Because of all that Christ had accomplished, Paul was able to tell the Ephesian Christians that, even though they were Gentiles by birth, they were no longer strangers and aliens to the promises of God, but rather “fellow citizens with the saints, and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV).
After affirming the place of the Gentiles in the household of God, Paul begins to explain something about this household. The term the household of God was not to be understood in the same way as it had been in the Old Testament.
The Household of God as it Existed before Christ
In the Old Testament, God had clearly identified the people of his household as the nation of Israel. In preparation for the time when the Israelites were to enter the land of Canaan after their exodus from Egypt, the words that God gave to Moses illustrates this clearly:
“Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel. (Exodus 19:5-6 NAS)
It is indisputable that at this point, God intended there to be a clear distinction between his people as identified as the Israelites and all of the other people of the world. In Canaan, there were living already many smaller nations, and when some of the Israelites ignored the directives not to intermarry with them, the priest Ezra took them to task.
“You have been unfaithful by marrying foreign women and adding to the guilt of Israel,” he told them. “Now, make a confession to the LORD, the God of your fathers, and do His will. Separate yourselves from the people of the land and from your foreign wives” (Ezra 10:11 BSB).
It was not as if all other foreigners were completely excluded from joining with God’s chosen people, but if they wanted to draw near to God, they needed to do so according to how God had instructed the Jews.
For instance, in giving Moses instructions for observing the Passover, God told him, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it” (Exodus 12:43).
However, God did give provisions for the foreigner when he added this:
But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it. The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you. (Exodus 12:48-49 NAS)
This was how the household of God was defined in the old covenant. People drew near to God on the basis of the Law.
Last week I spoke of how the Law kept the people in bondage because it was impossible for them to fulfill without fail every single requirement. This point remains true. The Law that God expressed is impossible for us to follow.
But the positive aspect of the Law is that it actually does express the culture of God. It expresses God’s nature and it expresses his plan for the nature of his people. The early Israelites were to be a testimony to the world of this fact. They were to begin to learn to live and to teach the culture of God. The utterly failed in this task.
God sent prophets and emissaries to the Israelites to reprimand them for this failure, but the prophets were also sent to guide the people back to their original calling. Each time the people refused to listen. Finally the Son of God himself came, but they still failed to obey.
Christ is Our Peace
If we follow the definition of the household of God as it develops through the Scriptures, we see that the way in which God reveals himself to his people has been one of a continual development in revelation. The early Israelites were not mistaken in following the Law, even if it was an impossible task. The Old Testament Law was the extent of what God was showing them up to that time concerning reconciliation with God, and that, after all, is the point of all of God’s teaching for us. At that time, following the Law was the way in which the people demonstrated that they were of the household of God.
Keeping in mind the historical benefit of the teachings of the early prophets, we can understand a bit better the purpose of Jesus coming as a man. What the Law could not do, Jesus did through his blood. We are brought near to God by the blood of Christ.
But Christ’s purpose was not an indication that the saints of the Old Testament were mistaken in their following of the Law. Jesus made clear very early in his ministry when he said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17 NAS).
Thus, even though Paul was teaching that salvation had become a matter of grace and not a matter of following the Law, he was not contradicting the earlier teachings of the Law. It was just that the Law had now been fulfilled through Jesus Christ. God could now offer us forgiveness based instead on his grace.
All of the teachings of God always remain true, from the beginning of time to the present and for eternity. New teachings do not invalidate old ones, but rather bring further enlightenment and fulfillment. So it must be with further insights into what God is teaching us even today.
I am not suggesting that God is still opening up new revelations to us, but certainly he gives new insights into what he has said in his word. If these insights are truly of God, then they will be ones that will bring us further enlightenment and understanding of what he has told us before.
In the end, we have the words of Paul when he called Christ, “Our peace, who has made us both into one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:16 ESV).
Indeed, peace has been preached to all who were far off and all who were near. Through Christ we all have access in one Spirit to the Father.
We are living in a day of great ethnic pride, where we separate ourselves based upon heritage, skin color, political persuasion, even on occasion, what sports team we support! This is the manner of the world.
The church is not to be so. In the world we may have conflict and competition, but in the church we must have peace with one another. And we can have peace, because our peace is not based upon such unimportant things as politics or race. Christ is our peace! It is he who has torn down any wall of division and has made us one in him.
Jesus once told the chief priests of the Jews of his day a story. He said to them:
Listen to a parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a tower. Then he rented it out to some tenants and went away on a journey.
When the harvest time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his share of the fruit. But the tenants seized his servants. They beat one, killed another, and stoned a third.
