I like building things. I built a small table for my houseplants last year, and I enjoy the times I’ve bought furniture from somewhere like Ikea where it comes in a box and I have to put it all together. There’s something satisfying about taking a bunch of pieces that don’t seem like much on their own and putting them together into something useful and attractive.
God likes building things too. At least, I assume He does based on the satisfaction He expressed after creating the universe and the ongoing pleasure He takes in creation. He also talks about His work with His people as a type of building, and He invites us to join Him in building each other up.
I started thinking about this topic while looking up some of the Greek words Peter uses when talking about what “the God of all grace” will personally do for us. Here’s that verse:
And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you1 Peter 5:10, NET
As I looked up the Greek words translated here as “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish,” it seemed like they could all be used when building something. I wanted to dig into this a little more and see if my hunch was correct.
- Restore–G2675, kataritizo. This word means to make something “sound” or “complete,” often in the sense of “repair” or “frame for one’s self” (Thayer). It’s not specifically used for building a structure, but “the fundamental meaning is to put a thing in its appropriate condition, to establish, set up, equip, arrange, prepare, mend” (Zodhiates). It’s used for things like mending nets (Matt. 4:21) and God “framing” the world (Heb. 11:3). Paul also uses this word when talking about church unity (1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:11).
- Confirm–G4741, sterizo. This word means “to make stable, place firmly … strengthen” (Thayer) and to permanently fix something in place (Zodhiates). Some translations equate it to the English word “establish” (Rom. 1:11; 1 Thes. 3:2, 13). Reading the dictionary definitions and how it’s used in scripture makes me think “stabilize” could also be a reasonable translation as well.
- Strengthen–G4599, sthenoo. This word means “to make strong, strengthen” (Thayer) and it is only used in 1 Peter 5:10 (Zodhiates). The opposite, asthenes, means “weak” or “sick” (Mark 14:38; Luke 10:9; Rom 5:6).
- Establish–G2311, themelioo. This word does have to do with building things. It means “to lay the foundation … to make stable” (Thayer). It can be a foundation for anything from a house in Christ’s parables (Luke 6:48), to the earth itself (Heb. 1:10), to our lives being grounded in faith and love (Eph. 3:17; Col. 1:23).
So my hunch was partly correct. One of the words has to do with laying a foundation for something you’re going to build and another involves “framing” something appropriately and/or “perfecting” a project. The foundation-laying word’s close relative themelios is also used in this famous building passage:
So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God, being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom the whole building, fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.Ephesians 2:19-22, WEB
This verse has the Greek words usually used to talk about building houses. Words with oikodomeo as the root word (including epoikodemeo, “being built,” and sunoikodomeo “built together”) all have to do with building and constructing (G3618, Zodhiates). This word is most often used for building houses, but it can also mean to rebuild and metaphorically refers to building people up in much the same way we use that English phrase today.
I like looking into Greek word definitions like this because I think it’s important to understand how the New Testament writers talked about the way God interacts with us. By looking at these words that have to do with building, we deepen our understanding of the constructive work God is doing with His church as a whole and as individuals. He starts from the ground up, laying a sure foundation as He builds His temple. He also makes sure He’s constructing things properly, keeping us stabilized as He works.
Our Involvement In Building
If you read last week’s post, you might remember I quoted C. S. Lewis about the future potential of human beings. He said that we’re all destined either to be glorious children of God or “a horror of corruption” without God. Then he added, “All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations” (Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”). In other words, we’re always choosing whether we participate in God’s constructive work and build other people up, or if we’re a destructive force in their lives. Additionally, we make the same choice in relation to our own lives.
We are coworkers belonging to God. 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, but someone else builds on it. And each one must be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. 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 lives in you? If someone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, which is what you are.1 Corinthians 3:9-17, NET
In this lead-up to one of the famous “you are God’s temple” passages, Paul emphasizes the roles people play in building. A teacher like Paul can lay a foundation, but must always remember that they’re really just helping Jesus Christ who is the only real Foundation. And then we all get to build on that foundation, being careful how we build on it for ourselves and when teaching and helping other people to build.
Paul continues using the building analogy later in 1 Corinthians. He tells us to remember, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1, NET). He cautions that even if something is lawful, that doesn’t give us license to go and do it because “not everything builds others up” and building others up should be a priority (1 Cor. 10:23, NET). Even if we’re doing something well, like giving a great prayer in church, it’s useless unless other people understand the language we’re using so the prayer can build them up (1 Cor. 14:4, 17).
For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing.1 Thessalonians 5:9-11, NET
Building With Jesus
One of the inescapable truths of Christianity is that we can’t do anything on our own. That most definitely includes participating in building God’s temple. Jesus is the foundation for all good efforts to build ourselves or others up. And we don’t just build on Him; we build in Him.
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for those who have not met me face to face. My goal is that their hearts, having been knit together in love, may be encouraged, and that they may have all the riches that assurance brings in their understanding of the knowledge of the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this so that no one will deceive you through arguments that sound reasonable. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.Colossians 2:1-6, NET
Remember what Paul said in Ephesians: “you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:20-21, NET). We don’t just start with Jesus and then keep going on our own–the whole building project happens in God, “for in him we live and move about and exist” (Acts 17:28, NET). This goes beyond asking, “What would Jesus do?” or thinking about Him walking alongside us. Our whole lives ought to be totally immersed in Him. And when we think about other people in His church, we should think of them as likewise being part of His body (1 Cor. 12:12-14).
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he will grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, that Christ will dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, you will be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you will be filled up to all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.Ephesians 3:14-21, NET
God has a constructive plan for us. He invites us to be living, breathing, actively involved parts of the building project that He holds dearest–the construction of a family. We’re blessed to be involved in this building, both for ourselves and for our fellow believers. I like reading Paul’s prayers as models for how we ought to pray for others in God’s church. (Also notice that this verse brings us right back to thinking of glory in the people of God’s church, just like we were focused on last week.) Since God cares about building up every part of His church, we ought to care about that as well and focus at least as much on other people’s growth as we do our own.
Featured image by Lorenzo Cafaro from Pixabay
Song Recommendation: “Build My Life” by Pat Barrett