When someone builds a building, when it is complete, at that moment it is the most resplendent that it will ever be, barring future improvement. From the moment that the building ceases, the edifice begins to deteriorate. Thus, when the building stops, the unbuilding begins. This is the nature of our fallen world.
When construction was completed on Solomon’s Temple and when the temple was dedicated, the temple was as beautiful and as perfect as it would ever be. The wood was now rotting. The stone began to crack and chip. The gold would flake off. In other words, the building would begin to unbuild itself. As you read the biblical account, you will see that there were many instances where people repaired the temple because it was falling apart.
There is a different kind of building – a building that does not unbuild – a building that does not fall apart as soon as construction is complete. In fact, this building continues to become more and more complete. It does not deteriorate. Instead, its beauty is continuously growing. What building? You and me and the entire building of God – the church.
This is what Paul wrote in Ephesians:
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. (Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV)
Unlike other buildings, the household of God – the building of God – the temple of God is not build on dead stone or earth. It is built on a living, breathing Lord. The whole edifice being built, is joined together, and is growing because of Jesus Christ and him alone. Notice the emphatic phrase “Christ Jesus himself”, and then the two relative clauses”in whom” and “in him”. Since the Cornerstore is alive, the building is alive. Since the building is connected to Christ, the building continues to be built, continues to be joined together, and continues to grow. This building does not deteriorate; it grows more and more resplendent.
Unlike other buildings, this building is not made of dead material. Instead, this building – this dwelling place of God – is being built of living stones (as Peter puts it) – stones which have been given life by their Lord, who is also their architect, their builder, and their cornerstone. Paul combines the metaphors of building and gardening specifically because this is a different kind of building – a growing building – a living building. He combines these metaphors again in chapter 4:
[W]e are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16 ESV)
He also combines these metaphors of construction and gardening in 1 Corinthians:
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:6-11 ESV)
We are both God’s building and God’s field (or garden) because together we make up a living building – a building which is alive with the life of Christ and grows through the power and working of the Spirit. This is truly a different kind of building.
Commenting on this building, Peter O’Brien said the following in The Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999):
There is a mixture of building and organic images in the statement that the whole structure is ‘being joined together’ and is ‘growing’ into a holy temple in the Lord. The cornerstone unites the building ‘because it is organically as well as structurally bound to it’. So to speak of the building being joined together refers not simply to the union of one stone with another, but also to the union of the whole structure with (and in) the cornerstone. Both verbs, which occur again in 4:15, 16, focus on the idea of continuous progress. There, in a similar mixing of metaphors, the body is ‘joined together’ and ‘built up’ from Christ the head. (pg. 219 – emphasis in original)
The building exists because of Christ, who is both the head and the cornerstone. The building is joined together because of Christ. And the building grows because of Christ. Just as he has given life to dead people (Ephesians 2:1-10), he has also given life to a dead building.
O’Brien said that the two verbs “joined together” and “built up” focus on continuous progress. Thus, this building – which is built, joined together, and growing – is continuously progressing and continuously growing and continuously becoming more beautiful toward some final outcome. What is the goal of this progress?
…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… (Ephesians 4:13 ESV)
The final outcome of this building progression will be complete unity – both with one another and with God – and complete maturity – measured against Christ himself. We are progressing, but we are not there yet. How beautiful this building will be when we reach unity and maturity! Of course, there is still much disunity and immaturity today. But, how amazing it is to be part of this dwelling place of God – a growing, changing, moving, working temple – which is an altogether different kind of building.