Building is both an effort and a result. If we build well, the product will be a structure we call a building. The Bible is full of people building altars, cities, houses, roads, towers, walls, and more. Quite a few significant buildings are mentioned: the Tower of Babel, the walled city of Jerusalem, the temple of Solomon. We read of cities being built and destroyed. The greatest builder of all time is God, the builder of creation from the foundation up (Ps 102:25; 104:3; Isa 48:13). He described in great detail the construction plans for the traveling worship center (tabernacle) that moved with the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years and also the plans for its permanent replacement, the temple. One of the regular cycles of life mentioned in Ecclesiastes 3 is “a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build up” (v. 3).
Building a Foundation for Life
The drive to construct is a symbol for the way we shape our lives and the impact we can have on other people. We can tear them down or build them up (Eph 4:29 NIV). And while we are living, we are also constructing a life that has a certain structure, just like a building. God’s role in that project is crucial: “If the LORD does not build the house, It is useless for the builders to work on it. If the LORD does not protect a city, it is useless for the guard to stay alert” (Ps 127:1). Jesus concluded his famous Sermon on the Mount with the following application challenge to his listeners:
Therefore, everyone who hears what I say and obeys it will be like a wise person who built a house on rock. Rain poured, and floods who built a house on rock. Rain poured, and floods came. Winds blew and beat against that house. But it did not collapse, because its foundation was on rock.
Everyone who hears what I say but doesn’t obey it will be like a foolish person who built a house on sand. Rain poured, and floods came. Winds blew and struck that house. It collapsed, and the result was a total disaster (Matt 7:24-27)
The apostle Paul elaborated on this idea of our individual lives as buildings:
You are God’s building. As a skilled and experienced builder, I used the gift that God gave me to lay the foundation for that building. However, someone else is building on it. Each person must be careful how he builds on it. After all, no one can lay any other foundation than the one that is already laid, and that foundation is Jesus Christ. People may build on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw. The day will make what each one does clearly visible because fire will reveal it. That fire will determine what kind of work each person has done. If what a person has built survives, he will receive a reward. If his work is burned up, he will suffer the loss. However, he will be saved, though it will be like going through a fire. (1 Cor 3:9-15).
This symbol of a building representing a person’s spiritual life is carried over to the corporate relationship between believers. The church is a building of human lives. “You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone. In him all the parts of the building fit together and grow into a holy temple in the Lord. Through him you, also, are being built in the Spirit together with others into a place where God Lives” (Eph 2:20-22). Colossians 2:7, 1 Timothy 3:15, and 2 Timothy 2:19 all echo this idea of believers bonded into a building.
An Eternal City
We see through prophecy that God has not only built and created builders, he is also building a great and eternal city. Abraham was anticipating that city: “Faith led Abraham to lives as a foreigner in the country that God had promised him. He lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who received the same promise from God. Abraham was waiting for the city that God had designed and built, the city with permanent foundations” (Heb 11:9-10). Revelation echoes this expectation in a picture of the new heaven and new earth: “He carried me by his power away to a large, high mountain. He showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven. It had the glory of God. Its light was like a valuable gem, like gray quartz, as clear as crystal” (Rev 21:10-11). But Jesus had already described, in a personal way, what we can anticipate in God’s eternal construction project: “My Father’s house has many rooms. If that were not true, would I have told that I’m going to prepare a place for you? If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again. Then I will bring you into my presence so that you will be where I am” (John 14:2-3). We are destined for an eternal city, a building where we will live forever with God.