Service - The Work of God Through Men - Part 2
R. Grant, Stevenston
2. THE WORK OF THE SON, 2. 4-8
The first paragraph of this section, 2. 1-3, has spoken of development in ourselves, but the second speaks of activity Godward. It describes the work of the Son of God, w. 4-8, and of dedication to the worship of God. The statement of fact in these verses,, "ye ... are (being) built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood", points on to the intention, "to offer up spiritual sacrifices". This intention of God has now been realized by means of the accomplished work of His own blessed Son. He is spoken of as
A Sure Foundation. Three things are said of Him:
He is "disallowed indeed of men"- a statement linked, for emphasis, with the third of three Old Testament quotations, "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence". We are faced with the incomprehensible fact of the rejection of the Lord Jesus by men. They admit His sterling character, His selfless humility, His sincere motives, the unchallengeable truth and value of His ethical teaching. They might even admit His supremacy in the world of men and His unique place in human history. They will not admit the unmistakable claims that He makes about Himself and for the undivided loyalty of men -claims which are no less than an assertion of deity.
He is "chosen of God", a statement linked with the second of three quotations, "The stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner". He is eternally the "chosen of God". We identify Him as God's delight in the eternal past, Prov. 8. 30; during the days of His flesh, Luke 3. 22 i we see the future prefigured and hear the Father's word of approval, 9. 35. The quotations in our passage speak of Him as the "living stone" in three ways: (i) As "chief corner stone". In this sense He is the key to the foundation upon which the strength, security and symmetry of the building depend, (ii) As "head of the corner". He is not only the basis, but the beauty of the glorious structure, (iii) As "stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence". God has decreed that the destiny of men and nations depends upon what they do with Him -"whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken", Matt. 21. 44.
He is "precious", linked this time with the first quotation -"he that believeth on him shall not be confounded". Our links with the Living Stone are not forced upon us, but God has given us capacity, by His Spirit, to appreciate His Son. We are, it is true, out of tune with men, but we are in harmony with God in our thoughts of Christ, if we find Him "precious". On this foundation is raised
A Spiritual House. The passage highlights
Its Composition -'living stones", v. 5 R.v. Ephesians 2. 1-3 provides a sobering description of the quarry of sin out of which the divine Workman fashions and forms stones for this matchless building designed for His glory. Like those stones for Solomon's temple of old,, each one is brought already prepared, so that nothing more is needed to fit it for its place in the glorious structure. The Church is not a material structure of stone or brick, but a spiritual organism, composed of "living stones", of redeemed men and women, a "spiritual house".
Its Construction -"are (being) built up". It speaks of a process which has yet to reach completion. On the other hand, a local assembly or church is, at any given time, complete and gives expression to the whole. Says Paul to the Corinthian assembly, for example, "Ye are temple of God", 1 Cor. 3. 16.
Its Character -"a spiritual house", completely distinct from the material house linked with Jewish worship. It is not an earthly organization, but an organism heavenly in design and destiny; it is not a social institution, but an instrument of spiritual activity Godward and manward. It would be tragic folly to discount the value of "good works", but they have worth only when they bespeak the attitude of God to men and serve the true end of spiritual well-being. Within the sphere of this house, believers are
A Spiritual Priesthood. The passage
Describes their Features. The use of a collective noun, "priesthood", embraces all believers, cf. Rev. 5. 10. While all may not be fit, or willing to enjoy the privileges or exercise the functions of priesthood, these are the birthright of all who have living links with the Head of the priestly house, the Lord Jesus. Unrestricted access into the Holiest is granted to all who are the "brethren" of the Lord Jesus, Heb. 2. 11; 10. 19.
The word "priesthood" also emphasizes the nature and unity of the New Testament church. It is clear, as we shall see, that individuals have priestly features, adopt priestly attitudes, do priestly acts. Many true believers, on the other hand, fail to avail themselves of the precious privileges which are their right, or find themselves in circles or conditions which restrict its exercise. At the same time, the whole passage is one of fulfilment, and of contrast with the failure of the Old Testament priesthood.
To "priesthood" is joined an adjective of great significance -"holy"- which first implies contrast. The Jewish priesthood had become so corrupt as to insist on the murder of the Son of God, at the same time refusing to defile itself by entering into the judgment hall used to further its vile deed! But the New Testament priesthood is "holy" as taking character from its High Priest, who is "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners", Heb. 7. 26.
The adjective involves consecration. The Old Testament priesthood was inaugurated by the ceremonies of consecration - by ceremonial bathing, clothing and anointing, by the sin-offering and burnt-offering, by the ram of consecration applied, waved and eaten - and maintained in virtue of the continual morning and evening burnt-offering, Exod. 29. 38-42, all full of rich typical meaning. Clearly, all of the requirements of consecration are satisfied for the New Testament priesthood once and for all in the sacrifice and work of the High Priest, the Head of the priestly family. In practical terms, it is now a matter of answering to this divine work, rather than attaining to certain standards. But the passage
Defines the Functions of the Priesthood - it is "to offer up spiritual sacrifices". They are described as "spiritual" as a matter of contrast with Jewish sacrifices. One does not say "Old Testament", for even there the true sacrifice is "a humble and contrite spirit". The adjective used here is never used in the Septuagint, although the noun from which it is taken is frequently used. The idea certainly has a strong New Testament connotation. These sacrifices are made in the power and by the guidance of the Spirit of God; they are offered within the sphere of the "spiritual house" of verse 5; the offerers are such as worship God "in spirit and in truth".
What do these "sacrifices" include? The similarity of language and of ideas in a number of New Testament passages suggests a wide range of acts and attitudes which may be thus described. Certainly, the holy occupation of mind and heart with the worth and ways of the Lord Jesus, in the assemblings of the people of God for breaking bread, comes within the scope of "spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God". So also does "to do good and to communicate", Heb. 13.16; "present your bodies", Rom. 12. 1, the "offering up of the Gentiles", the fruit of the labours of the servants of God, 15. 16, the work of faith of the people of God, Phil. 2. 17, and even Paul's decease which was the occasion of his being "offered", 2 Tim. 4. 6. The passage finally
Declares its Fitness - the sacrifices arc "acceptable to God through Jesus Christ". Many of the offerings described above are said to be "acceptable to God", namely, Rom. 12. i* Heb. 13. 16; Phil. 4. 18; Rom. 15. 16. That all such offerings are, on the human side, imperfect and marred by sin and selfishness cannot be denied, but they are accepted by God through the mediation of "Jesus Christ". We cannot doubt His acceptance and acceptability.
Throughout this whole paragraph, we have been brought face to face over and over again with the facts of divine work in the Person of the Son of God and of the intention of God realized thereby. May He help us to fulfil that intention in practice.