Stones for an Unseen Building

An article from SVM Spring-Summer 2011

Norm Edwards

Editor, Contributor

An Article from SVM Spring-Summer 2011

If the Creator of the Universe is all powerful then why does His church appear to be fragmented and disarrayed? Why do corrupt governments, businesses and the entertainment industry seem so powerful by comparison? As believers, we can understand this paradox only by continuing to focus on our Father’s purposes for our lives.

You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5).

We are being shaped by our Father to rule with his Son upon His return. (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:10) When King Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, he had all of the stones prepared off- site so that they just fit together perfectly when they were finally assembled. Similarly, individual members of His Church will ultimately fit together, each in his own place in God’s Kingdom.

And the temple, when it was being built, was built with stone finished at the quarry, so that no  hammer or chisel or any iron tool was heard in the temple while it was being built (1 Kings 6:7).

Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

What is it that distracts us from the great eternal reality of our Father’s purpose? It is the temporary “buildings” in the world in which we live. We are not being formed in a perfect stone quarry, but we are being formed in this world and its evil:

“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:15-16).

Some believers may now be parts of temporary “buildings” such as churches, ministries, businesses, governments and other organizations of men. Others may exist as “clusters of similar stones” living together with families or friends. Still others of us may be “stones” sitting out all alone. Even when we are together in churches or ministries, there are still “tares”—in this case “bad stones”—stacked in and amongst the chosen stones. -Matthew 13:24-30.

It is so easy to look at what we see now and wish that we had a better job, better friends, a better church, a healthier body, etc. We should not be so concerned about the appearance of our temporary “building”, “group of stones” or “isolated stone”—whichever represents us. We should be more concerned about how we will fit into what the Father wants for His building.

Hewn in Humility

The great leaders of the Bible were “stones” hewn in humility. The following examples show         the patience of these believers as their Father in heaven shaped them:

  • Abraham was promised to be the father of many nations, but then had to wait 25 years for his  first son to be born Genesis 12:2-4; 21:5.
  • Moses was told he would deliver his people from Egyptian slavery, but first God sent him to tend sheep in the wilderness for 40 years. -Exodus 7:7.
  • Joseph was shown that he would become the leader of his brothers, but then was sold into slavery and ultimately put into prison for something he didn’t do. -Genesis 37:6-8, 28; 39:7-20.
  • David was anointed to be king over Israel. He had initial success as a warrior, but then had to travel about as a vagabond for years fleeing from jealous king Saul – 1Samuel 17, 2Samuel 1.
  • Mary, entrusted with the most important child- rearing job of all time, had a home-birth in a stable, subsequently had to flee to a foreign country to keep her baby out of a mass murder. Then she had to raise her child in a town with a dismal reputation and was falsely accused of fornication all of her life. -Luke 2:7, Matthew 2:13-16; John 1:46; 8:41. Our Messiah himself suffered in his ministry:

For it was fitting for Him (Christ), for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” – Hebrews 2:10. Even after His miracle-filled earthly ministry was finished, only 120 disciples gathered on Pentecost to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:15).

  • Those who believed in Christ were frequently cast out of the synagogue – John 9:22; 12:42. They were shunned by the others, which greatly limited where they could find work or buy necessities. Thus they formed Christian communities and had great peace there. -Acts 2:44-47; 4:32-37. But Saul raised up such a persecution that the entire Jerusalem church was scattered, except the apostles – Acts 8:1-4.

Why did our Father in heaven do these things this way? Could not He make His Work look a little more impressive to those who witnessed it? To continue with the last example when God called Saul to His ministry, Saul stopped persecuting the church and became the Apostle Paul – Acts 9:1-6. Only six chapters later, in Acts 15, we read that there is again a substantial church in Jerusalem. So why didn’t God call the Apostle Paul “a couple of chapters sooner”—so that the Jerusalem church did not have to be first devastated and then rebuilt?

It was because our Father was working with those people. He was hewing out His “stones” for His Spiritual Temple to be built in the future. He was not simply trying to build a big church in Jerusalem! The trials that came upon those brethren built their faith and expanded their opportunity to preach the gospel to others while simultaneously fashioning them into the “stones” that they will be in the Kingdom of God. By contrast, the physical temple in Jerusalem was completely destroyed in 70 A.D, just as Christ prophesied: “not one stone shall be left here upon another”  (Matthew 24:2).

For he [Abraham] waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is  God  (Hebrews 11:10).

