“So, then, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are also being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.”
Paul sums up his thoughts with these verses. Verses 19-22 are a reversal of 11-13. The Gentiles were once without Christ, excluded from citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenant of promise. Now, they are no longer foreigners and strangers, they are fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household. And since most of us are not ethnically Jewish, that includes us! We are now members of God’s household when we believe.
Paul uses three familiar models to describe the church in these verses. He starts with God’s Kingdom. In 19a, he says, “so then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints.” One of the definitions of stranger is “one who does not belong or is kept from the activities of a group.” The definition of foreigner is “a person belonging to or owing allegiance to a foreign country.” We now owe our allegiance to God. We have full participation in God’s Kingdom. I thought of the verse from Philippians which says, “but our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).
Paul then moves into a more intimate relationship, that of a family. Verse 19b says that we are members of God’s household. The relationship of a father to his children is closer than that of a king to his subjects. A king is concerned about our general welfare, but our Father is concerned with everything about us. He loves us so much that he calls us his children. 1 John 1:3 says, “see what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children- and we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”
The last thing he describes is a building, which grows into a holy temple. The verse that starts with the members of God’s household goes on to say “…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are also being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.” Paul spends the most time with this idea, so it merits some time here.
At first glance, likening the church to a building seems to be getting less intimate rather than more. Ray Stedman, in his commentary, states otherwise. He says that the description of the Church as a living, growing habitation of God is the most intimate of the three descriptions. He says, “Thus Paul is reminding us of how close we are to God- a God of power, a God of might, a God of love- of how intimate his relationship is to us, and how he ties us all together, builds us into this tremendous building he is erecting.”
The Jews had always worshipped at a temple. First they worshipped at Solomon’s, then the rebuilt temple that Zerubbabel started after the Babylonian captivity, and lastly at the temple Herod built. In this part of Ephesians, Paul sets out his vision of the new temple. It is not going to be a physical structure, but one made up of the body of Christ. Its foundation would be the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
We’ll start with the foundation. Most of the authors and commentators that I read think that the prophets mentioned are New Testament prophets, not ones from before Christ. They think this because of the word placement (after apostle) and because of Paul’s using the same phrase in 3:5 where it is a clear reference to New Testament prophets. Because of this, we can take this phrase to mean those who bore witness to Christ and wrote the New Testament Scriptures. These are the Church’s foundational documents. John Stott writes, “The Church stands or falls by its loyal dependence on the foundational truths which God revealed to his apostles and prophets, and which are now preserved in the New Testament Scriptures.” We need to be aware of people who call themselves apostles and prophets today who add things to the Word of God. 2 Timothy 4:3 says, “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear.”
Jesus is the cornerstone. First, what is a cornerstone? I looked at an architectural website and it states that the cornerstone is traditionally the first stone laid for a structure with all the other stones laid in reference. It also states that architects have used these spaces to declare ownership of the building’s design. The second definition made me think of this verse. “Don’t you know your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). There are other verses that talk about Jesus as the cornerstone. 1 Peter 2 says that Jesus is the cornerstone, and we are living stones. And the verses in 1 Peter are referring to Old Testament prophecies from Psalms and Isaiah which are referring to Jesus. Psalm 118:22 says, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” And in Isaiah, it reads, “Therefore the Lord God said ‘look, I have laid a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation: the one who believes will be unshakable’” (Isaiah 28:16). So Jesus is the one we base everything on. The church’s unity and growth must be in him.
The verses go on to say that the building grows into a holy temple in the Lord. Stott writes, “The Jerusalem temple was an exclusively Jewish structure, as we have seen, which all Gentiles were forbidden to enter. But now Gentiles are not only admitted; they are themselves integral parts of the temple of God.” The new temple isn’t a material building but a spiritual one. It is a community of both Jews and Gentiles. The Church is a holy temple of the Lord. He dwells in both the Church and his people.
To sum all of this up, the Church is God’s dwelling place, it’s where he lives. It is also where his people live. David Guzik, in his Enduring Word commentary, says “The Church is a temple, holy and set apart to God. We serve there as priests, offering the spiritual sacrifices of our lips and hearts, our praises to God (Hebrews 13:15).”
Grace be with you!