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Morning Sermon: The Church As Temple: Its Foundation, 1 Corinthians 3:1–17

Old Testament Reading: Psalm 62

“TO THE CHOIRMASTER: ACCORDING TO JEDUTHUN. A PSALM OF DAVID. For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. How long will all of you attack a man to batter him, like a leaning wall, a tottering fence? They only plan to thrust him down from his high position. They take pleasure in falsehood. They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse. Selah For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them. Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work.” (Psalm 62, ESV)

New Testament Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:1–17

“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. 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, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 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. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though 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 dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:1–17, ESV)

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Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.

Introduction

In the introduction to the previous sermon, I made the observation that there are many institutions in the world that call themselves a “church”. There is the Roman Catholic Church, the Mormon Church, the Church of Scientology, etc. And in the introduction to that sermon, I also said, according to the simple (etymological) definition of the word “church”, I suppose they have a right to use the word. The word “church” simply means “assembly” or “congregation”, and all of these institutions I have named do in fact “assemble” or “congregate” regularly for stated purposes. Considered in this way, I suppose it is right to say that they are churches. 

But in the scriptures, the word “church” is not used in this generic way. Yes, Christ is building his church. And yes, his church will assemble or congregate, as the word suggests. But his church is not just any congregation or assembly. No, Christ’s church – the church as it is described in the Bible – is a very specific kind of congregation or assembly. It has certain characteristics, qualities, and features. It is an assembly marked by certain beliefs and practices. 

So then, it should be clear to you that there are true churches and there are false churches in the world. Are they churches? Well, if the only criteria to be met for being a “church” is the etymological or definitional criteria, then I suppose they are. Church means “assembly”, and they do in fact assemble. But the scriptures have more to say about the church. The church – Christ church – is a very particular kind of assembly, congregation, or society. 

If we were to describe the church of Jesus Christ as God’s “temple” (as the scriptures so often do), we must say that the church of Jesus Christ – the true church, as described in the Bible – has a very particular foundation, it is constructed of very particular stones (living stones, made alive by the Spirit of God), it has a very particular purpose (namely, the worship of God as governed by God’s Holy Word). And lastly, this temple is expanding but is expanding only in a particular way and through particular means.

I plan to explore each of these characteristics of the church in this short sermon series. We will be considering Christ’s church – the true church – as God’s temple. Today, we will consider its foundation. Next Sunday, will consider its stones. The Sunday after that we will consider its worship. And finally, we will consider its expansion, Lord willing. 

And yes, all of this is a bit of a follow-up to what was proclaimed in our study through Exodus concerning God’s tabernacle, or temple. In that series, we learned that God’s worldwide and eternal temple was offered to Adam in the covenant that God made with him, but forfeited. It was then promised to Adam (vaguely) in the curse pronounced by God upon the serpent after man’s fall into sin.  This promise was greatly clarified and expanded in the covenant that God made with Abraham. And in the covenant that God made with Isarel in the days of Moses, these promises were taken up, preserve, protected, and even prefigured in many ways. Under the Old Mosaic Covenant, God’s worldwide, eternal temple was prefigured, or pictured, on earth. But when Christ came into the world to accomplish our redemption and to earn the new creation, this temple was brought into being with power. It was inaugurated, we say. It was then that the Spirit of God was poured out, not into a structure of cloth or stone, but on all flesh. It was then that God began to dwell in the midst of his people in a way not known since Eden. This temple, which is inaugurated now, will come to its conclusion, or consummation, in the new heavens and earth – that is to say, in the new creation –  when Christ returns. Here in this short series, we are giving special attention to this era in which we now live. It is the era of the New Covenant. It is the era of the Covenant of Grace. It is the era of God’s Spirit. God’s worldwide and eternal temple is here now with power, and according to the scriptures, you, church, are that temple, for God’s Spirit dwells in you. 

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The Foundation Of God’s Temple-Church Is Christ

Today we will consider the foundation of God’s inaugurated, worldwide, and eternal temple. The foundation of this temple is not made of stone as it was in the days of Solomon. No, the foundation is the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone.

