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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Friday, June 07, 2013
The Foundation And What Is Built Upon It
The Apostle Paul was, in my opinion, very precise and gifted in expressing the truths of the Christian faith.  I am especially impressed by the way he used and reused a few key illustrations to unlock certain truths that would have been otherwise difficult to explain properly.  Towards the end of Ephesians chapter one, Paul describes his (presumably Christian) readers as the body of Christ. That shouldn't strike any reader famliar with Paul's epistles as unfamiliar since this isn't the only time Paul uses that particular image to paint the church.

I highlight that this illustration is used elsewhere by Paul, because I want the honest reader to consider whether Paul is inventing a new meaning each time he uses the same metaphor, or whether he is just drawing upon an illustration that has served him time and again in the past.

If Paul is introducing something new, we should expect the content to be new, and if he is simply turning to a metaphor that has proven effective in the past, we should see the content here, mirroring the content wherein this same metaphor is applied elsewhere.  Which is to say that if Paul describes the church as the body of Christ elsewhere, he is either driving at the same point here, or saying something new.  If he is driving at the same point here as elsewhere, we can gain a greater insight into what he was getting at by regarding the various usages as various witnesses of the same concept or truth.

As Paul speaks of the church as a body in (for example) both Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12.it is worth our effort to examine what Paul is saying in both contexts and see if he is making a similar point here.

In the twelfth chapter of Romans, Paul compares individual believers in a church to individual limbs and appendages (i.e. members) of the same body, namely the body of Christ.  In Romans twelve Paul is being very practical with this teaching.  He is explaining that the Church is not made up of uniform, cookie-cut individuals, each resembling perfectly the other, but that the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ is in fact quite varied.  The comparisons being made in Romans 12 immediately follow an exposition of how the church is made up of both Jewish and Gentile converts, and how utterly inappropriate it is to boast in having come from one group or the other.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul likewise describes the church as the body of Christ, stressing in particular that the same Spirit (the Holy Spirit) indwells all the members of the body, regardless of whether that limb was at one time an unbelieving Jew or an unbelieving Gentile.

I think it is safe to say that the meaning intended in Paul's letter to the Ephesians is pretty much the exact same meaning he uses wherever and whenever he pulls this illustration out.

Returning again to Paul's letter to the Ephesians, this time in chapter 2, Paul is now explaining that all his (Christian) readers stand on the same footing: they are equally in Christ.  When Paul uses this illustration of the church as one body - he intends to stress the unity in the Spirit between converted Jews and converted Gentiles.  That should be evident to anyone following along.  Are we surprised therefore when Paul's train of thought hovers over those points where Jews and Gentiles would find disagreement?

I don't think so.  Paul's use of this metaphor (the church as the body of Christ) mirrors closely the emphasis that Paul employs every time he uses this particular illustration: the point of unity between Jews and Gentiles (and by extension between all believers) is the fact that they are all members of the same body; that is they are all being led by the same Lord through the same Holy Spirit.  I don't believe that Paul is re-purposing a old illustration into something new, and neither should you.

Looking for the moment at those often quoted verses from chapter two (I am looking at you versee 8, 9, and 10!), do you see how Paul mentions boasting about works? Doesn't that remind of Romans 4:1-2 where Paul asks the reader what it was that Abraham had found?  Did Abraham find justification by works or by faith?  Certainly he found that he was justified by faith.  Had Abraham found himself justified by works, Paul says, then Abraham would have had something to boast about...  What was Paul hoping to achieve by asking and answering such questions in Romans 4?

Obviously Paul was concerned (as becomes obvious in the course of Paul's letter to the Romans), that believers should not turn the Christian faith into an extension of the Jewish corruption of Abraham's faith.  Christ had come to make straight (again) what had become crooked.  Though the scriptures clearly teach that Abraham was justified by faith, yet the Jews lost this truth pursuing as it were, a justification by works. The Lord used Paul to ensure that what had corrupted the Jewish faith under the old covenant, would not overtake the church under the new covenant. 

The argument Paul is making at this point in Ephesians is a point that is being made primarily to Jews or those who were being influenced by Jewish teaching. I am talking about those who were rejecting justification by faith because they were looking to be justfied according to the (errant) Jewish teaching of justification by works.  Paul understood that the heir of Abraham's promise, was an heir because he shared the same justifying faith as Abraham, rather than simply being one of his (physical) offspring.

When Paul says, in verses 8 and 9 that faith is "...the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."  I am inclined to see this as Paul contending against that errant mindset that had long ago supplanted in Judaism genuine, saving (i.e. justifying) faith. 

Note how Paul immediately speak about circumcision following this thought about boasting in works with a discussion on circumcision?  Even if you haven't really been following the discussion up to this point, it ought to be clear that at the very least, one of the "works" Paul is concerned with - that is, one of the works that Paul wanted his readers to understand was by no means necesarry to salvation, was the work of circumcision.  Recall at this time that some Jews were teaching that the only way for a Gentile to become a Christian, was by way of becoming a Jew.  But that was notion was tied to the old covenant, and had no part in the new covenant.  The old covenant was no longer in effect. 

