3 Encouraging Metaphors of Belongingness

We like to be included, don’t we? In the ’80s there was sitcom called Cheers about a Boston Pub and the characters that regularly came or worked there. Do you remember the song? One line was “You want to go where everybody knows your name.” It was a place you belonged. Granted, a bar is really a terrible place to find this sense of belongingness, but that was their pitch.

Have you ever put something together and had extra bolts? Everything works but you have extra pieces. Have you ever felt like that extra piece? Maybe in some groups you feel like an extra bolt. You don’t think you belong. When I don’t feel like I belong, it’s God’s grace that makes me think of others and not just myself—to stay and please Christ by loving others. It’s hard to feel like an extra part. We shouldn’t give in to that feeling at church because we really do belong.

Our kids are going to be home for Christmas—we’ll see all of them even though we will only be all together for one day. This is a big deal because we have one child in each of the four time zones of the lower 48 states which makes it difficult to get together often. God has been gracious to us, and our family loves being with each other. If your family is close, you have a good start to understanding the three metaphors of belongingness or the three metaphors of inclusion that the Apostle Paul uses to describe the church in Eph 2. They really are remarkable.

You Are Citizens in Christ’s Kingdom (2:19a)

Ephesians 2:19 (ESV) So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,

Paul is using the metaphor of national identity. Specifically here it’s being part of Christ’s kingdom, but it’s a national identity. Our political battles about illegal immigration give us some insight into how Paul is describing us. We’re aware that we have people in our nation that don’t have the full rights of citizenship. Because they’re very concerned about being deported, they are susceptible to being oppressed. They don’t want to draw any attention to themselves, so they won’t contact the police. They feel they don’t quite belong.

In a previous ministry we knew a Canadian woman married to an American man, and she told us that she was always exceptionally careful to follow all traffic laws. In my naivete I didn’t think she could be tossed out of the U.S., but she said she could, and for any reason whatsoever. And this could happen even though she was married with children.

Paul is telling us that we’re no longer illegal immigrants in someone else’s nation. We belong. We’re full members of Christ’s kingdom, not second-rate citizens. There aren’t two classes of residents in Christ’s kingdom: Jews and Gentiles. No, out of the two Christ made one new humanity (2:15).

To use the language of the text, we are fellow citizens—a word only used here in the New Testament. You’re not homeless anymore. You’re not stateless anymore. You belong to Christ’s kingdom. Now you are fellow citizens (Phil 3:20) with people of every race and tongue—saints who have trusted God. You belong. You have an identity in Christ’s kingdom.

You Are Members of God’s Household (2:19b)

Ephesians 2:19b (ESV) So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, …and members of the household of God,

Family is a great metaphor because it speaks of intimacy. It’s possible to be a citizen of a nation and be alone. Yes you have security; you don’t get kicked out of a nation. You’re always a citizen and that brings rights and privileges that cannot be abridged. But it doesn’t bring closeness necessarily. It doesn’t bring intimacy. For that we have the metaphor of God’s household—His family.

Being part of a family means knowing you always belong.

When my kids were younger we celebrated many birthday parties at our house. One particular time we were planning it with the child and one of her siblings wondered if he were invited to the birthday party too. The answer was “Of course. You’re part of the family.” Family members don’t need an invitation; of course they can come to the party.

When you go on vacation, you don’t have to tell each kid individually that they are invited on the family vacation. Family doesn’t have to invite immediate family members to Christmas either. They know they are welcome.

That’s the picture of God’s household. You belong. You’re part of the family. Family in the best sense of that word is a good word to describe the relationships that we have with each other and with God in the church.

This is a metaphor that doesn’t really work if we’re talking about the universal church. A local church can be a family in all the wonderful senses of that metaphor.

You Are the Structure of Christ’s Growing Temple (2:20-22)

Ephesians 2:20–22 (ESV) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

It’s still a metaphor for the church, but it uses a growing temple as the picture. A temple where the apostles and prophets are the foundation. And the passage goes on to say that Jesus is the Cornerstone—a real person, not His teaching. And saints are the structure—again real people, not our teaching.

What does it mean that Jesus is the Cornerstone of this growing temple? We don’t get the importance of this picture with our modern building methods. Nowadays with an important building, the cornerstone is laid at the building dedication, when construction is completed. It’s normally inscribed with the date, but it’s not really important to the construction of the building. It signifies the end of construction.

However, in the first century and before, the cornerstone was the very first stone laid. It wasn’t haphazard. It took time to lay the cornerstone because every other stone in the foundation and superstructure was measured by the cornerstone. The position of all the other stones was determined by the Cornerstone. All other stones adjust themselves to the Cornerstone.

The Apostles and prophets and the saints mentioned above all adjust themselves to Christ. Christ gives the church its direction.

We have a structure that fits together but also grows. It’s like a building in that it fits together and is built, but it’s like a plant in that it actually grows. It’s not a static building. And every Christian is part of the structure of this building (cf. 1 Peter 2:5).

Verse 21 tells us that in Christ the entire structure becomes a holy temple “in the Lord”—in Christ. Our union with Christ makes us part of this temple.

The unity and growth of the church are joined in these verses and Jesus is the secret of both. And the growth here is not individual growth; it’s corporate. This metaphor reminds us why we need the church. We cannot grow without it.

You belong; you have an identity. You are a citizen of Christ’s kingdom. You are a member of God’s family. You are part of Christ’s growing temple. All of these metaphors should find their best definition in your local church. That’s where a sense of belongingness is most felt.

I hope you are there on Sunday. I will be.