Built Up a Spiritual House
1 Peter 2 4-10
This evening, I want to talk about a church building. Not the physical building that surrounds us here which is composed of wood and stone, but the building of God, the church of our Lord that is composed of living stones.
The New Testament uses a number of different descriptive images to show us what the church is like. For example, it’s described as a family into which we are born again with God as our Father and many brothers and sisters in the faith. The church is also described as a kingdom wherein we are citizens, with Jesus Christ ruling as our king, to whom we have an obligation to be completely submissive. Other scriptures talk about the church as a body emphasizing both unity and diversity, each of us performing different roles with Jesus Christ as our head.
But this evening, I want us to explore the imagery of the church as a building, with every Christian a stone built into that building. Our text this morning is found in I Peter 2. Read Text
There’s a story about a king of Sparta in ancient Greece who boasted to a visiting monarch about the mighty walls of Sparta. But the guest looked around and didn’t see any walls, and finally he said to his host, "I’d like to see those walls. Show them to me!" The Spartan ruler pointed with great satisfaction to some disciplined and well-trained troops, part of Sparta’s mighty army, and exclaimed, "There they are! Those are the walls of Sparta!"
Just as each Spartan soldier was viewed by the king as a brick in his mighty wall, so we are viewed by God as "living stones... built up a spiritual house"
Paul used this same imagery in Ephesians 2:19-22, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
A. The unity of the building (Eph. 19-22)
Here in Ephesians 2, Paul goes from the concept of citizenship in the kingdom to the concept of family to the concept of a building. And that may seem to be somewhat of an anticlimax. After all, a building is rather cold and impersonal compared with the relationship of a family. But if you look carefully, you’ll see what’s in Paul’s mind. He’s actually moving closer, higher, to a more intimate relationship, because he is stressing the closeness of the members of the very house of God -- closeness to one another and to the Lord.
You see, it’s possible for the members of a family to be scattered throughout the face of the earth. Some of you have family members who are thousands of miles away.
But in the figure of a building, there’s no separation of stones that make up the wall. Everything is closely joined together, knit together. The KJV says we’re “fitly framed together.” The church of Jesus Christ draws us together and bonds us together in a way that nothing else can.
As you look around you at this physical building, not so very long ago, it was nothing but a bunch of scattered pieces. There was a stack of two-by-fours in a lumberyard. There was a pile of nails in a hardware store. There was a roll of carpet in somebody’s warehouse. There was concrete that hadn’t even been created yet. But now, due to great planning and a lot of hard work and expertise, all those pieces and hundreds more have all come together and been joined into one unit.
The same thing is true of God’s building, the church. Many of us who are now Christians were separated in the past into different pieces. Pieces that had little in common. Different economic situations. Different ethnic backgrounds. Different interests. But Jesus Christ, the master architect and master builder, has taken us and put us together, joined us together in his building.
What Paul said of the Jews and Gentiles, who had been separated for hundreds of years, is also true of us. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made both one.” (Ephesians 2:13-14a).
Jesus Christ takes every part, every stone, and knocks off the rough edges, chiseling a piece here, sanding a piece there, smoothing it out, getting it ready, building it in, fitting it into place in his building as he cuts it precisely to fit snugly and beautifully with every other part. And when he’s done, there’s nothing out of place. There are no defective or inappropriate pieces. And together we form a building.
Not just any building, but a temple. That concept would remind the Jews that for centuries they had looked to the temple in Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God. And it would cause the Gentiles in Ephesus to think about the temple of Diana and the other pagan temples in which they believed their deities lived. But, as Stephen pointed out in Acts 7, our God “does not dwell in temples made with hands.” (Acts 7:48). Rather his temple is found in the hearts of his people. So we’re not just any building. We’re a building with the highest purpose that any building could possibly have -- the temple, the dwelling place of God.
B. God’s building is never completed (5) “Being built…”
A few weeks ago, we celebrated the fact in Boone that our church building has been completed. It’s finished. It’s not yet paid for but it’s finished.
I read somewhere that Sarah Winchester, heir of the fortune from the Winchester rifle, inherited twenty million dollars and had an additional income of one thousand dollars a day. That’s a lot of money today, but it was an enormous sum in the late 1800’s. Sarah moved to California, and bought an eight-room farmhouse plus 160 adjoining acres. She hired 16 carpenters and put them to work. For the next 38 years, a crew worked 24 hours a day to build a mansion. When Sarah died, the house covered six acres and had six kitchens, thirteen bathrooms, forty stairways, 47 fireplaces, 52 skylights, 467 doors, ten thousand windows, 160 rooms and a bell tower. The house never was finished.
I think that describes what happens in God’s building. He’s been building it for almost 2,000 years. Every time there is a baptism, every time someone is added to the body of Christ, another stone is set into place. A room here, a fireplace there. And that building is never completed. It’s always growing because Christians are continually being added.