That is what Paul says in Ephesians 2:19-22. There he speaks to Gentiles, that is to say, non-Jews, living under the New Covenant. And he says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19–22, ESV).

Paul says something similar in 1 Corinthians 3:9, which we read earlier. He describes himself (and other ministers of the Word) as workers in God’s temple-building project, saying, “For we are God’s fellow workers. You [church in Corinth] 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, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:9–11, ESV).

So then, in Ephesians 2:19ff. Paul says the foundation of God’s temple-church is the apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone. And in 1 Corinthians 3:9-11, he simply says that the foundation is Jesus Christ. So which is it? Well, both are true. The short answer is that Jesus Christ is the foundation of God’s temple-church. But it is just as true to say that the foundation is the apostles and prophets with Christ and the cornerstone. 

Who are the apostles? They were eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection. And they were those especially sent by Jesus to testify concerning all that he said and did. The New Testament scriptures were written by them or under their supervision. And who are these prophets that Paul speaks of? I think it is right to say that they are the prophets of Old who lived before Christ’s coming who testfied concerning him, and they are the prophets that lived during Jesus life and shortly thereafter. John the Baptist was one of these. He was the last of the prophets of Old and the forerunner of the Christ. And the man named Agabus, who is mentioned in Acts 21:10, is also one of these. In the earliest days of the church – in those days when the New Testament scriptures were still being written – there were apostles (the twelve plus Paul), and there were prophets who spoke and wrote the word of God authoritatively under the inspiration of the Spirit. The New Testament prophets, like the Old Testament prophets before them, spoke God’s word to the people.  

 And who did these – the prophets of the Old Covenant, the prophets of the New Covenant, and the apostles – speak of? Ultimately, they pointed to Christ. Those who lived before his birth pointed forwrad to his person, work, and reward. John the Baptist had the wonderful privilege of saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. And the prophets who ministered after his resurrection and alongside the apostles spoke authoritatively concerning the Christ crucified, risen, and ascended.     

When Paul speaks of the apostles and prophets as being foundation stones in God’s eternal temple, he does not mean that these men are foundation stones, in and of themselves, but by virtue of the word they delivered. They spoke and wrote God’s word. They testified, ultimately, concerning Christ. And so they are foundation stones, not because of anything in them, by because of their relation to Jesus Christ. They declared God’s word and proclaimed Christ with authority. 

So it is clear, then, that this eternal and worldwide temple that God is building now is not made of stone. It is made of people. This is about God’s presence on earth with his people. And the foundation stones of this temple are the apostles, and prophets, with Christ as the cornerstone.  Stated differently, the foundation is Christ, and it is the apostles of Christ and the prophets, of the Old and New Covenants, who have testified concerning him.

So what does it mean for Christ to be the foundation of God’s temple-church? What are the implications? Two words come to mind: dependence and alignment. The true church of God, and all who are truly a part of it, will depend upon Christ. And the true church of God, and all who are truly a part of it, will align with Christ. This talk of Christ being the foundation of God’s temple-church is about dependence (may we faith?) and alignment (may we say obedience?).

I’m sure you know that this is how foundations work. The foundations of buildings are very, very important for two reasons. One, they must be able to bear the whole weight of the building. They must be very strong, therefore. They must be strong enough to support the whole structure that is built on top of it, not only in times of ease, but also in times of difficulty (through storms, floods, earthquakes, and the rest). Buildings depend upon their foundations. Two, the foundation of a building will also establish the shape or parameters of the building. The building that is constructed on top of the foundation will have to align with it. The foundation must be level, square, and true, therefore. And the shape of the foundation will determine the shape of the building. And for this reason, I say this is about dependence and alignment. The true church of God, and all who are truly a part of it, will depend upon Christ and align with him, for he is the foundation of God’s temple.  

Let us now consider these two implications in more detail.  

