He who began a good work in you will carry it on until completion (Phil 1:6)

 In this article, I want to focus on just two important principles. How we see the church and how we see each other.

1. How should you see yourselves as an assembly?

As the Habitation of God. It is difficult for you and me to enter into the mindset of the Jews when it came to the temple. The strength of feeling they had for the temple in the time of our Lord. It defined them spiritually. They were the people of the living God. And in this place God was pleased to dwell and receive the sacrifices and praises of them, His people. It was the focal point of their relationship with God.

It defined them nationally. Herod’s rebuilding of the temple rendered it one of the architectural wonders of the world. It was glorious. If Jerusalem was the city of God, then the temple was the heart and essence of the city. So there was a deep emotional attachment to the temple. It underpinned their whole identity as people. Yet the Gospel clearly declares this temple to be a shadow of something far more substantial and vibrant. God will not inhabit masonry but He will inhabit human beings. This building is about to be replaced with a people. Christ Himself will bring this about. The Lord doesn’t spell it out all at once.

He begins by teaching that physical location will cease to be an issue with God. You remember the Samaritan woman at the well. She stressed that the Jews and the Samaritans had major religious differences. ‘Our fathers worshipped on this mountain here in Samaria, but you Jews say in Jerusalem.’ The Samaritans had built a temple to the LORD on Mt Gerazim, and even though it had been destroyed it remained to them a sacred place to meet with and worship God. Jesus responds to her,

 Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father…the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.

The day is almost upon us when location will cease to be an issue of worship. God is Spirit. He is seeking those who will worship Him from the heart. It is not about where I am externally but where I am internally. Well, the time has come when there are no longer any sacred locations where God will specially dwell. Yet the world continues its pilgrimages and the world still fights over sites.

Jesus now points to Himself as being the habitation of God. In John 2, the Jews ask Jesus for a sign. He answers,

 Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then the Jews said, It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?

But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Jesus sees Himself as the house of God. He will be destroyed. They will destroy Him. Yet three days later He will be entirely intact. It is in Him that God dwells and it is in Him and through Him that human beings meet with God.

Hebrews 10:20 says that the veil in the temple was a picture of Christ’s body. John begins his Gospel account with this same theme,

 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (1:14)

The word ‘dwelt’ here is ‘tabernacled’. John has already spoken of Christ as being God. The Word was with God and the Word was God. In Christ God has come and tabernacled, tented amongst us and we beheld His glory. The language reminds us of the glory of God in the pillar of cloud and fire coming down on the tabernacle.

 Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, God with us. (Matthew 1:23)

 . . . in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9)

Not only is Jesus the divine now also human, but in His humanity the Holy Spirit has come to dwell. Peter points out that Jesus becomes the foundation stone of God’s new and living temple. He teaches that Jesus is the great foundation stone referred to in the Psalms, the Stone which the builders rejected, which God chose to become the chief corner stone. God has made Him to be the base stone upon which a new temple made of living stones is being built. Peter writes,

 Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Paul writes the same thing,

 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 corner stone, 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 (Ephesians 2:19)

Believers are referred to as God’s temple many times in the New Testament. In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul speaks about “. . . the house of God which is the church of the living God.” 1 Peter 4:17: “For the time has come for judgement to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first”. 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

God now inhabits His people. Individually they are living bricks or stones and He is putting them together to be His habitation. We not only form His temple now but later, in Revelation 3, Jesus speaks to the church of Philadelphia, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God.” This is their reward for faithfulness. They form the structure of God’s temple.

Now we must remember that almost all this equating of the Christian church with the temple happened before the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. When was the cross-over point? When does the physical temple in Jerusalem cease to be relevant in God’s purposes and when does God begin His new temple? The cross-over point is the death and resurrection of Christ. His death brings an end to the old temple.

 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:50-51).

When Christ’s blood was shed and His body broken, the way to God was made open for all. To signify this, the veil that hung in front of the Holy of Holies (which was a picture of Christ’s body), a very heavy veil was torn in two. It was destroyed. Christ’s death opens forever the way to God. Not just for Jews, but for all nations (Hebrews 10:20).

His resurrection is the beginning of the building of the New Temple.

It’s when Christ is raised that He becomes the chief corner stone, the foundation stone upon which all the other living stones will be laid upon / against. God is cementing His people together to form His temple. But we are bound by space and time. The entire church cannot be gathered together at this point in time. And even if it could be, in our weak state it would be completely unwieldy. God in His providence builds individual congregations to be a microcosm of the church at large. Has God in His providence joined you to a congregation? Have you taken to heart what that means?