We build on the work that others have done. Paul speaks in Ephesians 2:20 about being “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets”. They were the first ones to preach the gospel and convert people through their evangelistic efforts. Others picked up where they left off and added more stones to the building.
As Paul put it in I Corinthians 3, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase…For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it.” (I Corinthians 3:6,9-10a).
Do you see the joint effort here? Paul built up the Corinthians church for a while, and when he left, Apollos and others came along and picked up where he left off. It’s the same way here in this congregation. Some of us here this morning have served on the construction crew for this spiritual building in the past, and those of you who are here now continue to build on what has already done.
C. Christ is the cornerstone (6-8)
Paul wrote in I Corinthians 3:10-11, “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
“Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on him will by no means be put to shame.’ Therefore, to you who believe, he is precious; but to those who are disobedient, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.’ They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.” (I Peter 2:6-8).
Peter quotes Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22 and points out that Jesus Christ, while chosen by God, was rejected by men. He wasn’t the kind of Messiah they were expecting, so they stumbled over him. The rock they considered to be a nuisance -- in the way -- was then used by God as the cornerstone of his building.
Back in the days when the old West was being settled, there were a lot of pioneers who made their way over the Oregon trail. When they got to the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, they found a stream a little too wide to cross in one step. So they "two-stepped" across by using an ugly lump sticking up out of the water in the middle of the stream.
As the years passed, other pioneers settled in that area, built their cabins, strung fences and plowed the fields. One man built his cabin near that same stream. But he had a problem -- his door flapped in the wind. To solve his problem, he found a heavy lump in the middle of the stream. So he carried it to his front step and it became a door stop.
More years passed. Railroads were built across the nation, more people pushed west and modern cities sprang up. A nephew of the old pioneer went east to study geology at a large university. He returned home during vacation. Lo and behold, on the front porch of his uncle’s cabin by the stream, he found not just an ugly lump, and not just a heavy lump, but a lump of pure gold, the largest gold nugget ever discovered on the eastern slopes of the Rockies! It had been there for three generations, but everybody saw it in a different light, some as an ugly lump, some as a heavy lump, but only the nephew saw it for what it really was -- a lump of gold.
The same thing is true of Jesus. The same Jesus whom others have seen as a stumbling rock was actually a very precious stone. The foundation is the most important part of any building. The chief cornerstone is the most important stone.
The cornerstone was the major structural part of ancient buildings. It had to be strong enough to support what was built upon it, and it had to be precisely laid, because every other part of the structure was oriented to it. The cornerstone was the support, the orienter, and the unifier of the entire building. That is what Jesus Christ is to God’s building, the church. The whole building ties together because of the cornerstone.
All through the book of Ephesians, Paul doesn’t let us forget that we have a relationship together because of Jesus Christ. Time and again, Paul talks about how everything is “in Christ”, “in him”, “by him”, “through him”, “through his blood”, “by his death”. Everything comes to us in Christ. Jesus said, “No man comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). So it is that everything is built on Jesus Christ. He is the great cornerstone of our faith. And we are living stones joined together on that foundation.
Conclusion: Why Have We Been Built?
In the few minutes that we have remaining, I want us to look together at what Peter says about why we’ve been built.
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
It’s important that we don’t forget the purpose for which we’ve been built.
The Taj Mahal is regarded as one of the most beautiful buildings in all the world. What you may not know is how the building of that structure came about. It was begun after the death of the wife of emperor Shah Jahan. He was devastated at her death and resolved to honor her by constructing a temple that would serve as her tomb. Her coffin was placed in the center of a large parcel of land, and construction of the temple began around it. No expense would be spared to make her final resting place magnificent.
But as the weeks turned into months, the Shah’s grief over his wife’s death turned into a passion for the building project. He no longer mourned her absence. The construction consumed him. One day, while walking from one side of the construction site to the other, his leg bumped against a wooden box. The prince brushed the dust off his leg and ordered the worker to throw the box out.
What Shah Jahan didn’t know is that he had ordered the disposal of the coffin of his late wife. And so the one the temple was intended to honor was forgotten, but the temple was erected anyway.
There is the same danger with church buildings and with churches. If we’re not careful, we can forget the purpose for which we were constructed. We can become so consumed with the building process, that we forget the one in whose honor the building is intended.
Peter calls us back to our purpose, to proclaim the praises of him who called us. The verb translated “proclaim” means “to tell, to show forth, to advertise.” We live in a world of darkness, a world that doesn’t God. It is our responsibility to “proclaim the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
We don’t exist so that people can say, “What a great building this is”. We don’t even exist so that people can say, “What a great bunch of people this is.” We exist so that people can look at us and say, “What a great God!”
“Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” (Psalm 127:1a).
This evening, as we close the lesson and extend the invitation, it is an invitation to be added as a living stone in the building of God. It is an invitation that calls you out of a world of darkness into God’s marvelous light. It is an invitation for those of you who are not the people of God to become a part of the people of God. And, above all, it is an invitation for those of you who have not obtained mercy to take hold of the mercy of God.