Summary: Paul tells us how God views His church as being His temple and how this should serve to unify us.
"To dwell above with saints we love, O that will sure be glory.
But to dwell below with saints we know, We; that’s a different story!”
Sad to say, the fellowship of too many churches can be described by that little jingle. But while that may be so, it is not what God desires, nor is it what needs to be. God’s people can dwell in unity; and that is the subject of Paul’s discussion here concerning the church.
In verse 19, Paul uses social terminology in his discussion of church unity. He then proceeds in verses 20-22 to speak of how God sees His church as being His temple, and uses this imagery to mention some things about the church that should serve to unify us.
1. The foundation of the temple – v. 20
While in his other writings, Paul speaks of Christ as the foundation, because his emphasis here is different, he speaks of the foundation being “of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone.”
The cornerstone was the great stone put in the angle of the
substructure where the walls met. It was the stone on which the stability of the whole building depended. In ancient building
methods, the cornerstone had special importance as the stone used by the builder to determine the “lie” of the whole building.
It was the stone in the foundation with which all the other stones were to be in agreement. The foundation would be level and square only as each stone was in agreement with the cornerstone.
So it is that Paul uses this imagery to tell us that one of the things that should unify us as a people is our agreement on who Jesus is. The foundation of the church is our common testimony concerning Christ! First declared by the Apostles and Prophets, declared by God’s Word, and declared by all today who know Him as Savior and Lord, this common confession about Jesus should serve to unify us as believers.
A quote often credited to Augustine is “In Essentials, Unity; in
Non-essentials, Liberty; in All Things, Charity.” I believe that is the essence of what we are told here serves to unify us as believers.
A. In Essentials, Unity - Essentials define us, and God says that the essentials which define His church and bring unity to His people are related to the person of Christ.
This would include such doctrines as the testimony concerning Christ (the inspiration of the Bible) the divinity of Christ (Trinity); the uniqueness of Christ as the “God/Man;” salvation is only by grace through faith in Christ; the virgin birth of Christ; the necessity and sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ; the resurrection of Christ; the return of Christ; and the Lordship of Christ (eternal judgment, heaven & hell).
B. In Non-essentials, Liberty - Non-essentials distinguish us. A
contemporary service is distinguished from a traditional service, for example, by music style, worship dress, etc., but neither is more right or more wrong than the other. Rather than focusing on the “form” we must look to the “substance.” Is Christ being honored?
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking,
but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because
anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and
approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what
leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work
of God for the sake of food.” - Romans 14:17-20a (NIV)
The church in Paul’s day was threatened by arguments over eating meat and celebrating feast days. He told the Romans not to confuse form for substance; to not major on minors. Too many are divided
today because they major on minors. They make non-essentials into essentials and thus, divide over things they should not divide over.
C. In All Things, Charity - Non-essentials exalted above Essentials
divide us. And if develop the habit of exalting non-essentials above the essentials, we will forget why we’re even here in the first place.
There was a man who would start his day by kneeling beside his bed and spending an hour or so in prayer. But he had a cat that would disturb him would nuzzle up against him. So to keep his cat from disturbing his prayer time, he would tie the cat to his bedpost.
His son tried to follow his dad’s example. But he was busy, so he only prayed for 20 minutes or so as he sat on the bed. He, too, had a cat, who he would tie to the bedpost to keep from disturbing him.
A grand-daughter came along, who wanted to maintain her family tradition. But things moved even faster in her day, so she didn’t even bother to spend time in prayer each morning. She would just get around and go off to meet her day. But as she was getting ready, she always made sure to tie her cat up to the bed post.