Jesus' Two Great Commissions
Building Up the Body of Christ
Keeping the saved in Christ is as challenging,
demanding, and necessary a task as bringing the lost to Christ. One wonders
where the idea originated that once a person is baptized the major spiritual
battle has been won. How could knowledgeable Christians give acceptance to the
idea that the most difficult task in saving a person is convincing him or her of
the necessity of baptism?
In not one of the twenty-one epistles of the New Testament is evangelism the theme of the epistle. Not one of the epistles has the primary objective of reminding the congregation/ Christian of their/his responsibility to the lost. Every one of the epistles focuses on the internal spiritual needs and problems confronting the church or the Christian individual. Of the New Testament's twenty-seven books, twenty-two are primarily concerned with securing the salvation of the baptized believer, not with reaching the unbaptized sinner.
In these epistles there is a powerful, continuing emphasis on the need to develop spiritual, mature Christians as both congregations and individuals. One way this need is stressed is through the words edify/edification or the phrase to build up. The Greek word oikodomeo means to edify or, literally, to build up.
Evangelism involves the external growth and development of the church; edification involves the internal growth and development of the church. Evangelism seeks the conversion of individuals to Christ; edification seeks the maturing of individuals in Christ. Evangelism has its focus on the numerical increase of the congregation as lost individuals are saved; edification has its focus on the spiritual development of the congregation as saved individuals grow increasingly Christ-like. Evangelism seeks to bring the lost to Christ; edification seeks to keep the saved in Christ.
In both the Old and New Testaments, there are times when the inspired writers refer to God's people as His building. In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was also called the house of Israel,1 the house of Jacob,2 and the house of Judah.3
The same imagery is used in the New Testament, but with a significant expansion. Christians are called a spiritual house,4 the house of God5 and the temple of God.6 The significant expansion of this imagery is in the declaration that Christians are God's temple, which is a spiritual house, the house of God.
Christians as God's Temple
It is difficult, perhaps impossible for 20th century Christians to comprehend
with in-depth understanding the Israelites' feeling for and bond to the temple.
In the nearly two thousand years of Christianity's existence, by God's own
design there has been no physical site, no geographical location which was to be
sacred to the Christian in the same sense that the temple was sacred to the
Israelite. The Christian has never been dependent on a specific site to offer
full worship in complete obedience to all of Christ's and the apostles'
instructions. The Israelite was dependent on the physical sanctuary of God at a
specific geographical location for sacrificial worship. No commanded act of
sacrificial worship was to occur apart from the sanctuary in its specific
location. This all existed by the designation of God.
In Deuteronomy 12:4-7 these instructions were given to Israel. (1) One site was to be chosen within the territory of the twelve tribes to be the place for God to put his name there. (2) It would be recognized as the place of God's habitation and it would serve as the site of their assemblies. (3) It was to this place that they should bring their burnt offerings, sacrifices, tithes, heave offerings, free will offerings, and the firstborn of their livestock. (4) It was at this place that they would assemble to keep the sacred festivals.
Deuteronomy 12: 13 specifically commanded Israel not to offer animal sacrifices in any place of their choosing, but only in that one location which God would choose. These instructions permanently bound the Israelite to a specific geographical site for offering commanded sacrifices and giving commanded gifts.
Prior to David's reign in Jerusalem, the approved site was the place where the tabernacle with the ark of the covenant was being kept. Such sites included Shiloh,7 Nob,8 and Gibeon.9 King David prepared a tent to house the ark of the covenant in his royal city, Jerusalem, and with great ceremony brought the ark to its new residence.10 From that day to this, Jerusalem has been Israel's holy city, the permanent site for sacrificial worship and pilgrimage.
David yearned to build a temple in Jerusalem to serve as a permanent residence for the ark, but God forbade him because he was a man of war, a shedder of blood.11 David entrusted the project to Solomon, who was to be his successor, and gave Solomon the plans for the holy building.12
Early in his reign, Solomon built that temple, one of the wonders of the ancient world, and placed the ark of the covenant within it.13 That temple stood from Solomon's reign until the Babylonian destruction of the holy city, about 400years. Solomon clearly understood that no earthly building was adequate to be the dwelling place of J ehovah.14 However, he understood that this building would contain the presence of God as no other place on earth. His dedication prayer for the temple beautifully verifies that fact.15
The essential importance of the temple to Judaism is seen in the fact that the first building project of the exiles who returned from Babylonian captivity was the rebuilding of the temple. This second temple stood about 500 years. Herod the Great financed a reconstruction of this temple. That work began in 19 B.C. and was completed in 64 A.D., again transforming this site into one of the wonders of the world. Only 6 years later, in 70 A.D., it was completely destroyed when Jerusalem fell to the Romans. That site has never again been in Israel's hands for either rebuilding the temple or offering sacrificial worship.
The temple existed as the place which allowed the Jew of every age the closest possible physical contact with God's presence on earth. Even today, the wailing wall which is the only accessible remnant of the first century temple area, is the most important place of prayer in the Jewish world.
