A PLACE FOR GOD TO LIVE
November 6, 2005
One of the predominant themes of Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus is the riches of God’s grace. In reading through the letter this week I couldn’t help but notice the ways in which this idea comes up. In 1:7 that phrase, “the riches of his grace” is used. In verse 18 it is the “riches of the glory of his inheritance.” In 2:7 it is the fact that God wants to show us in days to come the exceeding riches of his grace. Paul says in 3:8 that “he preached the unsearchable riches of Christ.” In 3:18 there is the prayer that “we be strengthened according to the riches of his glory.” “Riches!” Almost everybody is interesting in things that can be characterized as riches.
It is interesting that another theme that occurs throughout this book is the preciousness of the Lord’s church suggesting that one of the ways in which the riches of God’s grace and glory comes into our lives is through our understanding of ourselves as his church. There is something about that idea or something about that picture which particularly allows us to respond to the grace of God. In this little letter, as you may know, the church is pictured as the body of Christ, as the bride of Christ, as the army of God and especially importantly it is pictured as the temple of God. Notice the little paragraph beginning in Ephesians 2:18. It says, “For through him we both (Jew and Gentile) have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
That discussion of a dwelling place for God comes at the end of the passage on the ministry of Jesus and what it means to mankind. There must be something especially wonderful about this idea of the church being a place for God to live. There must be something that we need in that phrase for Paul to give it the prominence that he does. But what is it? It may be that a part of the wonder of that picture escapes us because we didn’t grow up in Ephesus. There really is a background to this idea that is painted for us in Acts 19. In Acts 19 if you notice in verses 23 and 24, we meet a man by the name of Demetrius. Now our friend Demetrius was a silversmith, and he did not just make silverware for the tables or pictures or plates or things like that. He made little silver shrines of the resident goddess of Ephesus which he offered up for sale to pilgrims and tourists who came to Ephesus because that’s where the house of Artemis was.
Notice in verse 24 the mention is made of Artemis. The King James follows the Latin and uses the Roman name for this goddess, which was Diana. Diana, the Roman goddess, was typically pictured as the virgin goddess of the hunt. You will see her pictures with horses and dogs, etc. out in nature. But at Ephesus where the Greek name Artemis is used, people had actually long since merged a pagan Asian goddess with this idea of Diana, and the result was what’s called here, “Artemis of the Ephesians.” The Artemis of the Ephesians was worshiped as the mother goddess of Asia. She was represented, according to Acts 19:35, by a sacred stone that had fallen from the sky. Whether that means that this was some type of a fragment of a meteorite or whether it was some sort of a stone that had just been taken and fashioned by craftsmen and said to have fallen from the sky, we don’t know. I suspect it is more likely the meteorite idea. But this goddess was pictured as one on this stone with a ladies’ figure and then across her midsection what many referred to as breast. Some suggest they represented ostrich eggs. Some suggest they represented huge clusters of grapes – all to illustrate that here is the source of all fertility. Here is the source of all fruitfulness. Here is the source of all of life. So the Ephesians suggested that out of this rock that had fallen from heaven came all of the things that sustained and provided for their lives. Artemis was worshipped by a cult of temple prostitutes, very much like the temple of Aphrodite at Corinth. People actually came and engaged in sexual immorality and orgies and that type of activity supposedly in the worship of Artemis of the Ephesians.
Now Artemis had to have a house to live in and so naturally there is the great temple of the great goddess Artemis at Ephesus, according to Acts 18:27. The picture of this temple needs to be seen in our minds for us to appreciate what Paul is going to say in his letter. This temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, classified as that by everybody. Starting about 350 B.C. this particular temple, which was actually the fifth temple of Artemis, started to be built and it took 120 years for the construction to take place. Some called it the largest building in the ancient world, but it certainly was the largest marble temple. It was four times the size of the famous Parthenon at Athens. It was 425 feet long, about 220 feet wide. It was surrounded all the way around by 127 white marble columns, all done in decorative ways, 62 feet high. These marble columns were stationed less than 4 feet apart. If you can get that white marble and the glory of it and how that building would have dominated the city of Ephesus, if you can get that all in your mind, you can see what the idea of a temple is going to mean to these Gentile people from that city. The fame of the place and the worship of Artemis, according to Demetris, was something that influenced the whole world. At the end of verse 27 it says that “all Asia and the world worshipped Artemis.” I found out in working on this that there were at least 30 other locations where the worship of this Artemis took place throughout Asia Minor and then the world. People came from all over to this great temple. The people of Ephesus considered themselves to be “temple keeper,” verse 35 says, “of the great Artemis.” That is a world that literally means “temple sweeper.” The citizens of that city considered themselves temple sweepers of this goddess Artemis. If you will remember all that might mean in terms of the moral life and the life of the city. The temple served not only as a place of worship but as a banking center. It was actually a place where money was deposited by kings and merchants and other people. That money then was used as the source of wealth. All of the commercial activity of the city at the time when Paul lived happened because of people coming there for that temple, buying and selling these little silver shrines. I am trying to paint a picture of how important this place was to this city. The temple of the great Artemis! You remember them standing out there at the theatre which seated 25,000 people at the time in fear that somehow Paul was threatening that temple. They were all shouting at the top of their voice for two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” That is how important this place was.