Our Lives Are Much The Same

It is tempting to think the trials of men and women in the Bible are somehow different than  ours. It is easy to think that they had a clear vision that their actions were right and that they were suffering for a righteous cause. Whereas, our trials often seem far removed from God and the Bible—they are just difficulties and there is no spiritual right-versus- wrong principles to be upheld. But indeed our Father is still hewing the stones—teaching us through our trials to live by the Scripture, find work to support ourselves, overcome sickness and injury, and live peaceably with difficult people. We need to see His work for what it is. The examples of faith found in Hebrews 11 demonstrated that these men and women suffered human temptations, poverty, sickness, and the like:

They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, and were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth  (Hebrews 11:37-38).

There is no doubt this life can be very discouraging at times. This writer has spoken to    young people who have grown up in very difficult circumstances and who cannot foresee a bright future. Similarly, he knows of older people who realize they have missed their chance to have a successful marriage and children. He remembers talking to a great- grandmother who had many offspring, but who was grieved that most had departed from God and were in so much trouble.

No person can tell us with certainty how much of our lifelong difficulties are a result of our own faults and how much were caused by circumstances beyond our control. But there are some things we can know with certainty. Our Father does not expect us to somehow go backward in time and change the past.

  • We do not need to worry about our past. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about   everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (Philippians 4:6, NLT).
  • Even if we have struggled with sin for years, we can still repent and change now. Manasseh was king for 55 years—the longest reigning king in Judah and one of the most evil. Yet, he repented late in life and was restored to his kingdom (2 Chronicles 33:1-20). Whatever sins have plagued our lives, it is never too late to face up to them, humble ourselves, repent and change – 1 John 1:8-10. This is how we allow our Father to make us into a “stone” that will fit into His future building in His Kingdom.

There is nothing wrong with praying for and working toward the pleasant things of this life such as good families, good friends and the physical needs of life. There are many good lessons of love, wisdom and stewardship to be learned. But the ultimate value of our physical lives is that which is being built for all eternity. Our Father is certainly watching to see where we place our priorities. That is what this life is about.

Do Not Let Church Discourage You

This writer has heard brethren say things much like this:

“I understand how the Eternal is working in my life. I have learned a lot of valuable lessons, but the state of the church discourages me. There are so many groups. Most cannot work together. They cannot agree on doctrine. They cannot even agree on what doctrine they would have to agree on in order to work together. Many groups are so small that they just do not have enough resources to accomplish much. Other groups are doctrinally tolerant and have more resources, but they have leaders or members with flagrant sins, about which they do nothing. The scriptures tell us not to keep company with certain people. I would like to devote myself to serving in a congregation, but something seems to be wrong with every congregation and ministry that I know about.”

This person should pray and ask Christ to show them how and where they should serve with other brethren. The answer can vary greatly for each individual. Christ may send one to join a corrupt or erroneous group in order to help the people there. He may send another to a small group that he knows will do significant work in the future, and yet another He may use to gradually begin a new group.

Many people read the following Scripture and interpret it in the same way it has been viewed throughout history—that the Church is a big, powerful, observable organization.

“And I [Christ] also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19).

But let us read the next verse:

Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ (Matthew 6:20).

Even though He was the head of the church, He wanted his position, to some degree, hidden from the world at that time. Is it not also likely that the church, His body, (Colossians 1:18) is also hidden from the world to some degree today? While the “gates of Hades” were not to prevail against His church, they may well at times get very close. Remember, He describes His church as a “little flock”:

Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom”  (Luke 12:32).

Similarly, the letters to seven churches (Revelation 2-3) describe not a powerful organization but a struggling body of believers with a variety of difficulties within each of them. But take heart, to each of the seven churches Christ promises that individuals, if they are willing to listen, can overcome and receive a reward. And yes, the rewards are all different, because the Master Builder is fashioning each stone for a specific purpose.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give” [a different reward for each church] (Revelation 1:7, 11, 17; 3:6, 13, 22).

Becoming a Good Stone for the Kingdom

Is there anything that we can do to become a stone for the Father’s building in His Kingdom? Yes. Even though we cannot fashion ourselves to His specifications, we can yield to His work upon us:

Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16, RSV)

Anything that we let come between us and our Father’s guiding hand becomes an idol.

And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people (2 Corinthians 6:16).

Let Him form us through prayer, fasting and Bible study.

Let Him test our strength as we:

  • struggle to support ourselves and our families in a failing economy and deal with a corrupt world,
  • struggle to resist the temptations and errors of the world, and
  • struggle to do His work.

Let Him see how we will fit together with other stones as we:

  • pray for our brethren,
  • use our gifts to serve in our congregations, and
  • help our brothers whom we see in difficulty – Galatians 6:1.

This article concludes with a few more verses from the many Scriptural analogies where believers are compared, in some way, to Stones for an Unseen Building:

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom  you have from God, and you are not your own?  (1 Corinthians 6:19).

While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

But Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end  (Hebrews 3:6).

While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. “For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

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