What was the purpose of the old temple? We see it when Jesus cleansed the temple. He made a whip of cords and drove out the money changers with all their animals. He also hindered the people from using the temple precincts as a short cut for their daily business. They had forgotten what the temple was for. The Lord quotes from Isaiah 65, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” The temple was meant to be a place where men met with God to call upon Him: to praise Him, to plead with Him. This is exactly why God has brought you together.

It’s for spiritual reasons God has cemented you together. It’s not being entertained, though sincere Christians will find the Gospel captivating. It’s not to develop musical talents, though sincere Christians will want to use whatever abilities they have to serve God. It’s not to an easy way to conduct business, though sincere Christians make very trustworthy business contacts. It’s not to catch up with friends, though sincere Christians prove very faithful friends. Neither is the church merely a thoroughfare for our worldly concerns.

Now we must understand that it’s not at all wrong for us, as we meet together on the Lord’s Day or at other times, to be thoroughly interested in each other’s lives. We are human beings to whom God has given the obligation to work. This makes up our lives as Christ’s servants. He has given us all things to enjoy and they may be enjoyed to the glory of God. It’s not at all out of place for Christians to talk about the things that make up their daily experience in the world as Christians. That’s not worldly or sinful. It’s an outworking of your faith in Christ. But, the binding factor, the chief reason we come together, is to seek the Lord. That’s the concern that brings us together. That’s the thing that is to be chief in our minds. We have come together as the people of Christ. We are here for spiritual business and blessing. Whatever else we talk about, whatever else we do, is subservient to this because we gather together to worship.


2. How should you view each other?

As Christ. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul deals with the subject of marriage and says that the relationship between Christ and His people is like that between a husband and his wife.

When a man and woman marry they become one flesh. The husband is to see his wife as an extension of himself. Whatever she suffers is his suffering. Whatever blessing she experiences is his blessing. So the husband is to be intent on nourishing and protecting his wife as his own body, because she has become his body. She is an extension of him. When he nourishes and protects her he nourishes and protects himself.

So, it is with Christ and the church. Christ and his people are connected. It is not simply some kind of legal connection. It is a real genuine connection that is difficult to understand. Paul says it is mysterious. When we believe in Christ, He puts His Spirit into our hearts and we become a real extension of Him (cf. Ephesians 5:30, “for we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones”).

Therefore, when we suffer Christ suffers. Paul himself had a very vivid example of this on the road to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). Whenever we minister to a fellow Christian it is Christ we minister to. The Lord drives this principle home in Matthew 25. He paints a picture of the final day of judgement and He will say to those on His right,

Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Why? I was hungry, you fed Me. Thirsty, you gave Me drink. A stranger, you took Me in. Naked, you clothed Me. Imprisoned, you visited Me. When did we have opportunity to minister to you in these ways? I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.

This is the principle Jesus wanted His disciples to grasp and the principle He wants us to grasp. When we esteem and show respect to others because they are Christians, when we assist them, when we make them welcome, when we comfort and support them in their distress, Christ receives it as done to Him. For believers have become one with Him, flesh of His flesh, His bones. We may not be anointing His actual body, but we are honouring the extension of His body. Notice what the Lord emphasises, “inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me!”

Most people like to form connections with those they regard as substantial, important or even famous people. They will name drop. Sometimes Christians like having connections with those they think are famous or important Christian ministers. It’s a great honour to have such and such stay with them. It makes them feel good that they were able to show hospitality to such substantial people, such pivotal people in God’s kingdom. But Jesus emphasises, “the least of these my brethren.”

Many Christians are not impressive for learning. They have a great struggle articulating doctrine. They do not play central roles in ministry. They might have very few visible gifts and be almost unseen. Their lives may be surrounded by difficulties and awkward circumstances. But when we count it our privilege to know them, when we esteem them because they’re Christians, Christ regards it as honour shown to Him. We all have to have our thinking transformed on this matter.

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another . . . Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble (Romans 12:10).

Whenever we look at another Christian, whether they are a profoundly analytical, got it together, grab life by the horns kind of person; or whether they are a stumbling, impacted by life, easily overwhelmed kind of a person, we are to see Christ. We are to honour them and serve them; this is to honour and serve Christ.