Again, he sent other servants, more than the first group. But the tenants did the same to them.
Finally, he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son,” he said.
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and take his inheritance.” So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. (Matthew 21:33-40 BSB)
Then Jesus asked the priests this question, “When the owner of the vineyard returns, what do you think he will do to those tenants?”
They answered him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end. Then he will rent out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him his share of the fruit at harvest time.”
The priests did not yet seem to know that Jesus was telling the story about them, but that is exactly what he was doing.
Jesus then said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone?'”
But it was the following words of Jesus that at last seemed to cause the priests to understand the meaning of the parable. The words were blunt and at the same time came to the point of the story: “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (Matthew 21:41-44).
This parable that Jesus told to the Jewish priests illustrated the recommissioning of the work of God in this world. The Israelites had failed in the task of forwarding the work of the household of God, except in one important way. They had demonstrated that with man, it was impossible to live up to God’s standards.
It is almost necessary that we had to have thousands of years of history to show us this fact, for we are shamefully prideful by nature. We tend to think that if only we would try a little harder and perhaps if we would use different methods, we could live up to the standards of God.
But the Israelites had lived the lesson for us that this is an impossibility. We do not have the ability or even the will to live according to the Laws of God.
Something drastic had to be done.
Only the Death of the Son Can Bring Life
The news that Paul brought to the churches of the first century was that expressing only the Law of God to demonstrate God’s righteousness had been superseded by another manner. After it had been demonstrated to us that we do not have the ability or the will to live according to the Laws of God, God now was ready to move on to show us how to have a relationship with him.
It is not that the Law was completely annulled necessarily. After all, it does express the nature of God. It was not annulled, but rather would it now be fulfilled by the next step in God’s eternal plan to redeem his people.
We read earlier in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians of the new way that God identified with his people. The new manner of fulfillment is by the blood of Christ as it is applied to our situation. It is now in this way that we are “reconciled…to God in one body through the cross” (Ephesians 2:16 ESV).
The Household of God as it Exists after Christ
Do we see how astounding this statement actually is?
Paul continues to tell the Ephesians that because of the work of Jesus Christ, they were no longer “strangers and foreigners,” but became “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”
When put in the context of the religious community of that day, this is truly an astounding statement. After centuries of religious exclusivism, Paul was telling the Gentiles that becoming a member of the household of God had nothing to do with nationality or ethnicity. It instead has everything to do with Jesus Christ.
Understandably, because of the centuries of ethnic pride that the Jews had allowed to grow within themselves, most of them did not accept this assessment. To them, these words were heresy. But the words written by Paul concerning the household of God were based on the vision of God for his household that predates even the nation of Israel.
“Abraham believed the LORD, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).
Righteousness is not obtained through our own efforts to obey law, but by faith in God. Paul wrote this also to the church of Galatia:
Understand, then, that those who have faith are the sons of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and foretold the gospel to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:7-9 BSB)
“Therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners,” Paul told these Gentiles, “but fellow citizens of the saints and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:19-20).
What does Paul mean by the foundation of the household of God being that of apostles and prophets? There are differing opinions about this.
Is Paul Referring to Scripture?
In one sense, it could be said that by saying “apostles and prophets,” Paul is actually referring to Scripture itself. It is in the pages of the Bible where we find the writings and revelations of the apostles and prophets all throughout history.
It is true that there may not have been apostles in the Old Testament, at least as the title is commonly understood. We see the apostles as being connected with the early church. However, as we know, there were prophets in the Old Testament who spoke the word of the Lord. Also, if we apply the broader meaning to the word apostle, we see that an apostle is one who is sent out as an ambassador or a delegate for God.
The early Jews were not evangelistic, as were the apostles in the early church, and the title of apostle is not found in the Old Testament (nor a Hebrew equivalent); but it still can be said that the prophets of the Old Testament fulfilled this role to a certain degree.
The writings of all of these prophets and of the apostles are found within the Scriptures and it is upon Scripture that the church must be built. The church is not to be patterned after any other type of institution in the world. This indeed is an important point, for many churches try to run themselves like a successful business with own listing on the New York Stock Exchange.
That is not the church. That’s a business.
In another sense, one might say that the foundation of apostles and prophets speak of the leaders in each church, even in this present day. I would say that every established church has some type of organizational structure, with its directing body of elders or a leadership board of some kind. It has its pastors and deacons or other titles given to leaders.
Some might say that this is the foundation of the church, and it is indeed important that those in leadership in the church allow Christ Jesus to indicate to them the direction to take on decisions. I agree that this is also important, but I am less inclined to think that this is what Paul is talking about.
