"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord ..." (Ephesians 2:19-21)
This lesson provides the hymn story and principal biblical allusions for "Christ is Made the Sure Foundation" written by John Mason Neale.
Consider. Consider these words translated from 7th century Latin:
"Christ is made the sure foundation,
Christ the head and cornerstone;
chosen of the Lord and precious,
binding all the church in one;
holy Zion's help forever,
and her confidence alone."
-- John Mason Neale (Ref. 1, Ref. 2, Ref. 3 below)
John Mason Neale (1818-1866) was an English Anglican priest, scholar, and hymn writer (Ref. 4). Neale is best known as a hymn writer and translator, having enriched English hymnody with many ancient and medieval hymns translated from Latin and Greek (Ref. 4). Neale's best-known translations of hymns and Christmas songs include: "All Glory, Laud, and Honor," "Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain," "Of the Father's Love Begotten," "Christ is Made the Sure Foundation," "Good Christian Men, Rejoice," and "Good King Wenceslas" (Ref. 5).
John Mason Neale translated "Christ is Made the Sure Foundation" in 1851 from the second part of the 6th or 7th century Latin monastic hymn, "Urbs beata Jerusalem" (Ref. 2). This hymn now is commonly sung to the tune of Westminster Abbey by Henry Purcell (1659-1695) (Ref. 2, Ref. 6) or the tune of Regent Square composed by Henry Thomas Smart (1813-1879) (Ref. 2, Ref. 7).
For the following discussion of the biblical allusions in "Christ is Made the Sure Foundation," please refer to the text of the four hymn verses in the attached hymn sheet (Ref. 3 below, Ref. 8).
"Christ is made the sure foundation" (hymn, verse 1)
The foundation of the church and our lives is Jesus Christ himself. John Mason Neale likely had Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Corinthians 3:11 in mind. In 1 Corinthians 3:11, the Apostle Paul writes, "For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." In Ephesians 2:19-20, Paul writes, "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone."
Jesus Christ is the sure foundation of the church and of our lives as believers in Christ. All of God's truth about salvation and the teachings of the Apostles are firmly based on him (1 Corinthians 3:10-11, Ephesians 2:19-21, Thayer's Greek Lexicon - Ref. 9).
"Christ the head and cornerstone" (hymn, verse 1)
Christ at the same time is both the head of the church and the cornerstone of God's household. Paul describes our Lord Jesus Christ as the head of the church in both Ephesians 1:22 and Colossians 1:18. "And He [God the Father - Ephesians 1:17] put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church (Ephesians 1:22, brackets added). "He is also head of the body, the church ..." (Colossians 1:18).
Jesus Christ also is the cornerstone of God's household [literally, God's family] (Ref. 10). "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone ..." (Ephesians 2:19-20).
"Chosen of the Lord and precious" (hymn, verse 1)
Both 1 Peter 2:4 and 1 Peter 2:6 describe Christ as chosen and precious. 1 Peter 2:4 tells us that even though Christ was rejected by men, he was "choice and precious in the sight of God." 1 Peter 2:6 goes on to say that the Lord Jesus is the chosen and precious cornerstone described by the prophet Isaiah. "Behold, I am laying in Zion a choice stone, a precious cornerstone, And the one who believes in Him will not be put to shame" (1 Peter 2:6 quoting Isaiah 28:16).
"Binding all the church in one" (hymn, verse 1)
"Binding the church in one" is a great theme of Ephesians 2:11-22. By the blood of Christ, our Lord Jesus has made both groups (Jews and Gentiles) into one, breaking down the barrier of the dividing wall (Ephesians 2:13-14). Jesus Christ himself has reconciled Christian believers of all demographic characteristics into one body through the cross (Ephesians 2:16, Ephesians 4:4-6).
"Laud and Honor to the Father" (hymn, verse 4)
John Mason Neale concludes the hymn with these joyous words of praise to our triune God:
"Laud and honor to the Father,
laud and honor to the Son,
laud and honor to the Spirit,
ever three and ever one;
one in might and one in glory,
while unending ages run."
