CHRIST’S GROWING CHURCH
Sermon preached by Mr. D. G. Crowter on Sunday morning 28th January 1990 at Gower St.
‘In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.’
Ephesians 2. v.21
The subject here is God’s building, that is the true Church of Jesus Christ, which God
Himself is building. Three parts of that building are particularly specified. There is first the foundation, which is so important; the foundation of the apostles and the New
Testament prophets. Not that they themselves personally were the foundation, but their lives, their witness and their writings were used to lay the foundation of the Church. They were founder-members of the Church of Christ, who Himself is the primary and essential foundation-stone. Secondly there is the corner-stone, which was a very large stone. It
could have been as big as some of our sitting-rooms. That was the very first stone to be placed on the foundation, and it fixed the direction and position of the walls, and united the whole building together. It supported the whole structure, and was a stone of honour. So we read that ‘Jesus Christ Himself is the chief Corner stone.’ And then thirdly there are the stones which are also built upon this foundation, in conjunction with that great
Corner-stone. That is, there are all the true members of the Church of Christ, as living stones brought to this foundation. We noticed how that they are chosen of God from the quarry of nature; separated from the earth; prepared – chiselled and smoothed for the position; and brought to the foundation; they are set upon it and cemented into position finally as parts of this great and glorious building of God, His master-piece of grace.
And so the apostle here continues in the 21st verse concerning this
building; ‘In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the
Lord.’ The apostle uses a remarkable word here which is translated as ‘fitly-framed-together.’ It is one word of no less than sixteen letters in the Greek language, and it seems as though the apostle coined this word – invented it to express this truth, because it has
not been found in any previous literature. And having used it once, he uses it again in the fourth chapter, where, speaking of the body of Christ – the Church of Christ regarded as a body – the apostle describes it as ‘fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth.’ This word is composed of three different words meaning ‘together’, ‘joint’ and ‘chosen’. So it really means chosen to be joined together, and reminds us of the way in which God has so perfectly planned, and is so perfectly performing the work of this building. It is He who is accomplishing this for His everlasting praise. Could we see more clearly (as the apostle very evidently did, with his wisdom and understanding) what this building really is, we should surely be overwhelmed with the wonder and glory and wisdom of it.
Now here we must also notice again the centrality of Jesus Christ in this building. In the one sense He is certainly the Foundation, and also the Corner-stone, and His life is in all the living stones which are built on the foundation. And the apostle simply will not let us forget this Person. If we do forget it certainly isn’t any fault of the inspired apostle
He has just spoken of Jesus Christ Himself being the chief Corner-stone and then he says,
‘In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord; and then again, ‘In whom ye are also builded together for an habitation of God through the
Spirit.’ We have no excuse for not realising that the Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely central in this building. There could be no such building apart from His work and His
Person; and we are so clearly directed to Him again. O my dear friends, the great matter with us each is really expressed in these words which keep on recurring through these chapters; ‘in Christ; in theLord; in whom.’ Oh the great thing with you and with me is really the answer to that question, ‘Are you in Christ – chosen in Him; quickened in Him; brought near to God in Him; united to Him in this bond of everlasting love? Are you in
Christ, or out of Him? Because all those who are in this glorious building, which is erected for God’s everlasting praise, are brought to be ‘in Christ;’ they are united to Him in faith and love. He is their All; He is their Corner-stone; He is really everything to them. Now is that so with you? Are you in Christ, through His wondrous grace?
Well, the subject here clearly is Christ’s growing Church. The emphasis here is that this building is growing. It is in the present tense;
‘It groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.’ And it is always growing. You know, before this Chapel here was erected, there must have been very detailed and elaborate plans for all the facilities that were needed. You cannot build a building like this without a good deal of forethought, consideration and planning. And that is true of all the buildings which are being erected in our day. Yet every one just pales into insignificance and is a nothing in comparison with this building of God, which was designed from eternity, and which has been growing all through the ages of time, as one and another have been brought to this foundation and built upon it. And what a mercy it is, dear friends, if we individually are included in this! The apostle says, ‘In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.’ Some, at least, of us in this Chapel could say, ‘Yes, the Lord has so graciously dealt with us, He has made us living stones. He has set us on this foundation, which we so love, on the Lord Jesus Christ.’ And what a wonder that is! The
Church of Jesus Christ is always growing, because it is God’s building, and nothing could possibly prevent it from increasing continually. You may remember how, in the days of the return of the Jews from Babylon, they began to build the temple again. There were those that opposed it. They got an edict from the emperor so that that building should be stopped. And for several years, a good many months, it could not be continued. But it has never been like that with the building of God, with the Church of Jesus Christ. All through the ages it has been increasing; it has been growing, and it will do until it is absolutely complete. The apostle John saw it in its perfection in that foreview that he had of that glorious city, that city of gold. And it was absolutely perfect. It was complete then, the whole Church of
Christ, the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, in all its glorious perfection. And the apostle Paul also had a wonderful spiritual view of this Church.
