Paul compares the church to a building. But what points is he trying to make about the building and its builders? This really helps us understand what it means to be built together as Christ’s church. The service in which this was preached also included a commissioning for Ramsgate’s Community Pastors.
Good Building Matters
When it comes to building people’s homes, it matters that you build them well.
That is illustrated in two ways by two news stories this week. One is the news of the aftermath of the terrible earthquake in Syria and Turkey. Tragically, whole apartment blocks collapsed killing most of the residents. Yet, other apartment blocks remained standing. Why? Because some were built well and some weren’t. In a bid to cut costs and to build quickly, the builders had failed to build the homes strong enough to withstand earthquakes in a region where earthquakes are common. The results were tragic. It matters that you build well.
The other item in the news, was that the BBC are going to make a drama series about the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Once again, this was a tragedy brought about by builders, trying to save money rather than build buildings that were safe. Cladding had been added to the tower that proved to be flammable. So when a fire broke out in one of the flats, the whole block caught fire and 72 people died as a result. It matters that you build well.
The Church as a Building
In our passage from 1 Corinthians, a letter the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, Paul pictures the church, the people of God as like a building and those, like himself, who teach about the word of God as builders.
As we go through this passage, there are 5 things we can learn about what it is to be part of the church and how we should be helping to build it. This is important, because it matters that you build well.
- One Community
The first thing to say is that in calling the church a building, Paul is emphasising, that it is one community that needs to hold together if it is to fulfil its purpose.
This goes back to the main issue that Paul is teaching about in this part of the letter. Back in 1:10 he said,
“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”
( 1 Corinthians 1:10)
Unity in the church matters. We need to see ourselves as part of a community, rooted in the teaching of the Bible, so that we can be united in mind and thought. Yet, such ideas fly against the culture of our day, as they did against the culture of the Corinthians. They and we do not like being told what to do, we would rather choose our own way and listen to our own choice of speaker.
Perhaps it is the 1970s British Psychedelic Rock Band, Pink Floyd, perhaps caught this idea brilliantly in the song, Another brick in the wall…
The chorus includes the three memorable lines:
We don’t need no education…
Hey! Teacher, leave them kids alone…
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall…
We don’t want to be a brick in the wall, we want to be free.
But, if you are a brick, what is better? To be part of a pile of rubble or helping to make a beautiful building? When we reject all direction and teaching and want to be free of any constraints, we lose the opportunity to be a part of something amazing.
Paul says to the church in Corinth and to us, you are meant to be a part of something amazing. You are meant to be built into an amazing building, a wonderful temple that glorifies God.
- The point of all this and arguably of the whole letter is to encourage the Corinthians to take the unity and building up of their Christian community seriously. To allow themselves to be built into this wonderful temple, that brings glory to God and offers a point of connection between God and the world.
To be a community pastor is to accept being part of a team and working with others. It is to accept some constraints on how you operate in order to be part of a team that works together as Christ wants you to. In so doing you are able to provide a point of contact between God and those you come across on a Saturday night in Ramsgate.
- One Foundation
The church is compared with a building to stress the need for unity. But Paul also is keen to emphasise that the foundation of the building matters. The foundation of the church is Jesus Christ.
Paul was the one who started the church in Corinth. He laid the foundation, he says as a ‘wise builder.’ The word ‘wise’ here picks up on some of the teaching back in chapter 1. There he had shown that worldly wisdom was unable to grasp the message about Jesus’s crucifixion. To the world it seemed foolish, but Paul says:
“but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
(1 Corinthians 1:23-34)
This wisdom of God, Christ crucified, is the foundation, that Paul as a wise leader had laid.
The point Paul wants to make here, though, is that everything about the church has to be built on this foundation. But what does it mean to build on this foundation?
- I think it means that we need to think about all that we do and say as a church and seek to root our motivation on the cross of Christ. If we cannot, then we need to ask ourselves if we should be doing it!
So for example let’s take Community pastors. Why do you go out on a Saturday night? There may be different motives, but the best motive to have is for it to be rooted in Christ crucified.