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The True Church Will Depend Upon Christ

First, the true church will depend upon Christ as its foundation. This is true of individual believers, the church universal, and of every local (visible) church.

Let of consider individual believers for a moment. In the 1 Corinthians 3 and Ephesians 2 passages that have already been read, individual believers – that is to say, all who have faith in Christ – are described as being the stones of God’s temple-church. Christ is the foundation, and the stones that are built up on top of that foundation are those who are united to Christ by faith. In 1 Peter 2:4, it is stated even more directly. Peter writes to those who have faith when he says, “As you come to [Christ], a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4–5, ESV). So then, Christ is the foundation of God’s temple-church, and all who have faith in him are the stones out of which the structure is made. We will consider the stones of God’s temple-church more carefully next Sunday. For now, let us consider their relation to Christ, the foundation. The stones of God’s temple are those who depend on him. They are those who trust in him. They are those who rest on him and have their hope built on him. It is those who trust in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, for reconciliation with God, and for life everlasting in the new heavens and new earth, who are a part of God’s church. They are stones. Christ is the foundation upon which they rest. 

This temple-church may be considered in a universal sense. In truth, there is only one church. There is only one foundation – the apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone. And it is upon this one foundation that every living stone is placed. Whenever a sinner hears the gospel and is drawn to faith and repentance by the inward working of the Holy Spirit, they are added as a stone in God’s temple-church. They are placed on top of those who have gone before them. And ultimately, they are placed on top of Christ, the foundation. What unites all of these stones? It is their shared faith or dependence upon Christ. The living stones of God’s inaugurated eternal temple are quarried from all over the earth. They are people from every tongue, tribe, and nation. And these stones have been quarried for a very long time. All who have had faith in Christ who have lived before us are stones in this temple too. They worship God in their souls now in heaven as they await the resurrection. This is the universal church. It may also be called the invisible church. It is called the universal church because it is the one true church made up of all who have faith in Christ now and in the past, from every tongue, tribe, and nation. There is a universal church, brothers and sisters, and we should be mindful of it. And it is called the invisible church because we cannot see it now. God sees it. But we cannot see it. One, we cannot see it because we are limited in space. Two, we cannot see it because we are limited in time. And three, we cannot see it because we are limited in our perception of the heart and mind. Only God can now see his universal church which he has built of stones that he has quarried from across time, and from across this planet, to set them down upon the foundation of Christ, in whom they trust.

It is true that God’s temple-church may be considered in a universal sense, and that we should be mindful of it, but you will notice that when Paul and Peter wrote concerning the building up of God’s church, they were not writing to the church universal and invisible, but to churches local and visible. 

It was to the church in Ephesus that Paul wrote, saying, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22, ESV). It was to the church in Corinth that he said, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17, ESV). And Peter wrote to churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, when he said, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4–5, ESV).

Yes, there is a universal church. It is the church that God sees consisting of all of his elect in all times and places who have been brought to repentance and faith in Christ. But I ask you, when will this church – the universal church –  assemble? I suppose we may say that she assembles each Lord’s Day in the hevenly realm as believers from all around the world, along with those in heaven now, come to worship the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit. But I am asking, when will this universal church assemble bodily? Answer: in the new heavens and earth when all is made new. For now, Christ’s church assembles bodily in local, visible, churches. These churches are called “local’ because they are the assemblies of those who profess faith in Christ in a particular region. And they are called “visible” because we can see them. The churches are made up of people who have made a credible profession of faith in Christ. They are made up of officers and members, men and women, young and old, who have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These assemble in local, visible churches to hear the Word of God read and preached, to pray and sing, and to partake of the Lord’s Supper. What unites us? Faith in Christ unites us. He is the foundation upon which we all rest. And we together are stones in the eternal temple that God is now building.    

The implications of this basic teaching are rather massive. Who should be received as members of our local churches? Only those who make a credible profession of faith. And what should the church be urging men and women to do? To turn from their sins, to place their faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and be united to Christ as living stones in his eternal temple, of which Christ himself is the foundation.  