Fast forward to Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus and hear him saying there at the end of Ephesians 2 in the words that we read that here is a situation where all the building is joined together and where it is growing into a holy temple in the Lord and where these parts of that building are being built together into a dwelling place for God and his spirit. Paul is emphasizing that there is a greater temple at Ephesus than the temple of Artemis ever could have been. It may be one of the architectural wonders of the world, but there is a greater temple. It may be a temple that these people consider themselves a guardian of, but there is a greater temple. It may be a temple that people flow to and want to see, but there is a greater temple at Ephesus than the one Artemis has. It is greater because it houses not a stone that fell from the sky but the living God. It is greater not because it involves immoral worship or the greed of the people but because it involves people who are holy, belonging to God and who are living lives that are now true and righteous and holy, according to Ephesians 4:24.
Think of what it means to say that the church is a place for God to live. It is made out of people and a God who is spirit can indwell the lives of his people. This is an idea which really has a rich history in the story of the Bible if you think about it. In the Old Testament the tabernacle which was constructed by Israel in the wilderness according to the pattern God gave was a place for God to dwell among his people. Tabernacle means “dwelling place.” The tabernacle was where God met his people. Later on when Solomon constructed the temple, he knew that heaven and earth could not contain God, much less this building that he and Israel had constructed. And yet he prayed that God would use that to dwell there in their midst. When Jesus came in the flesh to dwell among us, it was God tabernacling among people. Remember, John said the word became flesh and dwelt. Tabernacle lived among us. And finally, Paul is saying here that the church is a dwelling place of God and the spirit. What began in the tabernacle in the wilderness and continued with Solomon in the temple and existed in Jesus in the flesh takes place now in a spiritual house made of spiritual, living stones built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets and what they taught about Jesus. That which they embraced and began in their lives is what Jesus is the cornerstone of. Now think of that picture. Cornerstone is something different in the New Testament than what it is in modern construction. That cornerstone was a stone which actually gave the building its shape and held the building together. It wasn’t necessarily just what started the building, but it is what fitted together and made it what it was.
Did any of you see this past week the reminders that it was the 45th anniversary of the completion of the Arch in St. Louis? I saw the news report about that, and when they put the very last piece in at the top of the Arch, about 650 feet up in the air, and what they went through to get that one little piece together that joined the two sides and holds it all together. That is what Jesus is to the church. He is the keystone in one way of thinking about it, the part that keeps it from falling in on itself and gives it its life and its shape and its purpose and its meaning. Paul is saying to people who live in Ephesus, “There is a greater temple than Artemis and it is the temple which is the church of the Lord.”
Now I want you to think of the riches of that idea. There are three riches that spring from the fact that the church is a place for God to live – a spiritual temple, a holy temple, a habitation for God and the spirit. The first blessing is access to God. Notice Ephesians 2:18 again. “For through him we both have our access in one spirit to the father.” Perhaps no one could imagine just walking into this central holy place of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus anytime they wanted to and coming before that black stone which was there. But through Christ, we can come in to the presence of the living God who reigns above all. We can come there, according to Ephesians 3:12, “with boldness and confidence.” We can bring all of our needs and all of our experiences there before God knowing that he will receive us. Someone told the story of a fellow who had to travel a lot in his work, and he traveled to strange cities everywhere and had to spend sometimes weeks at a time in those places. He would miss his family so terribly and would be so lonely during those times while he was there. At night he would try to occupy himself by going for walks. Sometimes he would happen through neighborhoods where there would be families inside houses with their curtains open, and they would be sitting at the dinner table eating and laughing and talking. Or they would be sitting in the family room visiting with each other and enjoying each other. Sometimes he would just stop and stand there on the outside looking in. That is what it is to have no access. That is where these people had been before, according to Ephesians2, verses 12 and following. They had been separated, but now in Christ they are given access. You and I are given the privilege of access, a right relationship, an initiation to come in and to be at home with God. That is the first blessing, the first rich gift of the temple being the place for God to live.
