Corporate Wisdom: the Architecture of God

Corporate Wisdom: the Architecture of God


Churches influenced by Western culture split between an emphases on the relevant, pragmatic and influential e.g. mega church profile, and what is incarnational, creative and diverse, e.g. emergent church profile. A different approach begins not with external factors but examines how the Lord grows the body of Christ internally. What would be in the mind of the apostle Paul if he visited our city of Belmont (or any city for that matter)? We have in the letters of Paul a permanent imprint of his mind, which as scripture is an expression of “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). I want to look at this subject structurally, or in terms of understanding the architecture of God.

A Wise Master Builder

A key text is 1 Corinthians  3:10-17, “According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder[1] I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you (Greek in these verses is plural) are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

Paul understands himself to be both the architect and builder of the church in Corinth[2]. In this passage he understands result of the work of ministry[3] to be the creation of a temple for the Spirit of God to dwell in[4]. This throws light on an important ecclesiological principle. Whilst there were multiple fellowships in the city of Corinth[5], there was only a single church there[6], “the church of God that is in Corinth” (1 Cor 1:2). This was so because there could only be one temple of the true God in each city, to believe otherwise would be to “divide Christ” (1 Cor 1:13). A more foundational truth than this relates to Paul’s primary calling.

An Apostolic Father

To the hostile Corinthians he says, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (1 Cor 4:15).  As a genuine apostolic father Paul thinks in terms of one family with one heavenly Father. This comes out in two broad sweeping texts on God’s cosmic Fatherhood in Ephesians, “14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family  in heaven and on earth is named…. one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 3:14-15; 4:6). It is Paul’s deep heart conviction that the family of God transcends race, gender, age, economics etc. and is only differentiated across the face of the earth by geographical distribution[7].   Our common inheritance in the Father of Jesus in the Spirit (Eph 1:18; Rom 8:17; Eph 2:18) is the substance of our unity as one church and people of God. This has enormous practical applications in terms of how the family grows and multiplies.

The Gospel and the Powers

The structure of church built through the wisdom[8] of Christ preached by the saving message of the gospel[9], has immediate impact upon the principalities and powers, “7 Of this gospel I was made a minister ….to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Eph 3:7, 9-10)

The unity of the family of God, reflecting the one true Father, manifests to the demonic powers, fallen away from God’s fatherly presence, that they lack all final authority for their actions in heaven and earth. Their authority to blind unbelievers (2 Cor 4:4) is spiritually undermined in a location where believers live in true unity of purpose[10]. In such an environment the manifest presence of God is experienced with saving and sanctifying power as an experience of the Father’s joy and delight at indwelling his people.

It is in such a context of corporate wisdom that Ephesians 6 must be understood. In every case where Paul exhorts beliers to put on the armour of God the verbs are plural (6:1-18)[11], it is the church that carries the shield, wields the sword, and prays at all times in the Spirit etc. All of this depends on proper order in the church. This is also why Paul’s descriptions in Ephesians 3 flow into the description of ministry in the fourth chapter.

Order in the Church

 “He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds  and teachers,  12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,  to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”   (Eph 4:10-16)

The wisdom of God is embodied in the church, to which it is imparted according to a definite order: 1. the ascended Christ pours forth heavenly wisdom to the five-fold ministry[12] 2. who in turn release this wisdom in its full variety in the saints 3. whose ministry flows into the world i.e. the marketplace of life. This is why the apostle saw that leadership was put in order in every place e.g. Acts 14:23; Tit 1:5-9.

It is All Heavenly

In Paul’s thinking, the future and the present, heaven and earth, are united in the person of Christ, the “man of heaven” (1 Cor 15:58-59) and the one for whom “all things were created” (Col 1:16). Since we are united with Christ, seated with him in heavenly places (Eph 2:6) and have “died with Christ in God” (Col 3:3), it is possible to see into the dynamic between the kingdom of God above and the work of the Spirit below in the building of the church.

The personal travail of the apostle, “19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Gal 4:19) is an expression of the insight, “the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother” (Gal 4:26). The city/church/temple above builds the city/church/temple on earth through apostolic wisdom (outlined above). The righteousness of God’s kingdom comes to earth through “the work of the ministry” (Eph 4:12) of all the saints in all the spheres/domains of life (government, business, education, law, science, health, sport, media…)[13].

Since all ministry is “gospel ministry” (Acts 20:24; Rom 15:19), social transformation is the fruit of righteousness contained in the message of Jesus death and resurrection, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”” (Rom 1:16-17).



The Spirit and Power

What actualises the presence of Christ through his body in all the spheres of culture is the presence and power of the Spirit. Typologically, this was first true of the temple of Solomon, when all was in place, “the glory of the Lord filled the Lord’s house” (2 Chron7:1-3)[14]. This same order is manifest at the baptism of Jesus and the day of Pentecost. In more Pauline fashion it explains the following command, “15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:15-21)

A church that follows the pattern set down by Paul in scripture will be a holy and wise church.  It will not grieve the Spirit but will be perpetually filled with his glorious presence to the glory of God.


The thinking of the Western church in general and the Belmont church in particular needs to move from the level of the individual person and congregation to the church in the city. It is only the whole church in any location which contains the fullness of the wisdom of God through which he brings his body to maturity and completion. Such a wisdom, whilst not triumphalistic, sees the task of the church, in union with Christ, to bring the powers of the new creation (2 Cor 5:17)[15] into all elements of the old order of life which is perishing. According to this divine architecture the command of Jesus to “make disciples of all nations” is realised.

[1] The term architekton implies both architect and chief engineer.

[2] A reasonable claim, as he planted it.

[3] The Spirit calls the apostle (and his co-workers) to preach the gospel of the kingdom so that the church is built e.g. Acts 13:1-3; Rom 16:12; 1 Cor 16:9; 2 Cor 6:1, 8:23; Phil 2:5; 4:3; Col 4:11; 1 Thess 3:2; Phil 1.

[4] Cf. Eph 2:20-22 where apostles are part of the foundation of “a dwelling place for God in the Spirit”.

[5] “If, therefore, the whole church comes together” (1 Cor 14:23; 11:20). Also suggested by Acts 18:10.

[6] Compare Acts 13:1; Rom 16:1; 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:2 and the letters to the 7 churches in Revelation.

[7] Ultimately a principle that goes back to the primal command, “fill the earth” (Gen 1:28).

[8] Compare Proverbs 24:3-4, “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established;4 by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”

[9] “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:23-24)

[10] Compare Psalm 133:1, 3b, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity… For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.”

[11] Just as “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16) is plural.

[12] Paul’s controlling paradigm is that the gospel brings us into a corporate participation in the humanity of Christ.

[13] In broader terms, “the work of the ministry” is equivalent to “the righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev 19:8).

[14] The result was that people from all the earth sought out the wisdom of the temple builder (1 Ki 4:34; 10:24).

[15] Revealed in the resurrection of Jesus.

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