Published September 19, 2017

Paul's Epistle
"Under Construction"

Ruth Graham, the wife of evangelist Billy Graham, passed away a decade ago at the age of 87. Before her passing, she suggested an epitaph for herself. It recalled those highway signs that generally accompany road work. She said this inscription should be on her tombstone: "End of construction. Thank you for your patience."

We are all — each one of us — under construction.

It's an important Biblical concept. As Christians, we are part of the church that Christ said he would build. In fact, the first use of the term "church," at least as recorded in Scripture, was associated with "building." In Billy Graham's book, "Peace With God," he explained it this way: "The word church as applied to the Christian society was first used by Jesus Himself when He told Peter, ‘Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' (Matt 16:18.) Thus, Jesus Christ Himself founded the church. He is the great cornerstone upon which the church is built. He is the foundation for all Christian experience, and the church is founded upon Him."

The Greek Lexicon says the word translated "build" in that passage comes from the Greek oikodomeo. Although defined as "to build a house, erect a building," it's also a metaphor "to promote growth in Christian wisdom, affection, grace, virtue, holiness, blessedness." In all of those things, I don't think any of us could say the construction work has been completed.

The Apostle Paul uses the term "edify," "edification" or a related word no fewer than 15 times in his epistles. That comes from the Latin aedificare, which means to "build or construct." And there are at least two forms of "construction" involved in his use of that term.

First, Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:12 that ministers (pastors) should be equipped "for the edifying of the body of Christ..." Pastors, Bible teachers, Sunday School teachers and the like have an important role to play in helping to build up (to edify) believers. Every sermon, every Sunday School lesson, should help improve the believer's "construction" – firming the walls, improving the systems, repairing damage. It's part of what's called "sanctification."

But the second point affects each of us even more directly. In 1 Thess. 5:11, Paul says that when we come together to worship – or for whatever reason – we should "comfort each other and edify one another..." That means we, in our relationships with other Christians, are responsible for helping build them up in the faith. How? By affirming them. By joining with them in small group Bible studies. By prayer. In fact, in 1 Cor. 14:26, Paul says, "Let all things be done for edification." All things! No opportunity should be missed to help build someone's faith on the church's one foundation, which is Christ.

Of course, Christ has a direct role in this construction activity, too, through the Holy Spirit. He does this in several ways. Elwell's Evangelical Dictionary notes that "Paul taught that the Holy the creator of new life in the believer and that unifying force by which God in Christ is ‘building together' the Christians into the body of Christ (Rom. 5:5; 2 Cor. 5:17, Eph. 2:22.)" How does He do this? The Holy Spirit will dwell in the believers (John 7:39) and will guide them into all truth (16:13), teaching them "all things" and bringing them "to remembrance of all that (Jesus) said to them (14:26). The construction work is ongoing.

Back in the late 1970s, Joel Hemphill was in a hunter's deer stand very early one morning. As he looked up at the moon and stars in the pre-dawn darkness, he marveled at the works of God's hands. Reflecting on that, he realized that he, personally, was still a work in progress. That thought —that he was still "under construction" — inspired this song:*

     There really ought to be a sign upon my heart,
     ‘Don't judge me yet, there's an unfinished part.'
     But I'll be perfect just according to His plan,
     Finished by the Master's loving hand.

     He's still working on me
     To make me what I ought to be.
     It took Him just a week to make the moon and stars,
     The sea and the earth and Jupiter and Mars.
     How loving and patient He must be.
     He's still working on me.

The Potter is still at work on this clay. Each of us is under construction, each and every day of our lives — until, as Ruth Graham noted, that day when the construction finally ends.

- Paul

*"He's Still Working On Me," Joel Hemphill, Bridge Building Music/ Family & Friends Music, BMI. Use by permission of author.

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