A true church of God, and all who are truly a part of it, will depend upon Christ, brothers and sisters. There are many institutions in the world that call themselves a “church”, but many are false. Why?  Because they do not have Jesus Christ alone as their foundation.  As Paul says, in the work of building God’s eternal temple, “no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11, ESV).

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The True Church Will Align With Christ

True churches and true Christians will depend upon Christ alone for life eternal. Secondly, the true church will align with Christ. And this is also true for individual believers, the church universal, and local, visible, churches.

When I speak of alignment I have conformity and obedience in mind. As I have said, the foundations of buildings must be very strong because the whole structure depends on them. Foundations must also be true because the whole building will have to align or conform with them. The shape of the foundation will determine the shape of the building. If the foundation is level, square, and true, the building will be true. And Christ, the foundation of God’s eternal temple is true. We must align ourselves to him in thought, word, and deed.  

This may be applied to the individual believer. To have Christ as Savior, one must trust in him or depend upon him. Faith involves trust. That has already been said. But did you know that saving faith does not only involve trust, it also involves right belief? Friends, you cannot be saved from your sins without right belief, and this should be obvious to all. To trust in Christ – to depend upon him as your Savior – you must know about him. Who is he and what has he done to make him worthy of your trust? That simple question alone should make it clear that faith – true faith – involves right belief. And where is this information about Christ found? It is found in the word of God, the Holy Scriptures. There we find God’s word to us concerning himself, our relation to him, and the way that he has made for us to be right with him, now that humanity is fallen into sin. These truths about God, man, and Christ must be known before a person can possibly trust in Christ for salvation. 

Now, I am not claiming that a person must be a master theologian, or a skilled interpreter of Holy Scripture, before he or she can be saved. But clearly, basic truths about God, man, and Christ must be known. And what are these basic truths? They are the scriptural truths summarized for us in the great creeds, confessions, and catechisms of the church. These documents are not authoritative for us in the way that scripture is authoritative. But they become useful and even authoritative (in a secondary way) as churches adopt them as summaries of the clear and basic teachings of Holy Scripture. Creeds, confessions, and catechisms must align with scripture. Or to state it according to the theme of the sermon today, they must align with Christ the Word, our foundation. If they do not align with God’s Word to us, they must be regected. But if they do align, and if they are useful summaries of the faith and presentations of the gospel of Jesus Christ that must be believed for salvation to be received, then it would be wise to use them in evangelism and in discipleship. Our confession is the Second London Confession (1677/89). Our catechism is the  Baptist Catechism (1693). We consider them to be wonder symbols or summaries of the Christian faith, and so we use them as tools to proclaim Christ and to teach those who believe to observe all that he has commanded.            

I mention creeds, confessions, and catechisms because the church has used them throughout history to urge men and women to depend upon Christ and also to align with him, for he is our foundation. Again, the Scriptures alone are authoritative in a primary and foundational way for right belief, but these summaries of the faith may be considered authoritative in a secondary way so long as they are faithful to Scripture as summaries. I also mention creeds, confessions, and catechisms because modern Christianity has grown more and more doctrine-less, and this is a major problem. Men and women, boys and girls, are often urged to trust in Christ (and even are baptized in his name) before understanding who he is, what he has done, and what he requires of them. Stated according to the theme of this sermon, in our day and age many are urged to depend upon Christ, but not to align with him. But if Christ is going to be our foundation, and if we are going to be living stones in his eternal temple, we must align with him. In fact, he cannot support us as our foundation if we do not align with him. What an absurd thought! A foundation cannot support that which is not aligned with it! And yet so many think that they have Christ as some kind of savior while holding to erroneous beliefs concerning his person and work. And no, I am not talking about minor errors (the kind of which we all entertain), but major errors which do in fact destroy the very foundation of the faith. 