If keeping the law under the Old Covenant did nothing to justify the believers under that covenant, how much less would keeping the Old Covenant commandments justify those believer who were out from under that old covenant and rather under a New Covenant in Christ's blood? 

There were some Jews who simply didn't "get" the New Covenant.  They regarded Christ as an "add on" to the Old Covenant.  Christ was, to them, a new wine, poured into old wineskins; a new patch sewn into the fabric of the Old Covenant.  If you wanted to enter the New Covenant, you had to come into it by way of the Old Covenant.  Since this way of thinking was entirely wrong, and again, since it was an all too common error that we being made in Paul's day, I am not surprised that Paul was concerned with the unity of the church.  His focus on these things points to it, suggesting that this sort of mistake was one of the greatest hindrances to unity in the church at Ephesus, and by extension, in the church universal.  To think that it was better to be a converted Jew than a converted Gentile betrayed a dangerous ignorance of the true gospel.  Our unity is a unity in the same Spirit - a Spirit we receive not through the keeping of the Old Covenant, but through the grace of the New Covenant.

Yet there is much to be learned in examining how Paul approaches the problem at hand. 

He first describes the church as the body of Christ, and then goes on to paint individuals as members (appendages) of that body.  Just as your body has a single spirit, and not separate spirits for your nose, your ears, your arms and what have you.  So also the body of Christ has a single Spirit - the Holy Spirit, and that believers are members of the same body, not because they are physically joined, but because they share the same Spirit.

Do you notice that Paul's illustrations on this point describe a living, moving, growing body?  He could have chosen from all sorts of  metaphors wherein some collection can be thought of as a whole (all the parts of the chariot work together to make one chariot!).  But such dead examples cannot frame the living entity that is the church.  The body of Christ is alive, and not a collection of gathered and lifeless limbs - it is a single living entity, an entity that works together as one even as our parts work together in a single body at the direction and command of a single will. 

Note however how that Paul seems to suddenly shift the illustration from a body to a building.  Building are built uopon foundations.  Ask yourself this: Do you believe that this is the first time Paul ever explained these things?  Was this the first time Paul ever taught these truths?  Is Paul's shift from the church as a body to the church as a building built upon a foundation something that just came to him as the letter was being written?

Good gravy! No!

By the time Paul was writing this letter, these his arguments were honed and polished.  In every place that Paul preached, he defended the gospel of Christ, defended justification by faith, defended the faith against these corruptions which he now writes against.  I say, long before the ink was put upon the parchment, Paul had argued this particular argument dozen or even hundreds of times.  He is not bouncing arbitrarily from body to building - he is executing (with the precision and foresight of a planned military maneuver) a change in his approach which has obviously served him well in the past.  It is not arbitrary thought that he embarks upon when he jumps from body to building - it is intentional.

Paul isn't straying off into some new or different thought.  He turns to this new metaphor because he intends to drill down into the point he has been making from the start.  This new metaphor hones what was started in the previous one, and we see examples of it in several other places where the same ideas are being taught.

Consider 1 Corinthians 3.  There Paul describes the church in terms of stones being built upon a foundation.  You see the similarities, but before I pursue them with you, I should pause to remind the reader that there is a substantial difference between building a house out of stones, and building a house out of bricks.  Bear with me as I explain the difference a little before I go further...

The modern thinker is a little handicapped here because most of us are inclined to think of these stones as though they were bricks - that is, as though each stone was more or less the same size and shape as the rest.  We all know how a brick wall is made, and so the image we have is something similar to that.  The person building has a pile of functionally identical blocks, and he places them one on top of another like giant, staggered Lego™ peices until the house is built.  Or we might imagine a more "tool in hand" kind of building, where rough stones are brought to the builder, and using a hammer and a chisel, he shapes the bricks one at a time into the regular rectangular shape we associate with building houses.

But that image is not the image a first century person would ever have had.

When you built a house (or walls) out of stones, you didn't have a pile of perfectly equal bricks, nor did you hammer and chisel stones into such bricks.  Take a look at any of the stone walls in England or Ireland, or any such place where stone walls still stand, and you will see that the wall is made up of stones that haven't been chiseled into place - but were in fact selected one by one and placed into whatever spot in the wall they ended up in, because that is the size of stone needed for the wall at that point.  A builder would hand pick each stone, and if he couldn't find a stone that fit, he either went out and found one from some other place, or he reworked that part of the wall entirely.  In such a structure putting the right stone in the right place made all the difference.  Too small or too large, too few or to many, and your wall wouldn't stand up once weight was put on it.  Selecting the right stone for the right spot was as much an art as it was a skill.

