a heavenly home, but I also live with the luminous reality that I am part of God’s family all over the world. In a human family, you are either born into the family or adopted into the family; but, in the family of God, we are both born into the family and adopted into the family.
Born again: New birth. God is our father. The church is our mother.
Adoption: (Ephesians 1:5) Legally adopted out of the doomed family, a family in spiritual midnight, family that is bankrupt. We are adopted out of that family and given legal status and being part of God�s forever family.
There are three tests that we are in the family.
We are at ease. We appreciate home. It is a place to be at ease. We are at ease in the family. The same thing is true in God’s family. We are at home with God’s family. Whether it is a prayer meeting, a bible study, a worship service, we are part of God’s family. We have a sense of being an insider. We are at home. And there is a test that we can take. Are you at home with God’s family or do you feel a sense of being an outsider or a stranger? That will tell you whether you are part of the family or not.
We have a real, living interest in our human family and households. Moms are interested in dads, moms and dads are interested in the kids, and usually the kids are interested in moms and dads if for nothing more than just money. This is true of God’s family. You have a keen; vivid interested in what’s happening in God’s family. For the life of me, I don’t see how any one can be indifferent, numb, apart from what’s happening in the family right here in the church of the living God. If you are really part of this family, its life, its program, its support, its strength, its health, its needs, this ought to be a part of your attentive interest.
We know the family secrets. Every family has secrets. Some of the good and some of them are not so good. Families relate to family secrets in that they emphasize the good and cover the bad. When you are a part of God’s family, you want to present God’s family at its very best. Blood is thicker than water applies to God’s family also. We should be for one another and not against one another.
In a New England city, a wealthy man gave a beautiful colonial church edifice as a family memorial. The kitchen was modern to the nth degree. After the dedication, however, a group of women in the church wanted to add to the kitchen equipment a newly invented, electric, automatic potato parer. It was a clever device by which potatoes were washed, scrubbed clean, then moved along a belt through a series of knives, which peeled the potatoes and finally dropped them into a kettle for cooking. But there was another group of women who strenuously objected to this new-fangled gadget because it eliminated their happy custom of going early to the kitchen and paring the potatoes by hand while they exchanged in social fellowship, the news and the gossip of the church. The two groups of women quickly hardened into partisan groups, one determined to have the new potato parer and the other equally determined that the church would not have this potato parer. The controversy became so heated that the woman carried their quarrel home and aligned their husbands as participates in the quarrel. As a result the entire church membership was divided into the pro-potato parer party and the anti-potato parer party.
One day the pastor of this church, greatly depressed, came to see another pastor saying that he was resigning as the pastor of the church. The pastor was astonished and said to him, “How did this happen? You have a beautiful new building free of debt, a most worshipful sanctuary and a marvelous modern kitchen!”
“That kitchen is just the problem,” he said, and he related the story of the quarrel over the potato parer. “So when I get up to preach on Sunday morning, there before me are two parties bristling with belligerency, the pro-potato parer party and the anti-potato parer party. Utterly absurd as it seems; their minds are concentrated on this quarrel so that I cannot get through to them with any spiritual message. The potato parer is all and end-all to them. It has cut the church into, and I give up because I can no longer preach the gospel and be heard in such an atmosphere.” Many churches are concerned with just such absurdities, while they ignore the Lord’s mission to the world.
In her book, The Key to a Loving Heart, Karen Manes includes a parable about the church entitled The Brawling Bride. It tells about the most climactic moment in a wedding ceremony. The families have been seated. The groom and his attendants are in their places. The minister is waiting, the Bible in hand. The bridesmaids have come down the aisle, the organ begins the bridal march, and everyone rises. A gasp bursts from the guests. The bride is limping. Her gown is ripped and covered with mud. One eye is purple and swollen. Her hair is mussed. In the parable, the groom is Christ. “Does He deserve better than this?” the author asks. His bride, the church, has been fighting again. Ridiculous? Not when we hear of churches with factions that sit on opposite side of the aisle. Not when one part of the congregation meets upstairs at the same time the rest meet in the basement.