If you doubt that true and saving faith required right belief, listen to Paul’s words in Romans 10:9. There he famously says, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, ESV). This verse is clearly about salvation. If you will do these things, “you will be saved”, Paul says. And what does Paul tell us to do? Well, throughout his writings, and even elsewhere in Romans, he urges us to have faith in Christ. For example, in Romans 5:1 he says, ​​“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1, ESV). We are justified, or saved, by faith. But here in Romans 10:9, he describes what true faith involves, saying, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”. Let me ask you this, how can someone confess Jesus to be Lord if they do not know who Jesus is, or what it means for him to be Lord, or why it is that he is worthy of that glorious title? And notice further that the “belief” that is to reside within the heart is not merely trust or dependence but  belief in a fact.  To be saved we must “believe in [the] heart that God raised him from the dead….” That fact about Jesus must be believed, and I think it is also clear that the reasons for, and implications of, that fact must be known and believed. Jesus was raised from the dead. Do you believe that is true? Do you know why he was raised? Do you know what that fact means for those who are united to him by faith? Do you trust him personally? If the answer is truly yes, then this is saving faith. But trust without true knowledge is no faith at all. It is simply wishful and superstitious thinking. 

So then, to have Jesus as your foundation and to be a part of God’s eternal temple does not only involve trust or dependence. It also involved alignment. Or to put it another way, to truly depend upon Jesus – to trust in him unto salvation – you must also align with him. You must believe God’s word concerning his person and work. You must confess with your mouth that he is your Lord, which will involves submitting to his will in thought, word and deed. 

Please allow me to say just a word or two about the universal church and alignment. To be a part of the universal church, one must confess the faith. Notice, I did not say, one must have faith – that is also true! Here I am saying that one must confess the faith – “the faith” being, essential Christian doctrines.  

The Scriptures often use the word “faith” in a subjective way referring to personal trust. But sometimes the Scriptures use the word “faith” in an objective way referring to the collection of Christian doctrine. When used in this objective way, the word “faith” is typically preceded by a definite article. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:13, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” That would be a wonderful life verse, wouldn’t it!? “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” When Paul mentions “the faith” he does not merely mean, personal trust, but sound doctrine. In Colossians 2:6-7 Paul says, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Again, “the faith” refers, not merely to personal trust, but sound doctrine too. 

My point is this: there are damnable heresies, brothers and sisters, which, if believed, will set a person outside of Christ’s temple-church. You cannot have Christ as your foundation if you do not trust in him, and neither can you have him as your foundation if you do not align with him doctrinally, and we know that right doctrine will also produce to right practice. 

As was said earlier, we all harbor wrong beliefs concerning God, man, Christ, and our salvation in him. I’m sure of that. If we knew what they were, we would confess them and correct them, by God’s grace. Not every error is a damnable heresy though, for most of them do not disturb the foundation, which is salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. But some errors do. Some errors do not only cause us to be slightly misaligned with Christ and his Word, but set us off the foundation entirely. 

In God’s universal temple-church, every stone is, if considered in a human way, misaligned from Christ the cornerstone, slightly. Christ, the master builder sets us straight over time, and where misalignments remain, he covers those defects by his shed blood and by imputing his perfections to us. But there are some errors that destroy the foundation, and if believed, set a person off of the foundation of Christ entirely.  Listen to Paul in 1 Timothy 4:1: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared…” In 6:10 he says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” And in 6:11 he says, “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:11–12, ESV)

What are the implications, then, for the local church? Not only must ministers and members urge one another to trust in Christ, we also must be concerned to align with him in thought, word, and deed. There can be no dependence upon Christ as our foundation without substantial alignment with him. And so Christ must be proclaimed, and the Scriptures must be taught. 

Pastors must teach, brothers and sisters. This is what Paul told Pastor Titus: “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine… “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned…” (Titus 2:1, 7, ESV). And it will do no good for a Pastor to teach in Christ’s church if the members are not hungry to learn. 

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Conclussion

Perhaps we should close with a verse that has become a kind purpose statement for Emmaus. It is Colossians 1:28: “[Christ]  we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28, ESV).

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"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

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