In 2015 a stretch of the newly resurfaced A303 in Wiltshire had to be replaced. The problem was invisible to the naked eye, but fundamental: the resurfacing had used poor quality stone which couldn’t withstand the weight of traffic. And so the roadworks began all over again!
In today’s passage St Paul continues the building analogy he developed back in chapter 2. If we are now the new ‘temple’, the place where God dwells, what sort of stones do we need to build it? What will ensure a strong and stable structure, somewhere fit for the Lord for the long-term?
What Paul contrasts are the good quality stones versus the bad – those which might not look too different on the surface, but which won’t stand the weight of the job.
The good ones are scattered throughout our verses: encouraging talk (v29), kindness and compassion (v32), self-giving love (v2). We can really build others up with these! They are how Jesus lived, and so they form the model for us too – we try to live like this ‘just as Christ loved us’. His example becomes ours.
On the other hand, we also get some bad bricks to avoid: dirty talk (v29), bitterness, rage, slander and malice (v31). If we’re honest, we’ll all feel the temptation towards these from time to time. People let us down, or treat us unfairly and we want to get them back. It’s natural – but it’s not supernatural. It’s not the life God has called us to. In fact, Paul goes further and says that these are things which ‘grieve the Holy Spirit’ (v30).
It’s worth spending a moment unpacking that challenging phrase. The sort of image Paul is conjuring here is not that of a temperamental diva liable to take offence at the slightest of slights. Nor is it the permanently disappointed manager for whom nothing is ever good enough. Rather, it is the loving parent who feels genuine sadness when we let ourselves down – but who never stops loving us, can’t wait to forgive us, and who is always quick to see the best in us. In short, our biggest supporter.
It reminds us that the Spirit’s presence in our lives isn’t an impersonal force but a close friend, with deep feelings for us. We are God’s dearly-loved children (v1), and God is always cheering us on from the sidelines. It may be that there are some negative feelings which we need to let go of at present – take a moment to offer these back to your biggest supporter. And, positively, may God’s unconditional love inspire us today to build our lives – and the lives of others – with life-giving stones.