Now this growing we may understand to be in two ways. There is first the inward, individual growing. That is, each of these living stones grows. Of course that is not possible in an ordinary building. The bricks of this Chapel, once they were put in position, stayed there, and they do not change; they certainly do not grow at all. But this is a unique
building, and the union of Christ with His Church is also expressed in the figure of a body.
You remember that word in the fourth chapter ‘That ye be no more children, tossed to and fro … but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things.’ And then the aposte goes on to speak of the body ‘making increase of the body unto the edifying – that is the building up – of itself in love.’ Now you children are growing. Your various members are continually growing until you reach adult years, until you reach that maturity. And so in the Church of God the members are growing. They certainly should be growing; and it is an important question with those of us who are truly in Christ as to whether we are growing members. Of course that implies that there must be life. Whether a child or a plant, if there is to be growth, there must first be life. So of course the apostle at the beginning of this
chapter has said, ‘And you hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.’ These people had been given spiritual life; and therefore there was the possibility and the desirability of spiritual growth. And so in this temple those who are living stones upon the earth in the Church Militant should be growing.
And this of course is a subject in itself; I will mention some aspect;
of it, as the Lord helps me. The apostle Peter says at the end of his second epistle, ‘But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory for ever and ever.’ There is growth in grace. That is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, which we so greatly need. To all these churches, virtually, the apostle writes; ‘Grace be unto you and peace.’ It was not that they had not received any grace but that they needed more. And anyone who has received grace will surely be desiring more grace. That is a very precious promise to such in James; ‘He giveth more grace.’ The God of all grace who has given grace does give more grace. We have considered before how that it is ‘by grace ye are saved, through faith.’ But then we need more grace. We need grace to be gracious, to be gracious in our spirits as we act towards one another. We need that precious grace of faith, and for that to grow and to grow. We need to grow in every grace that there is. The plants in gardens grow both ways, not just upward, but downward as well. As it has sometimes been expressed with regard to these things that we need to ‘take root downward so that we may bear fruit upward.’ We so need to grow in humility, and submission, and patience, and meekness; as
well as in faith and hope and love. There needs to be a growth in grace, a continual growth in the living stones of this building.
And then there is holiness. How this is emphasised with regard to this. We see it here; this building is ‘growing unto an holy temple in the Lord.’ And the apostle says to the
Corinthians, ‘The temple of God is
holy, which temple ye are’ (1 Cor. 3.7). It is so evident that ultimately this temple must be perfectly holy. So we read in Ephesians 4.24, ‘that ye put on the new man, which after
God is created in righteousness and
true holiness.’ He again emphasises it with regard to the church; ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish’ (Ephesians 5.25-27). My dear friends, if we are to be members of that everlasting temple of God, we must be holy. And surely every one who is taught of the Holy Spirit will have that desire to be holy. That really means to be like Jesus Christ, who is so perfectly holy, and in His whole life here below showed such a supreme example of holiness of heart and life. Is this your desire:
‘O Lord, my heart’s ambition
Is to be free and pure;
By grace an exhibition
Of Christ in miniature”?
To be like the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you want to be more like Him?
There is also growth in knowledge. Peter says, ‘Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our
Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 3.18). The knowledge of Christ is so very precious, and we so need to be growing in that precious knowledge. This the apostle Paul expressed as his great desire. He said, ‘I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord’ (Philippians 3.8). And again he says, ‘That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death’ (v.10). How we do need this spiritual knowledge! The
Ephesians had already gained some. They were certainly well taught of the Spirit. But the apostle constantly prayed for them, as we read in the first chapter. He desired that they might be given the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God, ‘the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe’ (vv.18,19). There is this invaluable knowledge; and how we do need to grow in that knowledge! Are you asking the Lord to teach you more and more, that you might grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ and be more transformed into His likeness?
And then there is growing in love. The apostle particularly mentions that in the fourth chapter, as I referred to just now. It is ‘the increase of the body in love,’ Nothing is more edifying, or more building up, than that principle of love. The apostle prayed for the
Philippians (and no doubt for all the churches too) ‘that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment’ – in all experience of it. This was his constant desire. And we have the essence of it also in the next
chapter here. His desire and prayer for the Ephesians was that they
might ‘know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, and be filled with all the fulness of God’ – which certainly includes the fulness of His
love. O my dear friends, how we need to grow in this principle of love – love to God, love to His people, love to His ways, love to our neighbours. This is the essence of the will of
God. It is the essence of the law of God; ‘Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength and with all thy mind and thy neighbour as thyself.’ Now this Church is growing in love. And so the individual members of it are to grow in love. And how, oh how precious, how desirable that is! Is it your concern, your daily prayer, to grow in love to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and to His dear people? Well, there is then this individual, inward growth of these stones
themselves. They are still growing.