An Understood Concept
When the inspired writers of the New Testament declared that God's presence now
dwelled in His people thus making them His earthly sanctuary, they were
announcing a truth of major importance. The significance of this statement would
never have been lost on a converted Jew. The Gentile converted from worship in
pagan temples should have clearly grasped its significance.
God's presence exists in His people, the church, the congregation in a manner not found anywhere else upon the earth. Being anything less than a glorious temple is an affront to the presence of God. Just as God did not countenance Israel's defiling His temple or performing destructive acts against it, neither does He today. No devout Jew would have dared to lift his hand against the temple, or knowingly would have defiled its holiness by compromising its purity. The Christian who lifts his hand against the congregation or who defiles its holiness by compromising its purity is disastrously ignorant and destructively foolhardy.
God's temple, the congregation, His church can rise to the glory and dignity befitting God when, and only when, God's people understand and accept their full responsibility for edifying fellow Christians. Only through edification can Christians be built up into the earthly house of God befitting the Author of their salvation.
A Sobering Responsibility
No warning is more solemn than Paul's admonition to the congregation at Corinth:
Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in
you? If any man destroyeth the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the
temple of God is holy, and such are ye.16 Both its context within the letter and
the wording of the text make it evident that Paul was warning them of the
seriousness of actions which were destructive to the life and existence of the
congregation. Paul declared ye, plural--Christians collectively in that city/the
congregation--existed as the sanctuary of God.
Obviously, the opposite of building up is tearing down.
Numerous Christians were at work in that congregation tearing down the temple rather than building it up. What was happening to destroy the temple/congregation at Corinth? They were promoting and sustaining division. (1) The congregation was filled with inner rivalries created by party loyalties built around personalities.17 (2) Because the concept of a crucified Savior was so distasteful to unbelieving Jews and Gentiles, some tried to make the gospel less offensive by stressing the acceptable Greek wisdom rather than the disgraceful crosS.18 (3) Many in the congregation were motivated by their worldliness and jealousy to create exclusive, quarreling inner circles.19 (4) Some were self-deceived by their conceit as they arrogantly placed their confidence in personal "wisdom" rather than the teachings of Christ.20 (5) Several openly challenged Paul's apostolic standing, rejected his instructions, and urged others to disregard him and his teachings.21
When one promotes congregational division by helping fashion inner party loyalties (even if there is no "open split"); when one seeks to make the gospel less objectionable by minimizing Christ's death and resurrection; when one is motivated by worldly ambitions and jealousy to generate quarreling within; when one's conceit deceives him and causes him to place his confidence in his own wisdom; when one challenges true apostolic instruction and encourages others to disregard it, he is destroying the temple/congregation. It was to such people Paul issued the sober warning.
One additional realization must be clearly understood. None of those people considered their actions to be destructive to the congregation. Within the framework of their concepts, objectives, and rationalizations, they were preserving and promoting the well-being of the congregation. They were rallying the "true" believers around "real" Christians. They were increasing the "appeal" of the gospel. They were expressing "legitimate" concerns. They were using "sound judgment" to protect it from the foolish viewpoints of others. They were "protecting" it from unsound teachers. In their estimation, they were functioning for the "good of the church" in all these things.
When Christians build up the congregation, the end result is not a fractured
fellowship and the spiritual execution of brothers and sisters. Edification is
the process of securing salvation in those Christians who are untaught, weak,
discouraged, misguided, or confused--not the process of destroying them. God's
plan for the building up of His temple will not to be found in the execution of
His children. QUESTIONS
May God have mercy on Christians who seek to "purify the church and build it up" by making outcasts of those for whom Christ died.
1. What are the objectives of evangelism? What are the objectives of edification?
2. Discuss the powerful Jewish attachment to the physical temple of God.
3. What force/importance would the statement, "You are God's temple," have to
Christians of the first century?
4. Read 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17.
a. What solemn warning did Paul give the Corinthian Christians?
b. What was the temple?
c. What did this solemn warning mean?
5. List 5 things occurring in that congregation which were destroying the
temple. Read the Scriptures which verify these occurrences.
6 Discuss this statement: None of those Christians considered their actions to be destructive.
Discuss how Christians today—“for the good of the
which destroy the congregation in their conviction that they are preserving or
taking care of the congregation.
1lsaiah 5:7; Ezekiel 3:7.
2lsaiah 2:3, 5.
3Jeremiah 3:18; Hosea 1:7, 5:12.
41 Peter 2:5.
51 Timothy 3:5; 1 Peter 4:17.
61 Corinthians 3:16,17; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians :21.
81 Samuel 21:1.
91 Chronicles 16:39.
101 Chronicles 15,16.
111 Chronicles 28: 1-8.
12I Chronicles 28:9-28.
132 Chronicles 2-5.
142 Chronicles 6:18.
152 Chronicles 6:14-42.
161 Corinthians 3:16,17.
171 Corinthians 1:10-13.
181 Corinthians 1:18-2:16.
191 Corinthians 3:1-4.
201 Corinthians 3:18-23.
211 Corinthians 4.
Chapter 6 Chapter 8
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