Secondly, there is not only access to God, there is relationship with each other. One of the ways Christianity is different from individualist American culture is that it does not ever take place by yourself. It is interesting that Christianity requires a personal response, and it gives us a personal responsibility to the Lord in his service, but it is not by ourselves. Look at the way Paul emphasizes this and what he says in this passage. “You people,” he says, “who now have access to God are now fellow citizens with the saints.” There is the citizenship in a kingdom idea. “You are also members of the household of God.” There is being a brother or a sister in a family together. And then you are a part of this great building. (v. 21) This whole building is being joined together and grows into that holy temple. And then you are being built together into a dwelling place. Look at the “together” idea. I am a fellow citizen in a kingdom; I am a brother or sister in a household; and I am a stone, one part of a building that the Lord is building. And all of them say, “I have relationships with other people who are built on that same foundation. I have obligations to you. I have obligations to the brotherhood at large.” There are together responsibilities that come here. When you find yourself pulling away from your brothers and sisters in Christ and thinking that more and more you can be or do what the Lord wants you to be alone by yourself, dealing with your own interests and needs, you are forgetting the picture that the Lord paints. He wants a place to live and that requires stones (people) built together to be that place. This picture in the book of Ephesians has so many implications. It calls on us to have a certain kind of attitude (4:1-3); it calls on us to talk to each other and about each other in certain ways (4:25-29); it calls us to be tenderhearted and forgiving and kind to each other (4:32); it calls us to work together with each other (4:15-16). You see the picture.
Access to God, relationship with each other is the second great rich blessing of this picture of a dwelling place for God, and the third one is that this picture gives us a function in the world. If we are the temple of God, think of what it means. That temple of the great Artemis of Ephesus represented to the whole world the glory of that goddess. That is why the Ephesians citizens were so concerned about it in Acts 19. What is the function of the church as the dwelling place of God? Look with me at a few verses that flow from this. In Ephesians 3:10 it says, “Through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Just as the Temple of Diana was a display to the world around of the supposed glory of that stone that was kept inside the temple, the church is to be a demonstration of the glory of God to the world at large. People from all kind of backgrounds can be redeemed from their former ways of life. People do not have to live with hard hearts, lascivious lives, angry with each other. People with Jewish or Gentile backgrounds can be forgiven, can be transformed and can be united together by their faith in Christ and access to God through him. That glorifies the God who builds this temple.
Notice in Ephesians 3:20-21. It says, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us. To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever.” It seems to me that part of the glory involved here is the ways in which the lives of people who are part of this temple are so different from that other temple. That other temple was characterized by sexual immorality and greed. It was a place where immoral things happened, where banking occurred that represented the greed of that society. Notice in Ephesians 5:3 what Paul appears to be concerned about. “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness (greed) must not even be named among you as is proper among saints.” I wonder why he zeroed in on those two things. Look at verse 5. “For you may be sure of this that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure or who is covetous (that is, an idolater) has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” I think Paul zeroes in on that because that is what that temple at Ephesus was like. That is the change that is brought. The wonder of it is that the change could be brought. The change can be made. People who have been nothing can now be a place for God to live. People who have been mixed up can now be redeemed and live lives that bring honor and glory even to God.
The thing that makes the difference in the church is how we see ourselves. Sometimes we see ourselves as country people, blue collar people, young people, old people, people who have messed up. We need to see ourselves as a place for God to live. The growth of the church needs to be growth into a holy temple for the Lord. When the gospel of Christ was preached at an immoral, ungodly place like Ephesus, it challenged the temple of Artemis not by going out and calling Artemis names but by making people into a more glorious temple. If that could happen at Ephesus where that temple was, it can happen here when the gospel falls on good and honest hearts and when we respond to it in faithful obedience. If you are here today and you need to become a Christian, that is the invitation that God lays before us. If we can help you either to obey the gospel or to be renewed in your faith in the Lord, then would you please let it be known while we stand and sing together?