I have always gotten a kick out of Christian bumper stickers. Ever seen this one?
Growing up, my boss was actually a Gentile carpenter. He was also my dad. I grew up in the home of a carpenter. Well, a commercial contractor to be more precise. My dad gave me my first job as a laborer on his commercial job sites. After a few years I got a raise and a new title: apprentice carpenter. That’s where I topped out in the industry. As a homeowner today I wish I had paid more attention as I worked with my dad, both on the job and at home.
In light of my construction experience, the second New Testament metaphor used to describe the church hits close to home. The Bible calls the church “a family,” and it also calls the church “a building” or “a structure.”
Here are two examples:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 3:9-10
For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.
The Greek word used in these contexts is oikodome.’ This is defined as “a building formed as the result of a construction process.”
As “God’s Building:”
- We are held together in Jesus, the cornerstone
of our foundation, as a structure built by God through His Spirit.
- We are joined together by Jesus, making him the source of our unity.
- Our foundation is God’s word, so we must preach it, speak it to one another, and frame our lives by it.
- We are under construction, so we must avoid getting used to the décor.
1 Corinthians 3
- We are built by God through people He calls and empowers to lead within the local church.
- We must give energy, prayer, thought, and careful attention to the construction process.
- The “skill” we have in building is totally dependent on and derived from the grace of God.
- Any “cult of personality” is idolatry, for the builder of the church is God.
- We must take great care in how we are building the church, and how we are building up one another.
- Our church culture must be gospel-centered, Jesus-focused, Holy Spirit-empowered, and fully devoted to God’s grace and word.
I think there are two really clear application points from this metaphor.
1) For the people of God in the church:
The construction process is just that: a process. This means you are not going to find a perfect or a finished church. Growing up in the home of a carpenter, there was always some sort of renovation happening. Some aspect of our house was always being changed, bettered, built, or altered. That was life. That is also what life should look like in the local church. I’m not talking about physical building projects, but spiritual projects, namely us. Being a part of the church should be a dynamic experience. We cannot get used to the same people, the same places, the same feel, the same environment, or the same church culture dynamics. I can’t for the life of me understand how in church circles we can ever let it be said of us: “We don’t like change.” As a Christian, if you don’t like change, you have lost connection with the Builder.
2) For the God-ordained leaders in the church:
Notice Paul’s simile in the 1 Corinthians passage above. He says “like a skilled master builder.” Is this arrogant? Not if you read it in context. Paul wasn’t saying that he was a skilled master builder, he was saying that he operated as a skilled master builder “according to the grace of God given” to him. This kind of total dependence upon God is vital for leaders in the church. We must confidently assert that it is by God’s grace alone that we lead with excellence and build intentionally. We must avoid the false humility that often plagues our ranks. We must also avoid the idolatry of self-sufficient self-dependence that makes us tread lightly when God says “stomp!” or makes us “stomp!” when God says “walk carefully.” We need the grace of the God to lead within our churches in ways that honor God and build the structure that will result in his glory and our joy.