It is really sad that when is the kind of atmosphere in which new babies are born. I read an article about a baby that was inside of a brain-dead mother. The mother was kept alive, as far as the bodily functions, by a machine, and she gave birth to a normal baby. There are some churches that are kept alive just by machines, and the babies are born, but cannot look to the mother for any kind of sustenance, any kind of wisdom, any kind of guidance.
Through faith in the Lord, through His divine spirit and His name, we enter into His family and God becomes our Father. This wonderful family of God is found in two places, in Heaven and in Earth, according to Ephesians 3:15. Living believers are on the Earth. Believers who have died are in Heaven. None of God’s children are under the Earth (Philippians 2:10) or in any other place in the universe. We are all brothers and sisters in the one family; no matter what racial, national, or physical distinctions we may possess.
THE BELIEVER HAS BECOME A STONE IN GOD�S LIVING TEMPLE
The Bible says that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets but Jesus Christ is the cornerstone. Once cornerstones were fundamental and not just decorative. All stress fell upon it and it held the building together. It was the standard stone, and all that arrested the structure and every stone that was used had to be built true to the cornerstone.
Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone. Who is this? What impression has He made upon men throughout the centuries? What do men say of Him?
Let’s ask first about skeptics and rationalist, and Unitarians and infidels, and agnostics and unbelievers, and men who actually deny His deity. David Frederick Frost, a German rationalist and theologian, says, “Jesus is the highest symbol of religion within the reach of our thought. He is the greatest religious genius in history.” Joseph Earnest Renan, a Frenchman who wrote such a beautiful life of Jesus that it was said, “He buried Jesus in a casket of roses,” says of Jesus, “To tear His name from the world would be to rend it to its foundation.” He also says, “Jesus is the cornerstone of humanity. He cannot be replaced.” George William Frederick Hegel says, “The turning point in history is Christ.” Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “Jesus estimated the greatness of man.” Thomas Carlyle says, “Jesus is our divinest symbol.” Theodore Parker, who did not believe in eternal punishment because he said, “That doctrine sneers at reason and spits on common sense and makes God a devil,” has this to say of Jesus, “He is the highest fact in history, the greatest achievement of the human race.” Jean Jacques Rousseau says, “If the life and death of Socrates were the life and death of a sage, then the life and death of Jesus were the life and death of God.” Benedict Spinoza, the Dutch-Jewish philosopher, said, “Jesus is the symbol of divine wisdom.” John Stewart Mills said, “Jesus is the ideal representative and guide of humanity.” Shelling said, “Jesus is the union of the divine and the human.” Kant and Jacobi remarked, “Jesus is the symbol of ideal perfection.” These men pay high tribute to Jesus. They believe He lived and was the best man that ever lived, but they do not confess Him as the absolute and concrete God.
The Father in Heaven said, “Thou are my beloved son.” The demons say, “Thou son of the most high God.” The angels say, “A savior who is Christ the Lord.” John the Baptist said, “The Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.” Thomas says of Him, “My Lord and my God.”
What do you say of Him? Is He the mightiest among the holy? Is the holiest among the mightiest? Is He to you the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley, the chiefest among ten thousand? Is He to you not only very man to very man, but also very God to very God? Is He to you God manifest in the flesh? Is He to you the Son of God? Do you worship Him? Do you believe that in Him, and in Him alone, is salvation?
To the believer, our Lord Jesus is fairer than the fairest, sweeter than the sweetest, nearer than the nearest, dearer than the dearest, richer than the richest, better than the best. To a believer, Jesus is God. He is the chief cornerstone. All is built upon Him. Yet, so often, He is the last tried.
Did it ever occur to you what a really good sport the Lord is? I mean, what if I was a high school girl who got a call one night from a guy in my class, and this guy had the audacity to say to me, “Hello. I’ve just tried every other girl that I can think of and no one else can go, so how about you?” Boy, if I were that girl I’d hang up so fast it would make his head swim. Yet, we sing, “When you’ve tried everything and everything has failed, try Jesus.”