In the context of Paul’s writings, I think what he must specifically be saying is that the foundation of the church to be that generation of apostles and prophets to whom Jesus Christ himself commissioned to go out to the world to bring the message of the gospel.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” Jesus said to the first New Testament apostles. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 BSB).
This commissioning of the first apostles seems to be what Paul has in mind in speaking of the foundation of the church being that of apostles and prophets, since just a few verses later, in Ephesians 3:4-5, he is talking about the insight given to him about the mystery of Christ, which, he says. “Was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.”
It is for this reason that, although we consider the teachings of the Old Testament important and even vital to understand the New Testament correctly, we do not follow the laws and ordinances of the Old Covenant. Instead, we are followers of the New Covenant, brought about by the blood of Jesus Christ as described to us by the apostles and the prophets of the New Testament.
Nevertheless, there is a degree of truth to each one of these perspectives concerning the meaning of “apostles and prophets.” Certainly the Scripture is foundational, since in it we read the teachings and revelations of men and women of God through the ages. It is also important that each local church be directed by men and women who have some maturity in the faith and who are able to make decisions based upon that spiritual maturity.
But the teachings of the New Testament apostles and prophets are foundational. It is upon these that the church must rest.
Although the foundation of the Household of God must be the apostles and prophets, it is Christ Jesus who is the cornerstone.
Does calling Christ the cornerstone of the church remind you of something that we read earlier, something that Jesus said to the Jewish leaders? He had told them, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
We are not to think of this in relation to the type of cornerstone that we often see on buildings in these days, which is merely a decorative stone placed in a prominent place on the building with the date of dedication inscribed upon it. The meaning of this cornerstone in the household of God is better understood as being the base, the bedrock on which the building is constructed.
It is upon this bedrock where the builders establish the corner which will determine the angles of the rest of the building. All other parts of the building and indeed the foundation itself must conform to the angles of the cornerstone. It is in this way that they are all joined together into a sound and stable structure.
It is upon Jesus that the whole structure not only is joined together, but also upon whom the entire dwelling place rests. The truth about the household of God that is the most basic in its structural design is the fact that Christ Jesus is the cornerstone.
It is about Jesus Christ whom the prophet Isaiah wrote.
So this is what the Lord GOD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; the one who believes will never be shaken. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level.” Hail will sweep away your refuge of lies, and water will flood your hiding place. (Isaiah 28:16-17 BSB)
Serving Christ through Serving the Church
In the words of Paul: “In Him the whole building is fitted together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together into a dwelling place for God in His Spirit” (Ephesians 2:21-22 BSB).
The church, as it is meant ever since Jesus commissioned the apostles, is the unified body of believers, irrespective of race, nationality, social status, political persuasion or denomination affiliation. What Jesus has intended for his church is not that everyone should be the same, but the new Household of God is where we are all very different except for two very vital and important points.
The first of these is that we have all come to faith based on the sacrifice for our sin by the blood of Christ. We are not part of God’s household because of our own virtues, but on the virtue of Jesus Christ.
The second thing that is important about the new Household of God is that it is built on the teachings of the apostles and prophets. We do not change these according to current social pressures or political views, nor do we adapt these teachings to fit our own personal preferences.
These two characteristics are the qualities which Paul says make up the church. There may be other organizations that call themselves a “Christian Church,” but if they are not based upon the teachings of the apostles and prophets and if they do not have Jesus Christ and his teachings as the cornerstone, and whose perspective determines the entire direction of their teachings, it is not of the Household of God.
In my very privileged life, I have had opportunities to work with pastors, church leaders and church members in many countries, from many ethnic backgrounds, and with many styles of worship.
I have worshiped with the very conservative and old denominations who place great stock in formality and tradition, and I have clapped my hands and danced (as well as an old white guy can dance) to Latino and African rhythms in their native lands. I have observed Pascha in India, and White Sunday in Samoa. In all of these I have seen the beauty of the church of Jesus Christ and of the Household of God.
That is why I will always serve the church and that is why I will always defend her from the corruption of the world. The church is the beauty of the Body of Christ.
We do well to serve her.
(Video link to the song: How Beautiful is the Body of Christ)
 While it is true that Paul was not present with the other apostles at that time, he later considered himself and was considered by others to be among the original apostles as he explains in 1 Corinthians 15:7-10. Speaking of the appearance of Jesus after his resurrection, Paul continues, “Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. And last of all He appeared to me also, as to one of untimely birth. For I am the least of the apostles and am unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not in vain.
 A quote from Psalm 118:22