-- John Mason Neale (Ref. 3 below; Ref. 8)
Praise God that Jesus is with us always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
Thank you, Father, for providing your Son to be the foundation of our lives. Thank you, Jesus, for being the cornerstone of your church, uniting all believers in you into one body through your blood shed on the cross. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for fitting us together as living stones into one holy temple where we worship you and give you -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- all the praise and glory. Amen.
Listen and Sing Along
Listen to and sing along with "Christ is Made the Sure Foundation" (Westminster Abbey tune) sung at St Machar's Cathedral, Aberdeen, Scotland.
3. The United Methodist Hymnal, The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989
"Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love." (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)
This article explains the Apostle Paul's exhortation to the Corinthian church to be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong, and be loving (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).
Consider. In what areas of your personal life today are you being challenged to stand firm in your faith in Christ? In what areas is the church of Christ being challenged today to stand firm in our faith in Christ and the word of God?
The Apostle Paul concludes his letter to the Corinthian church with a concise and sharp series of exhortations. The first four exhortations in 1 Corinthians 16:13 - be alert (be watchful), stand firm in the faith, act like men (be courageous), and be strong - are like "pistol shots" or shouted military commands (Ref. 1). In contrast, the last exhortation in 1 Corinthians 16:14 - "Let all that you do be done in love" - is more gentle.
Paul loved the church at Corinth, and he spent much time teaching them (Acts 18:1, 5, 11). Even though Paul loved them and had taught them about Christ, he was concerned that they were "schismatic and factious," "ill-grounded in regard to very fundamental doctrines of the faith," undisciplined, and incapacitated for "vigorous warfare" (Ref. 1). Paul includes these sharp and emotional exhortations at the end of his letter to help them preserve their souls and to stand firm against the enemies of truth.
Be On the Alert
The Greek word for be on the alert is grégoreó. Grégoreó means literally, stay awake, and figuratively, be vigilant, responsible, and watchful (Ref. 2). Paul's exhortation to the Corinthian church (to be alert, watchful) applies equally to us as believers in Christ today. Paul urged the Corinthian church to guard constantly against evils such as dissension, erroneous doctrine, false teaching, and temptations, "lest the enemies of truth and of holiness should steal upon them and surprise them" (Ref. 3). "They were to watch with the same vigilance that is required of a sentinel who guards a camp, lest an enemy should suddenly come upon them, and surprise the camp when the army was locked in sleep" (Ref. 3).
Stand Firm in the Faith
The Greek word for stand firm in 1 Corinthians 16:13 is stékó which means to persist, persevere, and stand fast (Ref. 4). The Greek word for faith is pistis which means belief, trust, faith, and confidence (Ref. 5). As believers in Christ, in addition to being watchful, we are to stand firm in the faith - that is, stand firm in our belief, trust, and confidence in Christ and in the word of God. I suggest these biblical examples for standing firm in the faith:
a. Believing in and defending the truths of the Bible
All of God's word is the truth. "The sum of Your word is truth,
And every one of Your righteous judgments is everlasting" (Psalm 119:60). Jesus Christ himself is the truth. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).
b. Believing in and relying upon the inspiration and authority of the Bible
"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
c. Maintaining full confidence in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
We are able to stand firm not because of ourselves but because of who we trust -- Jesus Christ. David wrote, "My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:2). Paul wrote, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).
d. Remaining faithful to God when we encounter temptation
"No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). "How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. (11) I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you" (Psalm 119:9, 11).
e. Trusting God through distress and affliction
"Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all" (Psalm 34:19).
f. Being faithful (with love) to biblical standards, not comprising our standards to mimic world culture
In contrast to imitating the world, Jesus said that we (and his church) are to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). We are to love others (John 13:34-35, Matthew 5:43-44) but not love the things or the lusts of the world (1 John 2:15-16).
