Eph 2:20 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,
There is a priceless and ageless tool that I keep readily available called a “plumb bob.” It is simply a weight on the end of a string, often in the shape of a cone. Its purpose is simple – to measure true vertical. It is invaluable when working in very old homes where no part of the structure is plumb, level or square any longer. There is an old saying, “the level doesn’t lie,” meaning that although things look level or plumb to the craftsman’s eye – looks can deceive, but not the tool. A level will show true level, and plumb bob true vertical, every time. The reason is simple, the plumb bob works with gravity. That abiding, constant, and unchanging force related to the earth’s mass.
God uses this ancient tool as a metaphor in Amos 7. There, it measures His standard of righteousness, over against the Northern Kingdom’s apostasy and injustice. In the context, this comes as the third of five judgment visions given to the prophet. Interestingly, in the first two visions (7:1-3 is locusts, 7:4-6 is fire) Amos intercedes and God turns from His judgment. But by the third, the plumb line demonstrates how unlawful Israel truly is; there is no intercession on Amos’ part and no relenting on God’s part.
The plumb line is an excellent metaphor for the way the Word of God should steady a church. Often, the beliefs, convictions, emphases and trends of a church or denomination can reflect more of a pendulum rather than a plumbline.1 If there are certain negative trends within secular or church culture – the tendency is to react, and overcorrect, to counteract the trend. This is part of human nature, but some ministries do so intentionally as part of their strategy. After all, highlighting your own ministry over against another and emphasizing the difference does create an appeal to potential newcomers (much like “product differentiation” in marketing strategies).2 But overcorrection and overemphasis can lead to standards beyond the bounds of Scripture – which is a form of legalism.3 The “pendulum mode” is unhealthy and unsteady. Rather, it is Scripture – responsibly interpreted, synthesized, and applied, according to sound principles of interpretation – which is to be the constant force to steady a church. This transcends cultural fads, religious movements, cultish leaders, and trends that come and go.
Using a metaphor of a building’s foundation, in Ephesians 2:20, Paul highlights what is essential to the church: the prophet and apostles’ doctrine (i.e. Scripture) and the Lord Jesus Christ. Both are related and essential. Jesus Christ is said here to be the chief corner stone – perfectly plumb, level and square. And all the rest of Scripture is rightly understood as it is rightly related to Him. We should rightly understand every facet of what the Prophets foretold (OT), and what the Apostles taught (NT) as ultimately anchored in the person of Christ. This is our guide for ethical questions in the church, the culture, in family, etc. His revealed person (His teaching and character) and His revealed Word are the standard. No one and nothing else serve that function. That is the Who and the what by which we should measure ourselves and our ministry. How essential and invaluable, to have a timeless and infallible source with which to guide our ministry! So important for us to always keep in mind.
Thanks! See you Sunday,
1 See a related article and theme by Alan Shlemon: https://www.str.org/w/live-according-to-a-plumb-line-not-a-pendulum
2 https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/product_differentiation.asp; there is a similar strategy to the distinguishing attempts of the Judaizers in Gal. 2:12-13; 4:17.
3 Matthew 15:3-9