"For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building." (1 Cor. 3:9).
The building similes of the New Testament are fairly well known. From the time when Christ said "Upon this Rock will I build my church," the conception is maintained in the nature of the object and the designation of the worker.
The subject is dealt with from various aspects, such as:-
1. The Lord the Architect and Chief Builder.
"The pattern of the things in the heavens" Heb. 9:23.
"I will build" (Matt. 16:18).
"We are God's building" (1 Cor. 3:9) etc.
2. The Church as the House over which Christ is the Head.
"As a Son over His own House, whose House are we" (Heb. 3:6).
3. The Church as a Building.
"The household of God, built upon the foundation... Jesus Christ the chief corner, in Whom all the building fitly framed... an holy temple... in Whom ye are builded" (Eph. 2:19-22).
"Living stones built up a spiritual house."
"The stone which the builders rejected" (1 Peter 2:5,7) etc.
4. The individual believer is a building, a temple (1 Cor. 3:16).
5. The Servant of the Lord is a builder; as above.
There is a less obvious phase of this subject which contains some important factors. This is in a word used very frequently, namely the word which is usually translated "edify." The verb or its substantive "edification" occurs in some form or other about twenty times in the New Testament, and in every instance except one it is used by Paul. The one exception is in Acts 9:31, a book written undoubtedly under Paul's superintendence. The fact is important in as much as it implies or declares a unity of truth and revelation. The nature of the Church is thus at least signified throughout Paul's letters, and it gives a distinct "Pauline" flavour to the Hebrew letter.
If we give some examples and the reader will change the italicised words to "build" or its correlatives, much light will be gained and the true idea of the work will be seen.
"The churches had rest and were edified" (Acts 9:31).
"We do all things for your edifying" (2 Cor. 12:19).
"Edify one another" (1 Thess. 5:11).
"For the edifying of the Body of Christ" (Eph. 4:12).
"Unto the edifying of itself in love" (Ephes. 4:16).
"All things may be lawful but all things do not edify" (1 Cor. 10:23).
"We ought not to please ourselves, but let everyone try to please his neighbour for his good unto edification" (Rom. 15:1,2).
"Let us follow after the things wherewith one may edify another" (Rom. 14:19).
Having said this much we proceed to speak of a very vital and indispensable qualification which is basic to this great and responsible ministry. This spiritual equipment is related to the whole subject of God's building in both Old and New Testaments.
The eternal conception of the Church as a spiritual house or building runs through all the Scriptures, both historic, poetic, and prophetic. When Solomon was chosen to build a house for the Name of the Lord the one supreme need he recognised to be "a wise and an understanding heart." When he wrote the book of Proverbs his theme was "Wisdom" personified. There is a strong prophetic strain in this book. It is generally recognised that the key to the book is to change the title "Wisdom" to "Jesus Christ." By so doing the book leaps into new meaning and life. Take in connection with our theme such a passage as "Wisdom hath built her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars." Here is a forecast of Him whose name is "Wisdom." "Christ the Wisdom of God." "Made unto us Wisdom," building His Church upon the sevenfold glory of His Person. We would earnestly urge that "wisdom" in the N.T. be "looked up." It will be found to be related to "the mystery" and both the "wisdom" and the "mystery" are Christ. Both have been hidden away by God from the ages and generations. Hidden in all the Scriptures, and Paul distinctly says that at the appointed time even the Prophets divulge the secret thing through the chosen interpreters (Rom. 16:25-26). This is connected with the unveiling of the "Church which is His Body." Now Paul as the elect vehicle of this revelation prays for those to whom he writes with regard to it, that they might be given "a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. The eyes of your understanding being enlightened" (Eph. 1:17,18).
To pursue this truth is to have abundant proof that -
1. The building of a spiritual house is in progress.
2. God has had this matter in mind from all eternity and has kept it in mind all down the ages,
3. The present age is that which is characterised by-
(a) The revelation of the purpose;
(b) The specific activity of God in this connection.
4. The work which is supremely co-operation with God is that of gathering out the "living stones" and bringing them into corporate relationship.
5. For this work there must be-
(a) A revelation of "the Eternal purpose" to all who are to be "workers together... with God."
(b) A spiritual equipment with a wisdom which infinitely transcends the wisdom of this world.
Into these five points we have gathered vast ranges of Divine truth and purpose and have set the bounds, defined the nature, and indicated the principles and laws of "Christian" service and ministry.
The two last subdivisions go to the heart of Paul's (rather the Holy-Spirit's) designation, of the servant of the Lord as "a wise master builder." They relate to the object - who and what Jesus Christ is - and all the methods and means by which the object is to be arrived at.
Our first emphasis, then, is laid upon the fact that for the work of God a wisdom and a skill, different from and far transcending that of man at his best, is essential. A wisdom which is the gift of God. A wisdom which, however, is very often foolishness to men, and yet which - when the work is done - makes the wisdom of men look foolish.