But then there is the upward collective growth of the whole building. Now if a building is begun, you expect it to rise. You expect that it will gradually grow higher and higher until it is complete Sometimes it is amazing how quickly those buildings do grow up. And as more and more stones or bricks are added then the higher the building grows. And that is so in a spiritual way with the Church of Christ. It is a growing Church. We may understand this in two ways. First it is true of the whole true Church of Christ, made up of all true, elect believers. There are those in heaven who belong to the Church Triumphant, as it is sometimes called; those who have been gathered home to glory already. Now that Church is daily being increased. It is growing all the time, as those who have been taught by the grace and the
Spirit of GOD and been brought to love the Saviour, are taken home to heaven. It must be continually increasing. Then there is the Church on earth made up of all true believers in
Jesus Christ all over the world. And although then are those losses or translations from the Church on earth to the Church above, yet I believe and judge that the Church on earth is also growing every day. If we could consider the whole situation, there are in many lands growing churches, churches which are rapidly growing. There are such churches in parts of
Africa, such as Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria there are believers in Asia, such as in India and China; there are churches in Eastern Europe – Russia and Romania and other countries
There are churches like these in the world which are growing day by
day. So we may well believe that the Church of Christ on earth is
continually growing. Certainly the whole Church of God never loses a single stone. Once a person has been brought through grace to believe in the Saviour, this salvation is for ever.
So there is never a single lose
from the true Church of Christ, and there are these continual additions
Surely that is a most encouraging truth. The apostle says that this
building is growing; ‘In whom all the building fitly framed together
groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.’ And we may be certain that God’s great building is constantly growing. As we sang last week;
‘What though the gates of hell withstood?
Yet must this building rise;
‘Tis Thy own work, Almighty God,
And wondrous in our eyes.’
Well it should be. It really should, if we have any glimpse, and understanding, any view of this Church: it should be wonderful. But this is what God is doing by His sovereign, effectual grace. He is building His Church, as Jesus said that it would be so. He said, ‘On this Rock will I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’
Nothing can possibly hinder or interfere with God’s building.
But” then there is another aspect to this. The church of Christ on earth is made up of many individual churches, like the church at Ephesus in those times, and like the church which is here. And it is greatly to be desired that such churches should grow; because that is the Scripture pattern. I have no doubt that the church at Ephesus was a growing church.
And we read of the church at Jerusalem, in various expressions found in the Acts. How that church did grow so wonderfully. Although there were difficulties in those early churches yet there was that continual growth of the Church. We read that the Church was ‘edified, and increased in numbers daily.’ How that ‘many were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.’ And how again and again we read in the Acts in words like those that there was this continual growth, in numbers and in grace, in the Church at Jerusalem, and in the other churches that were established afterwards.
I suppose that only the Lord knows the constant heartbreak of a pastor where the church is not growing. And it is so sad that this should be so, as it is in many places in our own country. There are those churches which are growing, and how we praise God for that; but there are not so many that are truly growing in this way – built up of living stones. O dear friends, will you pray that this Church may indeed be a growing Church, that this year may be a growing year? For the Church of Christ is to grow, because it is for His glory and praise that it should be so. Every trophy of grace is for His praise; every living stone which is built on this foundation is for the praise of the Saviour. Therefore it is so to be desired that the individual churches, as well as the whole Church of God on earth, might be continually growing in grace and in Godliness, and in numbers of precious souls gathered in by God’s grace.
And so, my dear friends, we might say that there is in this view great sadness and sorrow, as we see the state of the Church in many parts of the earth, particularly in the western world, including our own country. Oh how very distressing (we might say discouraging and disheartening
almost) it is to see the professing Church of Christ brought so low: and so few being added to the true Church of Christ, as far as we can see Oh how grieving it is! Oh what distress it causes the people of God, to see the situation as it is in this nation today, in comparison with what it was in generations past, when the Church of Christ was evidently and truly growing. Oh that the Lord may appear again, and pour out His Spirit in such a way that there may be many added to the Lord – many added to His Church on earth, to praise Him, and to live lives that are honouring to Him.
But then there is the other side. If the earthly view is very distressing and discouraging, how cheering, how wonderful and how glorious is the heavenly view of this
Church, the spiritual view of it! We might well be in dismay if we did not realise the truth expressed in the Word of God that nothing is going to prevent this Church growing and growing and reaching its absolute perfection in Jesus Christ. It is the great purpose of God that this should be so. He has been working by His power all through the ages to this end – that this one glorious Church should be for His everlasting praise. We read of it in the next chapter: ‘He created all things by Jesus Christ, to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purposes which He purposed in Christ Jesus our
Lord.’ It is God’s eternal purpose that His
Church should be at last filled with His glory and praise, that it should be a most glorious Church, filled with the light of God, and for His everlasting praise. And therefore, dear friends, the view that we have in these verses is a most encouraging one. It shows us that God’s gracious
purposes are continually being carried out, and that this Church is
constantly ‘growing to be this holy temple in the Lord,’ for His eternal praise. Well might we sing:
‘May I be found a living stone,
In Salem’s streets above;
And help to sing before the throne,
Free grace and dying love.’
Are you a living stone? Do you belong to this glorious building of God’ O that it may be so with us each, if the Lord’s gracious will! Amen.