Act Like Men (Be Courageous and Brave)
Paul uses the Greek word andrizó, which the 1995 New American Standard Bible translates as act like men (Ref. 6). Andrizó means "properly, to act as a full-grown, mature man; (figuratively) to be responsible and courageous by taking the initiatives God reveals through faith" (HELPS Word-studies, Ref. 7). Note the connection in the Greek definition between God providing the Christian believer faith and the Christian believer being courageous and brave to stand firm. The Greek word andrizó (act like men) occurs only once in the New Testament - here in 1 Corinthians 16:13 (Englishman's Concordance, Ref. 7).
Paul's message applies to both male and female believers today. We are to be spiritually mature, courageous, and brave as we stand firm in the faith.
In 1 Corinthians 16:13 Paul uses an unusual word which is translated as be strong. The Greek word used here for be strong is krataioó. Krataioó (be strong) means to prevail by God's dominating strength working in the believer through faith (Ref. 8). Paul uses the same Greek word krataioó in his prayer for the church at Ephesus. "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man ..." (Ephesians 3:14-16, italics added).
Let All That You Do Be Done in Love
Paul transitions from the captain's words of command in 1 Corinthians 16:13 to the gentler exhortation, "Let all that you do be done in love" (1 Corinthians 16:14). The Greek word for love in this verse is agapé, which means divine love (what God prefers) (Ref. 9). As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, when we stand firm in the faith, we are to show God's divine love to others in everything that we say and do. Paul describes the love we are to show others when he wrote, "Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered ..." (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).
Apply. In what area of your personal life do you need God's strength to help you stand firm and be faithful to God? What can you do to help the church of Christ today to love others while standing firmly for faith in Christ and God's word?
"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).
This article is the fourth in a series on the topic, "About the Way."
Consider. In the Old Testament, the scriptures describe God’s way as keeping God’s commandments (Deuteronomy 5:33, Deuteronomy 5:1-21, Deuteronomy 8:6, Psalm 119:1-3).
The New Testament builds upon the description of God’s Way in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the main Greek word for "way" is hodos (Ref. 1). The following paragraphs describe the meaning of "way" (hodos) in the New Testament.
A "way" is a traveled road (Matthew 2:12, Acts 8:26, Acts 26:13). In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus taught a challenging truth. The way [road] that leads to life is narrow, and there are few who find it. The Greek word for life in this verse is zoe, which means the blessing of real life after the resurrection (John 11:25, Ref. 2).
A "way" is a journey. In Acts 8:39, the Ethiopian eunuch went on his way rejoicing after Philip led him to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God (Acts 8:30-37).
A "way" is a manner of thinking, feeling, or deciding. Acts 18:24-25 describes the teaching and speaking ministry of Apollos, who was instructed in the way of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. Acts 18:26 tells us, "He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately." (italics added)
In Acts 16:16-18, Paul and Silas were near Philippi when they encountered a slave girl who had a spirit of divination. Acts 16:17 tells us the slave girl's remarkable statement. "She followed Paul and us, crying out, 'These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.'" (italics added)
The name for Christianity in the early church. Many believers today may not know that in the Book of Acts "The Way" was the most widely known name for the early Christian church. The first use in Acts of the name, "The Way," occurs in Acts 9:1-2. "Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem."
Acts 19:8-9 describes how the Apostle Paul in Ephesus moved the disciples to another location when "hardened and disobedient" people spoke evil about the Way. Acts 19:23 says "About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way." The disturbance about the Way led to the near-riot in Ephesus described in Acts 19:23-41.
Later, when Paul was brought under Roman custody to Caesarea, he testified before Felix, the governor. When Paul was given the opportunity to speak at the hearing, he said, "This I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets" (Acts 24:14).
In comparison to "The Way," which is mentioned several times in Acts, the term, "Christian," is mentioned only three times in the entire New Testament (Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16).
Apply. Are you living on the narrow path that leads to real life beyond the resurrection? Do you trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?
"The Way of the Lord (Old Testament)" -- Deuteronomy 5:33
"Jesus is the Way to the Father" -- John 14:6
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