THE ASSEMBLY (the Church)
Ephesians 2:19-22 and 1 Timothy 3:15
In our study, this is the second aspect of the Assembly (the Church; εκκλησια--EKKLESIA). The first was the Body of Christ in relation to Christ. The house is the place in which specific person lives and that house will be known after his name. The Assembly (the Church; εκκλησια--EKKLESIA) is named as the house in connection with God because He dwells in it. The Candlestick is that which carries the light given by the Holy Spirit. The Temple is where the worship takes place. The Bride is connected with its heavenly and eternal character.
1. The Household of God:
“You are fellow citizens of the saints, and of the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the corner stone, in whom all the building fitted together increases to a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
“… in order that you may know how one ought to conduct oneself in God’s house, which is the Assembly of the living God, the pillar and base of truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)
The idea of God dwelling among His people is seen for the first time in Exodus 15. This idea is not seen when the blood of the Pascal Lamb redeemed Israel from the Egyptian bondage. When they were out of the land of Egypt and after crossing of the Red Sea we read about God dwelling with His people in the song they sung. In Exodus 15:2, they sung, “I will prepare Him a habitation.” God answered it in Exodus 25:8, “They shall make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” Outside Egypt and in the wilderness a tabernacle is made. Its pattern was kept on high in heavenly glory. A shadow seen in the Old Testament, teaches us that a complete separation from the world is needed for the believers to be the true house of God on earth. In Revelation the real house of God is seen coming out of heaven to the new earth.
1.1. The God’s House:
Indubitably the God’s house includes all believers alive in the world at any time between Pentecost and the rapture (1 Corinthians 3:9, 16). The exhortation “how one ought to conduct oneself” establishes the fact that the God’s house consists only those who are living and able to conduct themselves. Therefore, this must be limited to the earth. If we make this house a mysterious one that composed of the dead and the living, then we are robbing all power of the exhortation in 1Timothy 3:15. A glance through the epistle shows that every activity of a saint during his life on earth must reflect the character of the house. God dwelling in man individually and collectively is a precious teaching that is given to us. No greater association could be imagined in this world, than this.
1.2. The Assembly (the Church) of the living God:
The Assembly of the living God is God’s dwelling place. It is beyond our imagination that the Eternal God who is the source of all life and its power, calls men who are at enmity with Him and do not search for Him in this world; calls them out of the world, sets them apart for Himself, indwells in them individually and collectively, vitalizing them with Devine life—eternal life, and giving them the power to express it and makes it His dwelling place.
1.3. The Pillar and Ground of The truth:
As Christ Himself is the truth (John 14:6); all things are made in perfect relation with God through Him. As He is at God’s right hand, God’s dwelling place on this earth is the only testimony on earth for Christ. Therefore, the Assembly is the maintainer and supporter of the truth (ground) and the announcer or displayer of the truth (pillar). In a temple the pillars should stand on firm ground. God seeks for fellowship with man and it could be accomplished only on the basis of His character. God’s dwelling place on earth is inferred for the first time in Genesis 28:17-22. This inference was by Jacob and he called that place בּéúÎàì (Beth-El), House of God. At the God’s house, the boldness of believers (Ephesians 3:12; 1 Timothy 3:13; Hebrews 10:19) is standing in contrast with the fear of Jacob. It is where they meet to remember the Lord Jesus Christ. Our boldness is derived from the eternal purposes of God. In John 4:24 our Lord said to the Samaritan woman, “God is a spirit, and they who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth.” When we come together to remember our Lord Jesus as He wishes, we are to be led by the Spirit and we worship God in Christ who is the truth. He said, “I am the truth,” and He did that more than once. The Assembly is not the truth; she maintains the truth on this earth. She is the pillar that upholds the truth in truth. She should not and will not compromise on the truth. Let the sons of Ishmael persecute the real son of Abraham, the son of the promise. The Assembly of God is placed on this earth, at a given location, to hold on to the truth tenaciously. She is the lone lamp at that locality.