One cannot grow up in Montana without hearing the name Tommy Cruise, the wealthiest person the state has ever known. Tommy Cruise was an Irish immigrant who migrated to New York and worked there for several years on the grinding jobs offered to Irish immigrants. Seven years later he got gold fever and headed west with an army of fortune seekers that characterized the middle of the last century. He landed in Helena, Montana in 1867. Helena, which later became the state capital, was one of the richest and last large gold fields in the west. In fact, it was called Last Chance Gulch. It is said that gold uncovered in digging the foundation paid for almost every house and store in Helena in the 1850s. But, by the time Tommy Cruise got there the gold was gone, and Helena was settled down to a sedate, well-mannered western town. But Tommy Cruise wasn’t one easily discouraged. Every spring for nine consecutive years he headed out into the hills looking for gold. It became something of a joke around town. He was thought to be crazy and the townspeople weren’t too quiet about saying so, even in his presence. He begged for food between prospecting trips. One day in April of 1876, along a silver creek twenty-two miles north of Helena, Tommy Cruise was prying over some broken rock from some prospectors previous diggings when he saw something that interested him. It was called a gold quartz scum, a filmy substance that Tommy Cruise knew came only from a mother load. He searched through the rocks some more and knew that there must be gold back in the cliff from where these rocks came. He burrowed himself into the mountain for six months, a foot a day through solid rock, two hundred feet into the mountain; and then it happened. Tommy Cruise struck his bonanza, the mother load, a foot wide vein of gold-shot rock. The Drumlummon, he called it, after his native parish in Ireland, by any name at all, Montana’s greatest gold quartz mine ever, the mine that has contributed more gold to Fort Knox than any other. Tommy Cruise mined sixteen million dollars worth of it before selling it to a large eastern concern that took many, many more millions from it. It now became Mr. Cruise. No more patronizing smiles on the streets of Helena. In time they called him Colonel Cruise. He started the Tommy Cruise Savings Bank and saved the town financially in the panic of 1893. His monument still stands in Helena today, a mammoth beautiful church, St. Helena’s Cathedral, which he built and gave to the community. All brought about through the rock that was rejected.
Jesus Christ was the rock also that was rejected. Thank God, He has become the chief of the corner. We are inseparably and eternally bound to Christ and His church. There is no dividing Christ from His body, the bride from the groom. I make no apologies in constantly constraining people to bring the best of their possessions, times, talents, everything to the church. Business deals are not as important as the church. Trips, vacations, plans, nothing must become before our commitment to the church. You cannot love Jesus and not love His bride, the church. Some people tell me they love the Lord, but they can’t stand the church. That�s like saying you love swimming but not the water, you love eating but not the food, you love flying but not the sky. Impossible. Paul taught clearly that the mystery of the church is the mystery of its union, as the bride to Christ, her husband. The church is to be our passion and our priority. Christ who loved the church and gave Himself for it demands and deserves a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, a chaste and pure virgin bride. To love the church is to love Christ. To love Christ is to love the church. When you ignore the church, you ignore Jesus. When you criticize the people of God, you criticize their Lord. The Lord loved the church. He died for the church. He established the church. He will come back for the church. And to every parried church group, I just want to say loud and clear; you will never have the blessings of God without right relationship to His bride, the church. It is one thing to talk about supporting the church, and quite another to give your money and time and priority to it. To love the groom is to love the bride, for the uniqueness is the mystery of her union with her Lord. If there were a better way to do the will of God and the work of God on earth than through the church, the Spirit would have thought of it two thousand years ago. Let those anti-church groups take note.
The church is seen as a living temple. Paul says, “I see the church being built as a living temple,” and he says, “I am a living stone.”
Not long ago, a couple went down to a local car dealership to look over the latest products. Attracted to the low sticker price on the basic model, they told the salesman that they were considering buying an unadorned automobile and had no inclination to purchase any of the long lists of options affixed to the side window of the vehicle they were inspected. “But you will have to pay $168 for the rear window wiper,” the salesman explained.
