In him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Eph. 2:22).
If you’ve ever been discouraged with the church, if you’ve ever felt like giving up on the church (like most Christians at some point in their lives), then this article is for you. The Bible’s image of the church as a building is what you need to grasp so that you will be able to sustain a lifetime of ministry within the body of Christ, wherever He places you.
Building of People
When Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18), he was talking about people. This image shows that the purpose of our Lord is that he wants to build us together. Peter, who is referred to as “the stone” or “the rock”, picks up this same theme saying, “You [are] living stones” (1 Peter 2:5). Christ is putting together a building that’s made up of people, and each of us is like a living stone.
But the picture here isn’t a building with bricks, but with stones—which come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, colors. They are hewn out of a quarry and come out with rough edges. The great skill of the Master Builder is to fit them together so that each one finds its special place within the building.
One of the joys of travelling in Scotland is seeing the “Drystane Dykes” (dry stone walls). These walls have no mortar—they are simply stones. The whole point of it is that the strength of the wall depends on the placing and the shape of each individual stone. It is something like this that the Apostle Paul describes in Ephesians 2:22—each of us is like a living stone. We all have our own individuality, and Christ uses this as He builds His church.
You may come to church and say, “I’m not so sure that I’m like other people here.” Then I would respond, “That is exactly why you are needed there.” God created you as a one-of-a-kind. He redeems what he created. What He has placed in believers by creation, He has now redeemed for the good of His church and for the ultimate glory of His Son.
Work in Progress
The Apostle tells us in Ephesians 2:21 that “the whole building… rises to become…” God’s building is not yet complete. So, no one should be surprised if the local church looks and feels more like a building site than a showroom.
The church is made up of ordinary people who are in the process of being redeemed, all of us sinners in the process of being renewed. It was Augustine who described the church as “a hospital for sinners.” He said it would be very strange if people were to criticize hospitals because the patients were sick. The whole point of the hospital is that people are there because they’re sick, and they haven’t yet recovered.
Set your expectations of the local church wisely. It’s hard enough for two sinners to make a good marriage. So how much harder is it for 200 sinners or 2,000 sinners to make a good church? When we see Him we will be like Him, but until then we are like a building under construction.
In any congregation of believers, you will find that there are things not yet done and things that are out of place. Some things need to be taken down, other things need to be cleaned up. Many things are only roughed in and need to be finished. It will always be like that until Jesus Christ comes.
It’s easy for a critic and the cynic to come into the local church and say, “Look at all this that is not yet done. Look at all this that is not yet complete. How can Jesus Christ be present in this?” Jesus Christ is present in His church as the builder. The evidence of Christ’s presence is not that everything is complete, but that everything is in process. The fact that the church often feels more like a building site than a showroom is evidence of the presence of the builder.
If you do not understand that the church is a work in progress, you will spend the rest of your life looking for perfection, and you will end up alone. That is not the will of God for you.
Home in Preparation
Christ will not be the builder forever. One day, the building will “become a dwelling place in which God lives by His Spirit” (Eph. 2:22). In other words, Christ will be at home with His people when all His work in and among His people is complete.
Old Testament Theme
One great theme that runs through the Bible is that of God looking for a home on earth. At Mount Sinai, God told Moses to build the tabernacle, a meeting place between God and His people. Then the Lord said something even better:
But you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there (Deut. 12:5).
The meeting place would now be a dwelling place. Later David discerned that Jerusalem was that place. That’s why Solomon built the temple there. And when it was dedicated, the cloud of God’s glory filled the whole place. All the people could see the visible evidence of the presence of Almighty God. Here was the place where God actually is. Here was the place where God’s presence was made known, the dwelling place of God on earth.
Follow the story of the temple. God’s people sinned against Him in various ways, the temple was eventually overrun, and God’s people became exiles in another land for 70 years. Then God brought them back in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, and they rebuilt the temple. But, when they dedicated it, no cloud of glory came and filled that temple. By the end of the Old Testament, the prophets are looking for the day when “the Lord will suddenly come to his temple” (Mal. 3:1).
And then one day He did. When Jesus walked into the temple, do you remember what He found? The leadership of the temple had lost their vision of ministry to the nations. It was no longer a house of prayer, so Jesus drove out the traders. Later, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn. 2:19). He wasn’t referring to the building. He was referring to Himself, to His own flesh. Do you see the huge significance of this: “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9).
Then Jesus went on to say something extraordinary, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching, and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn. 14:23).
New Testament Promise
If you come to love and trust the Lord Jesus Christ, here’s the New Testament promise: The Father and the Son, through the agency of the Spirit, will truly come to make “home” in you. That’s why, later on in the New Testament, we find the Apostle Paul saying, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Cor. 6:19).
That’s what you are. If you’re in Christ, this is really true of you. And if you are among those frustrated with the church, I promise you this: You will be more at home in the presence of Christ, as a believer, fully redeemed in heaven. You’ll be more at home there, than at any time and any place you ever have been in your entire life in this world. You will be more at home with Christ, and He will be at home with you. Nothing about us will grieve Him on that day, because His work will be complete. To be part of this work that Christ is doing in the church is the greatest privilege of our lives this side of heaven.