2. The Formation of the House:
2.1. The House: A Devine Work of Grace and Power:
“… on this rock I will build my Assembly, and hades’ gates shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
“To whom coming, a Living Stone, cast away indeed as worthless by men, but with God chosen, precious, yourselves also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Because it is contained in the Scripture: Behold, I lay in Zion a corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believes on Him shall not be put to shame. To you therefore who believe is the preciousness; but to the disobedient, the Stone which the builders cast away as worthless, this is become head of the corner, and a Stone of stumbling and Rock of offence; who stumble at the word, being disobedient, to which also they have been appointed, But you are a chosen race, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a people for a possession, that you might set forth the excellencies of Him who has called you out of the darkness to His wonderful light; who once were not a people, but now God’s people; who were not enjoying mercy, but bow have found mercy.” (1 Peter 2:4-10)
“… To the assembly of God which is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints, with all that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. , both theirs and ours: … ” (1 Corinthians 1:2)
The God’s house is formed and built by a devine work of grace and power. The Lord Jesus Christ took the full claim as its builder (Matthew 16:18) and it has the claim of the Assembly of the living God. The foundation Rock (Petra) is Himself and the confession is that He is the Son of the Living God. Peter (Petros = PETROS = a stone) was added to the building at the day of Pentecost. This is so, because in Matthew the house is a future building. Peter explains this in his first epistle, 1 Peter 2:4-10. Those who come to the Living Rock (Christ) become living stones and being built up to form a spiritual house, a holy priesthood. The Holy Spirit is the one who perform this work of grace and power, imparts life, indwells in individuals to form a chosen race, kingdom of priesthood, holy nation, and a people of His possession–a God’s house on this earth. Peter derives this using Israel’s temple as a type where the priests’ work within the sanctuary was worship. This must be the holy character of our priesthood. In verses 9 and 10 the priests’ work outside the sanctuary was the testimony. This should be the royal character of our priesthood. As each believer is a priest unto God, nothing is to interfere with their exercise of this high office and must be carried out as the privilege and responsibility bestowed upon us by God.
“To the Assembly of God which is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints, with all that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both theirs and ours:” (1 Corinthians 1:2). The Assembly is formed by God’s mighty work in grace and power. By taking us out of the world and setting apart by God to Himself in Christ Jesus, His Son, we become the Assembly of God at a given locality. This is how the believers in Corinth became the Assembly of God at Corinth. By His call of grace and power we are made set apart ones (saints). This is how Christ builds God’s building—God’s house.
In Ephesians 2:19-22 we read that the foundation is apostles and prophets while the corner stone is Jesus Christ himself. “So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow-citizens of the saints, and of the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the corner-stone, in whom all the building fitted together increases to a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.” In 1 Corinthians 12:27-30, we read that the apostles and prophets are those who received special gifts and in Ephesians they are the foundation of the house of God. “Now you are Christ’s body, and members in particular. And God has set certain the assembly; first, apostles; secondly, prophets; thirdly, teachers; then miraculous powers; then gifts of healing; helps; governments; kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all in possession of miraculous powers? Have all gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” The two gifts – apostles and prophets - are foundation gifts of the Assembly.
What is a foundation? When one starts to build a house he lays the foundation, and that is done only once. Others will laugh at the one who repeatedly lays foundation after foundation, because he cannot start building the walls until the foundation is finished. The foundation is the first part of the house that is completed and is not repeated. The foundation is built on the corner stone also. But the walls will continue to be built till the house is completed. In the light of all these verses along with others, the Scriptures teach that the gifts of apostles and prophets existed during the beginning of the building of the Assembly, that is the first century, as the foundation gifts. After the foundation was laid, God will lay no other foundation. Therefore, those two gifts ceased to exist. Those who claim that those gifts, apostles and prophets, exist even now are those who believe in strange foundations other than what was laid by God. The walls of the true house of God are still being built in many locations around the world, and will continue to be built until the snatching away or the rapture of the Assembly from this world to Him who is coming.
When a man builds a house he can do one of many things–he can sell it to make more money and make a profit, he can rent it out to make some income on the long-term basis, or he could live in it to enjoy the fruit of his plan and labor. God decided to do the third option and residing in the house built by His dear Son, He calls it the ‘House of God.’ There is only one house. That is the reason for not to have divisions in the house of God (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).
Every work of grace has an outward expression of privileges and responsibilities incumbent upon the recipients of that work. The Holy Spirit makes this clear to us in the later part of the verse, “… all that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” A newly saved person can enjoy this new relationship only by becoming associated with other members of His body. This he achieves only through professing to be a child of God (Acts 4:32; 8:26-40; Timothy 3:15-16; 2 Timothy 2:19-22). Both believers and unbelievers are capable of making this outward profession. Two examples of unbelievers who made such profession in the first century are: Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:9) and Simon Magus (Acts 8:18-24).
2.2. The Spiritual Character of the House:
In the previous section man’s responsibility was looked upon in connection with God’s work of forming the Assembly. In every dispensation God’s work of grace toward man was marred by man’s failures. The Assembly is the greatest work of God’s grace and we should consider its spiritual character, as seen in the Scripture.