“But we don’t want the rear wiper,” my friends protested.
And the salesman said, “We want to keep the sticker price low, but every car comes with a rear window wiper. So you have to buy it. It is a mandatory option.”
Mandatory option is a telling example of a kind of push me/pull you, double speed that pervades the language of business and politics these days. It is also a striking instance of an oxymoron. “Good grief!” you exclaim, “What’s an oxymoron?” An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two incongruous, contradictory terms are yoked together in a small space. As a matter of face, good grief is an oxymoron. Appropriately the word oxymoron is itself oxymoronic because it’s formed with two Greek roots of opposite meaning, oxys, sharp, keen, and moros, foolish, the same root that gives us the word moron. Two other examples of foreign word parts oxymoronically drawn to each other are pianoforte, soft/loud, and sophomore, wise/fool. I have long been amused by the name of a grocery store, which is called Superette. Since super means large and -ette means small. If you have a Superette in your town, it is a large, small store. Perhaps the best known oxymoron in the United States is one from comedian George Carlin�s record, Toledo Windowbox, the delightful jumbo shrimp. Expand the expression to fresh frozen jumbo shrimp and you have a double oxymoron. In a dazzling and dazing triple oxymoron, another comedian, Jay Leno, was recently named a permanent guest host for the Tonight Show. Once you start collecting oxymorons, these compact two word paradoxes start popping up everywhere you look. Listen to these minor miracles; and I hope they will go over better than a lead balloon: old news, even odds, pretty ugly, civil war, awful good, inside out, spendthrift, small fortune, dull roar, growing small, same difference, dry ice, open secret, sight unseen, baby grand, loyal opposition, working vacation, loose tights, student teacher, light heavyweight, original copy, recorded live, standard deviation, freezer burned, divorce court, criminal justice, cardinal sin, death benefit, conspicuously absent, constructive criticism, negative growth, build down, elevated subway, mobile home, plastic silverware, deliberate speed, living end, random order, flexible freeze, tight slacks. We are living stone (and that is also an oxymoron, because a stone is not living) in what God is building. We all have a place.
In the book of Genesis, God walked with His people. (Genesis 5:22, Genesis 5:25, Genesis 6:9) But in Exodus, He decided to dwell with His people. (Exodus 25:8) God dwelt in the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-38) until Israel sin caused the glory to depart in I Samuel 4. Then God dwelt in the temple. (I Kings 8:1-11) But alas, again Israel sinned and the glory departed in Ezekial 10:18-19. God’s next dwelling place was the body of Christ (John 1:14) which men took and nailed to a cross.
Today, through His Spirit, God dwells in the church, the temple of God. God does not dwell in manmade temples, including church buildings. (Acts 7:48-50) He dwells in the hearts of those who have come to Him, have received His Spirit, who have been buried in His wonderful, wonderful name. (I Corinthians 6:19-20) And He also dwells in the church collectively. (Ephesians 2:20-22) The apostles and the New Testament prophets laid the foundation for this church. Jesus Christ is the foundation (I Corinthians 3:11) and the chief cornerstone. (Psalms 118:22, Isaiah 8:14) The cornerstone binds the structure together. Jesus Christ has united Jew and Gentile in the church. This reference to the temple would be meaningful to both the Jews and the Gentiles in the Ephesian church. The Jews would think of Herod’s temple in Jerusalem and the Gentiles would think of the great temple of Diana. Both temples were destined to be destroyed, but the temple Christ is building will last forever. “I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18) The spirit builds this temple by taking dead stones out of the pit of sin (Psalms 40:2), giving them life, setting them lovingly into the temple of God. (I Peter 2:5) This temple is fitly framed together as the body of Christ (Ephesians 2:21, Ephesians 4:16) so that every part accomplishes the purpose that God has in mind. There is a place in the temple for everyone.