The word that is sometimes translated (in Ephesians) as "fit together" is actually a compound word prefixed by a preposition.  It isn't clear to me if this word was invented by Paul, but as far as I know he seems to be the only person who ever used it, and both uses are found in Ephesians.  The word more or less means (when applied to stones) that the stones are singled out to be joined together with one another.  It makes perfect sense of course, if you're picturing a first century mason fitting various unequal stones together to make a strong house out of those stones.  Each stone is sought out and hand picked for the place into which the builder intends to set it.  It is an image that would have been common enough, I say, to the first century reader, but I think requires a bit of an explanation for the modern ear.  When Paul describes the church as a building being fiitted together, the image you should is not that believers are being conformed into bricks and laid one upon another, but rather as believers beingpictured as unique and irregular stones being hand picked by the builder because their unique shape fits perfectly the need of the builder in forming the wall.  The image is one of careful, intentional selection.

Paul holds up that image to explain that the difference between Jewish and Gentile converts does not make one better or worse in the body - that individuals are chosen by the builder on the grounds that there is something unique about them that fits the intention of the builder.  That is, the point of unity in church is not the "shape" of the stone (whether it is a Jewish or a Gentile convert, a woman or man, a slave or a free man, etc. etc.) the point of unity isn't everyone is a stone, it is that everyone is hand picked by the builder, and everyone is handpicked intentionally because they "fit" the intention of the builder's plan.

I am going to repeat that in a few paragraphs because it is worth repeating, but for now I will show that this is not some arbitrary thing that Paul is saying, as though it was an illustration that just came to him.  He has used this illustration before in connection with the same thoughts.

In the third chapter of Paul's first epistle to the believers at Corinth, he describes the work of himself and others as sowing a field.  If the preaching of the gospel can be likened to sowing seed in a field, the same field, once it is sown, can be likened to the foundation of a building.  That is the logic behind the shift from the one metaphor to the other in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 3.   The foundation is likened then to the work that causes an unbeliever to repent and exercise faith in Christ.  It is the work that puts the former unbeliever into the body of Christ. That work is foundational

Note the progression from one illustration to the next that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 3:  He starts with workers in a field, representing the preaching of the gospel that establishes the church.  He then shifts to the illustration of a building's foundation - the gospel preaching produces believers.  Just as a building cannot be built without first laying down a foundation, so also the church cannot be built except that the gospel is being preached to the lost.  Every legitimate believer shares the same foundation - the have repented of their rebellion against God's rule, and exercised faith in Christ to the justifying of their soul. 

Paul extends the metaphor of the foundation - it can be built upon!  What does that mean?  It means that those whom Paul identifies elsewhere as being appointed to the edification of the church, are doing that work which is supposed to edify the body of Christ.  Work which edifies is precious and will endure, work which does not edify is wortless and will not endure.  It is natural for Paul, in describing the work of the faithful, to shift from that first work which is foundational to faith (the preaching of the gospel truths), into that following work which thereafter edifies a legitimate faith (the building up of the body in the knowledge of Christ).

Yet Paul progresses again here, if you have eyes to see it, from speaking of the work in terms of edifying believers, to the believers themselves who are being edified.

Paul isn't free-associating at this point - he is making an intentional shift, because the point he has set himself to make requires that shift.  Paul is speaking of unity in the Spirit.  To get there, Paul first uses the previous illustrations to show that the work of getting people in the church, and growing them in their faith is the work of faithful men appointed to the task by God - but when Paul then describes the believers in Corinth who have received the first epistle as the temple of God, he has in a moment shifted from speaking of that which builds, to that which has been built:  The temple of God (the church) which is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Peter, in his first epistle uses the same metaphor that Paul uses here.  In the second chapter of that epistle, Peter identifying Christ as the stone which the builders rejected, expands the metaphor -not just the stone, but the cornerstone upon which the whole church is built, believers being the metaphorical living stones, that make up this "spiritual house".

Returning then to our staring place in the second chapter of Ephesians, we look again at what is being said - that Christ is the cornerstone, and that believers are stones in that same building, being "fit together" into a holy temple - a dwelling place for the Spirit of God.  The picture there is quite rich - the image of a builder, building a temple, not with stones cut into place, but rather with stones selected by the builder, and brought to the building, and placed in just the spot that the builder has determined the stone ought to be.  That each stone thus chosen, and thus place, has been chosen and placed for a purpose, and that the purpose is to build a temple for the Spirit of God to dwell in...

Do you see that there is a nuance here that is entirely lost if the image you have is that of a brick layer building a house?  Paul is saying here that the care that the Lord takes in building this temple for the Holy Spirit is purposeful, significant, and a diligent, and mindful work.  That the fact that the church is thus built by design, and that those who have been chosen to be stones in that temple are chosen by the builder because they, and they alone, fit the purpose of the builder - that the church is not being built by human hands, but by the hand of God, and this reason by itself (though it is by no means the only reason the Apostle gives) ought to vividly demonstrate that valuing one gift or position in the church over and above another (or vice versa) betrays a profound ignorance of the nature of the church.

posted by Daniel @ 3:06 PM  
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