Wherein, then, does this wisdom lie? What are the features of it? Paul answers the questions for us in various ways.
Firstly, "I have laid a foundation," and "Other foundation can no man lay." The object in view must have the foundation most suited to it. There is only one possible foundation for this spiritual house. It is God's eternally elect and appointed foundation. It is the very bedrock of the universe, deeper than soil, subsoil, and strata. There is no volcanic eruption which can upheave it, and no blast which can shake or split it. There is no other foundation for life and work of which this is true, hence the supreme wisdom of making this the basis of all procedure.
"Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," said the Divine Architect. Upon what rock? "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God!"
Jesus Christ, infinite Son of God, in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form, and all-inclusive Son of Man, the federal Head of a new race; the foundation of the universe, but in a special sense the foundation of the Church. The most startling, stunning, upheaving, shattering thing that ever happened to a mortal was the revelation of who Jesus is which came to Saul of Tarsus as he journeyed bent upon doing despite to the name which was so soon to be spoken to him out of high heaven. Humbled as no power on earth could have humbled him he asks: "Who art thou, Lord." (Lord = ruler, principal.) He might not have been surprised if the answer had been in one of the great Hebrew designations of God, such as Jehovah, although he might have been perplexed as to how he was persecuting Him. But when the answer came straight, strong, clear, "I am Jesus!" it was calculated to send a man off food and sleep for days and nights, and then to the back side of a desert - to Arabia - to contemplate the ruin of his enterprise and get the foundation for his new edifice, Jesus! At once persecuted and sovereign; on the throne and persecuted. Jesus, done to death by Saul's circle and in the place of transcendent majesty! Jesus - "the Nazarene impostor" - God! Alas, alas!
Jesus is God! The glorious bands
Of golden angels sing
Songs of adoring praise to Him,
Their Maker and their King.
He was true God in Bethlehem's crib,
On Calvary's cross true God;
He Who in heaven eternal reigned,
In time on earth abode.
Jesus is God! Oh could I now
But compass land and sea,
To teach and tell this single truth,
How happy should I be!
Oh, had I but an angel's voice
I would proclaim so loud!
Jesus, the good, the beautiful,
Is everlasting God!
Was Saul a master-builder of Judaism? Then it was true in his case indeed that "the Stone which the builders rejected, the same had become the Head." "Disallowed indeed of men, but with God elect, precious." Surely also it was true in his case that "Whosoever shall fall on this Stone shall be broken, but on whomsoever it falleth it shall grind him to powder." Paul, by experience, knew something of the impact of Jesus in risen power and that is the crux of the whole matter. Neither Peter nor Paul arrived at their Christology by mental processes, by reasonings, by training, by the schools, by research. In each case it was by revelation.
"Blessed art thou, Simon, for flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee but my Father."
"It pleased God... to reveal His Son in me."
"Neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ." Here then are the two sides to the basic wisdom of the "wise master-builder." The fact of Jesus - Son of God, and very God; Son of Man, without Whom the universe as a whole and the race in particular must collapse and cease to be, and without Whom that elect instrument without which the universal purpose of God can never be realised - the Church, the House of God - can never be built; for He and He alone is the Foundation. Then on the other side this fact and its nature proclaimed on the ground of a revelation which is an experience, and experience which is a revelation. They who pioneered this "Testimony of Jesus" were neither authorities, experts, or exponents; they were "witnesses." The two things are one, the fact and the fact known by revelation of the Holy Ghost. No one can be a builder and no Divine building can be built without this basis and equipment.
There are many things to which the name of the Lord is being affixed which are being constructed, and which appear fine and great and like "the Church," but the twofold reality is neither in the builders or the buildings. They are destined to collapse when God's hurricane and fire test every man's work. Good works; philanthropy, hospitality, reform, education, religion, relief, etc., may be the products, or by-products of what is called "Christian civilisation," and things for which to be profoundly grateful, but let us not confuse these with "a new creation," regeneration, a being "born from above."
The Church is nothing which man can build by any resource in himself personally or, collectively. The Church is an organism not an organisation. "Behold, I show you a mystery, we are members of His flesh and of His bones." Build that, if you can! Launch that; organise that; "run" that! It cannot be done. It is the spontaneous outworking of spiritual forces released, in the acceptance by faith of tremendous facts concerning Christ; which facts are proclaimed out of experience in the power of the Holy Ghost.
Not the theological Christ; not the doctrinal Christ; not the Christ of the letter; much less the Jesus of history; but the Christ of Eternity in all the meaning of His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into the Throne of God; revealed in the heart by the Holy Spirit. This alone is authority to preach, to serve, to occupy position, to "build" in relation to the house of God. It is folly to spend time and strength otherwise. It is wisdom to labour on this foundation.
We shall proceed later to speak of The Gospel of the Wise master-builder.