Are you working for the upbuilding of the Church?
Saint Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians 3:9-17
Brethren, 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 another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.
“You are God’s building,” writes the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians. What does he mean by that? And in what sense are the Corinthians a building, and we too with them?
First, let’s look at the original word in Greek, translated as “building.” The Greek word is οἰκοδομή. I think οἰκοδομή means three things.
1. A building
The first meaning is that of a building, which means anything built, like a house, a factory, a temple, or any other completed structure. We find this meaning in 2 Cor. 5:1: “For we know,” says the Apostle Paul, “that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” The earthly habitation we now have is called a tent, while the habitation God has in store for us is called building, οἰκοδομή.
2. A structure
The second meaning is that of structure. Here is a biblical example. When the disciples were pointing to the massive temple in Jerusalem, asking the Lord: “Look, Teacher, what wonderful buildings!” (Mk. 13:1) that should have been translated as “structures.” What magnificent οἰκοδομαί, because they were viewing the temple not just as a complex of beautiful, big buildings, but as a great structure composed of interrelated parts forming a harmonious whole.
3. A building under construction
The third meaning is the main meaning of οἰκοδομή, which is that of a building under construction. It is a building, in a stage of being completed, yet a building not completed. We see this meaning in Ephesians chapter two and four, and in here, First Corinthians, chapter three, verse nine.
Now this constitutes one of the main images of the Church. The Church is a big building, a structure harmoniously put together, a construction being built, composed of building blocks, stones, brick, mortar, cement, wood and whatever other materials are needed, in order to have a harmonious whole, a well-built structure. But what are we talking about, a church building, like ours? No, we are talking about ourselves!
“You are God’s building”
The real building, the building in which God dwells is not the building built with construction materials, but the interior building of the faithful, in which dwells the Holy Spirit. We are all building blocks of this structure, “built,” St. Paul again says elsewhere, “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in which the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Eph. 2:20-22).
Now, everyone must somehow fit into this building under construction. We all lay there by the construction site and wait for the master builder to use us. Every one of us has an assignment. Everyone has a ministry to fulfill. We all have the same purpose: to fulfill our ministry; whatever God gave us to do. However, though our aim is the same, i.e. to keep God’s commandments and aim at our theosis, there are different ways according to one’s station and according to the design of God. We understand this from the parable of the talents. Some received five, others two, and others one. Yet everyone may hear the words, “Come, good and faithful servant.”
Yet the particular tasks and ministries given are not the same for everyone. Although we are all God’s children, we are not all the same. The Apostle Paul says,
“His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and to the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint in which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.” (Eph. 4:11-16)
Everyone doing his job, and doing it right. Everyone working for the upbuilding of the Church, each in his own station. What the workers would like to see is that the building is going up. When the construction worker leaves the site at the end of his day, he wants to see the progress made. What is progress? Progress is peace, unity, faith, love. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his second letter:
“I fear that perhaps I may come and find you not what I wish, and that you may find me not what you wish; that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.” (2 Cor. 12:20)
Do we work for the upbuilding of the Church? Let’s first address the question in this fashion: When do we not work for the upbuilding of the Church?
- Whenever we bring our own “agendas,” when the common good is understood as what I think is good, when we don’t build on the apostles and their legacy, but on our personal interpretations.
- We do not work for the upbuilding of the Church when we don’t follow the architect’s plan, when we are not obedient to the tradition of the Church, its hierarchy, its teachings.
- We do not work for the upbuilding of the Church when we don’t let God’s grace shape us; when we don’t let Him cut our rough edges, when we don’t let the builder use us for His purpose.
- We don’t upbuild when “human passions, self-love, and ambition, love for the first place, insistence on one’s own will” and pride creep in and make us unsuitable for God’s building.
We speak for the Church, we stand up for the Church, we work for the upbuilding of the structure called Church, when we live the ascetical life of the Church, when we pray, fast, struggle with our vices and passions, practice the virtues, partake of the holy sacraments, especially confession and holy communion, and are under spiritual direction.
We build the Church of God when we build the interior man, with humility, spiritual poverty and meekness. Upbuilding of the Church is
“a gathering in of the powers of the Church, a collecting of the Church’s wealth, which does not consist in the number of persons, not in large and opulent church buildings, not in sonorous choirs, not even in impressive statistics about philanthropy – but rather in the moral life of Her members.” (Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, Selected Essays, p. 64)
Whatever work we perform, it better be with Christ and in Christ. He who does not gather with Christ scatters (cf. Mt. 12:30). We must realize that when in the building process we condemn the work of others and actually tear it down we do harm to our own work, because we don’t work as individuals, but as a whole.
What is important is that we all work together for the common goal: “Strive to excel in building up (οἰκοδομή) the church” (1 Cor. 14:12), says St. Paul. And again he repeats: “Let all things be done for edification” οἰκοδομήν (1 Cor. 14:26).
My dear Christian: What is your particular ministry? Are you fulfilling it? Are you upbuilding the Church, your interior Church?
Article graphics and editing: Tony Hatzidakis
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