After all, Christ crucified was about Jesus giving himself up as a sacrifice for the world, not because we deserved it, but because he loved us. As community pastors, you make the sacrifice of going out late on a Saturday night, in order to offer support to people who probably don’t deserve your help, they’re not paying for it and often they need help because of their own foolishness, but you give it out of love, just as Christ loved us.
- Many Builders
So Paul uses this picture of the church as a building to show that we are one community that needs to be rooted on one foundation of Christ crucified. But Paul also wants to talk about the builders to show that God uses many builders to build up the church.
This is a direct challenge to the Corinthians who were splitting into groups, each one dedicated to one of the key Christian teachers they knew. Back in 1:12 they said:
“What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.””
(1 Corinthians 1:12)
Why did they do this? In deciding on one preacher over another, they saw themselves as judge and jury, thinking they were wise to choose one teacher and reject the others.
But, Paul says:
“Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise.” (1 Corinthians 3:18)
In other words, they need to stop seeing themselves as wise enough to decide which leader is best and instead to see that they are fools in need of good teaching from all the teachers.
Paul is saying that it takes many teachers to build the church. He may have laid the foundation, but others have come along and built on it. Constructing the church is a team effort.
So, they need to stop choosing between different leaders and make the most of having all of them, so that they can be properly built up as a church:
“So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours…”
- As part of the church, then we need to make the most of all the resources God has provided to help us grow as Christians. Yes, there is some discernment needed to work out what is false teaching and who are the false teachers, but at the same time we can’t just restrict ourselves to the parts of the Bible we like, or the Christian speakers we like. We need to make the most of all that God has given us, so that we can be properly built as a church.
- Build to Last
Fourthly, we need to be concerned that the church is built to last, that it is built well.
Buildings in Turkey and Syria looked fine, until the Earthquake came, then you could tell, which were built well and which weren’t.
Grenfell Tower cladding looked fine, until the fire started, then you discovered the horrifying truth of what the work really was.
In the same way Paul says, ministers may be working to build the church now, but we will only really discover if it is being built well when the day of judgement comes.
This is both a challenge and an encouragement.
- It is a challenge, because it means that what we should be working for is not instant or quick success in growing the church, but seeking to build something that will hold firm on the day of judgement. We need to be about bringing people to a true and lasting faith in Christ not just about gathering a large crowd. What might look like church growth, may in fact just be building with straw, whilst slow steady growth investing in discipling individuals, with love, care and the gospel of truth is building with gold.
- The encouragement comes in that we may not see any fruit to our labours now, but that doesn’t mean it will have no effect on the last day.
Community Pastors, you may not see people come to faith on the streets, but perhaps on the last day, you will see people there whose journey to faith and eternal life, began because of the witness, care and love you showed one Saturday night.
- Holy Building
But, why does building with care matter when it comes to the church? Because it is a holy building.
Building with care mattered to the residents of the buildings in Turkey and Syria and the Grenfell Tower, because these were their homes. Shoddy building had devastating effects on them personally.
In Ancient Society, temples were seen as the homes of gods. To destroy the temple would be seen as an attack on the god. It was sacreligous.
100 years before Paul, Pompey, the great Roman General, had not destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, but he and his men had gone right into the Holy of Holies, where men are not allowed to go. A few years later, Pompey died an ignoble death for a Roman soldier, he was assassinated in the marshes of Egypt fleeing from Julius Caesar after losing a key battle in the Civil War with him. The Jews saw Pompey’s tragedy as judgement for his defilement of the temple.
Paul says, if you destroy God’s temple, God will destroy you. But for Paul the temple was no longer the building in Jerusalem, it was the church of God. It was the people who were splitting the church because of their worldly wisdom, not rooted in the cross of Christ that were destroying the church.
Paul wanted them and us to see that this is serious, because the church is where God, himself dwells by his spirit. To destroy the church is destroy God’s home.
- The church is meant to be a holy temple, the dwelling place of God,
- So let’s value belonging and playing our part in this community
- Let’s build on the foundation of Christ crucified
- Let’s make the most of all the resources and people God has given to help us grow
- Let’s take care how we build and build to last
- Let’ value the temple of God.