2.2.1. The God’s House:
Acts 4:32; 1 Timothy 3:15-16: When the Assembly was formed on the day of Pentecost; its constitution was not given. The constitution of the Assembly was given mostly through Apostle Paul. The complete Scriptures, particularly the epistles of Paul, are the only sustaining factor to maintain the Assembly, as a separate company in this world. When the Scripture was not completely given, the Holy Spirit acted in a miraculous way to maintain its pure character. Such acts of the Holy Spirit are given to us in the early part of the Acts. Examples are: Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5, and Simon Magus, the magician, in Acts 8. In Acts 4:32-35 we see the high spiritual state of the new converts. They enjoyed their first love for Christ and were kept by the Holy Spirit. As the Assembly increased and progressed in size that first love cooled, the flesh became more active and introduced problems. Apostle Paul discusses these problems in his epistles (1 Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, etc. ) and dealing with them was the responsibility of the local assemblies. While this deterioration increased, the Assembly, characteristically remains a visible separate company (1 Timothy 3:15-16) and the Holy Spirit still identify it as God’s house.
In any local place, the Assembly of God is all true believers in that locality and none others. Others, though they profess to be a believer while they are not, are not in the Assembly that Christ builds, though they may appear as members of the local assembly. There is a day in the future, when the rejection of such persons will happen. Even in Peter’s time this was evident. He wrote about judgment must begin in the house of God (1 Peter 4:17).
2.2.2. The Great House:
"Yet the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, The Lord knows those that are His; and, Let everyone who names the name of the Lord withdraw from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also wooden and earthen; and some to honor, and some to dishonor.” (2 Timothy 2:19-20)
The progression of deterioration was so great that by the time the Second Epistle to Timothy was written, the Assembly as the “God’s house” became invisible. The Holy Spirit recognize it as “the great house,” it is no more “God’s house.” Its outward character is no more one of separation, but it is a haven where the world and the true saints are indistinguishably joined together outwardly. The mark of the great house is, “… the Lord knows them that are His” (2 Timothy 2:19). Therefore, the exhortation, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord withdraws from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19), is given to us. During the apostolic time the first love for Christ was waned in the Assembly and the flesh became active and the character of the world became more evident. This change prevented the Assembly from distinguishing and resisting the errors or evil. The wolves were permitted to enter and destroy the sheep.
The difference of these two terms, ‘God’s house’ and ‘the great house,’ becomes significant when we hear similar statements from our Lord. In John 2:16, He said about the Jewish temple “My Father’s house.” This was at the beginning of His earthly ministry. After His rejection, in Matthew 23:38 we read Him say, “Behold, your house.” This was after they rejected Him. In John 2, Lord Jesus Christ went to the temple in Jerusalem and found sellers of oxen, sheep, dove and moneychangers. This was not the condition of the temple built by Solomon, but the one built by Herod. Still, the Herod’s temple was seen as “My Father’s house of merchandise.” A sad condition! What about the Christian churches of today? Are they not more concerned about money raising and sellers of merchandise to raise more money? This is contrary to what we see in the scriptures. Those who are involved in such activities find fault with those who remember the Lord as He wishes.
Those who are accustomed to the modern day Herod’s temple worship do not hesitate to make fun of the children of god who worship God in spirit and truth as ‘performing funeral services.’ We, who gather together on the first day of the week to remember our Lord at His death, resurrection, ascension, and His promise of coming to snatch us away, are gladly willing to suffer this persecution. In Galatians we read that when Ishmael made fun of Isaac, the son born out of time, he was really persecuting the heir of promise. We read about the persecution of Ismael on Isaac in the Epistle to the Galatians. Let us rejoice and be glad to be counted worthy to bear the shame as our Lord showed for us. When we hear such persecutory statements, let us start singing the Hallelujah chorus!!!
In connection with God’s house, we should consider Psalm 27:4, “One thing I asked of Jehovah, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of Jehovah all the day of my life, to behold the beauty of Jehovah, and to inquire of Him in His temple.” David, the man of God’s own heart, wanted to dwell in the house of Jehovah all the days of his life. That dwelling was to behold the beauty of Jehovah. If we are living in the house of God, do we behold the beauty of God? Or, are we trying to show the beauty of our ingenuity? If that is what we are doing, the ‘God’s house’ will soon become the ‘great house.’ David also wanted to live in the house of Jehovah to inquire of Him. What about us? Are we interested in inquiring of God? Our Lord Jesus Christ told the seven assemblies to hear Him. “Those who have ears to hear, let him hear” was His call to the individuals in those assemblies. We read this call in Revelation 2 and 3. Those who heard and obeyed are called “overcomers,” by the Lord.
(To be continued)