The carpenter’s tools were having a conference. Brother Hammer was acting as chairman; but the group soon informed him that he must leave for he was too noisy. Brother Hammer said, “If I leave the carpenter’s shop, Brother Gimlet must go, too. He is so insignificant that he makes little impression.”
Little Brother Gimlet rose and said, “All right, I will go. But if I go Brother Screw must go also. You have to turn him around and around before you can get him to go anywhere.”
“If you wish, I will go,” said Brother Screw, “But then Brother Plane must leave because all of his work is done on the surface; there is no depth to it.”
To this Brother Plane replied, “Well, Brother Rule, you will have to withdraw, too, for you are always measuring folks as though you are the only person who is right.”
Brother Rule complained against Brother Sandpaper and said, “He should leave because he�s rougher than he ought to be. He�s always rubbing people the wrong way.”
In the midst of the heated discussion, the carpenter walked in. He put on his apron and walked to the bench. He employed the hammer, the gimlet, the screw, the plane, the rule, the sandpaper, and all of the other tools; and when the day’s work was over, he had completed a pulpit from which the gospel would be preached.
“They won’t miss me,” said the mother as she repeatedly left her children for rounds of teas and parties. The devil did not miss the children either. “They won’t miss me,” said the soldier as he went AWOL, but he spent 30 days in the guardhouse after that.
“They won’t miss me,” said the woman on the assembly line as she slipped away without permission; but the airplane crashed and killed many, many people for the lack of a single part.
“They won’t miss me,” said the sentry as he slipped away from duty. But the enemy surprised and massacred his comrades that very night.
“They won’t miss me,” said the church member as he shed his responsibilities in a day of crisis, and then wondered why his country gave way to softness and demoralization.
“They won’t miss me,” said the church member as he omitted worship one Sunday and then another for trivial reasons, and then wondered why he no longer enjoyed a victorious Christian life.
On September 9, 1907, ten thousand people met on St. Alban’s Hill in Washington D. C. Bishop Yader Saderly had in his hand the ivory hammer once used by George Washington. He tapped the foundation stone of the Cathedral St. Peter and St. Paul, which was, called the Washington National Cathedral. At noon, President Theodore Roosevelt, his wife, and their two sons stood and wished them Godspeed. As they began, Bishop Saderly spoke these sobering words; “No one here today will live to see the completion of this building.” Well, in that regard he was wrong. Eighty-three years later, six people who were little children then were given seats of honor as the final capstone on the National Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul’s was put in place. Many times, the work stopped. In fact, it went broke in the 70s but then money was raised. They were afraid that the carvers and the stonemasons would die (They were then very, very old.) before work was completed, and there was no one trained to take their place. The day came when those who had watched the beginning sat in seats of honor and watched the capstone placed on the might spire.
If I could borrow that as an image. Those of us who are citizens of the kingdom and members of the family of faith and living stones in the temple, the day will come whether we live until Jesus comes or whether we die and meet Him in the air, when those who have been involved from the beginning, Peter who preached the first apostolic message, John the Revelator, Paul the apostle to the Gentiles, will sit there and watch the capstone put in place on the mighty temple that God is building, and the church of all of the ages will say, “Hallelujah! God built His temple after all.” You know one day; somebody is going to be the last, the last one to come into the kingdom. This is a dramatic thought, but it is a real thought. There is an ending of history out there; and some day, some invitation, some alter call at some church, will be the very last one, and the very last living stone, the very last citizen of the kingdom, the very last member of God�s family of faith, some day, someone will be the last one to come to the altar and receive the wonderful gift of the Holy Ghost, and be the last one to take on the name of Jesus in baptism; and then Jesus will come.
Are you a citizen? Are you a member? Are you a living stone? If not, you need to come and enjoy the privileges of being a Christian.
Bible Preaching Resource/Copyright 2000
By Richard L. Wyser. All rights reserved. This material may be used in preaching or teaching or in local church bulletins or hand-outs. No part of this material can be published or reproduced for any other reason. For information, address: Bible Preaching Resource, P. O. Box 846, Addison, IL 60101
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