YOU ARE GOD’S TEMPLE!
There is an imperative in today’s third reading (1 Corinthians 3) which we MUST learn urgently as disciples of the Lord Jesus. Paul has drawn the attention of the Corinthian believers (ch 1) to the news that he has received of their divisions and arguments. Their divisions were so deep that they had assigned each group to leading members of the church such as Paul, Apollos and Peter. For a fourth group there may have been the pretentious claim that they were better than all the others because they were the ‘Christ group’ (ch 1 v 12)! How devastating this division had become for their communal life and personal discipleship!
One of a number of Paul’s subsequent responses to this divisive spirit is to remind them that those to whom they seemed to think they belonged were simply servants with very simple tasks. One planted seed. Another watered. Another tended plants. But it was God Himself who caused growth and fruit. They were only servants and co-workers with God. And they were the field in which God was working—the building which God was constructing (see verses 5—11).
It is the nature of that building which Paul describes for them in the context of their divisive and contentious spirit.
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple!” (verses 16, 17).
Note the word ‘together’—we will come back to that concept next time. Why then is this concept of the Corinthians and ourselves being “God’s temple” seen by Paul as the antidote to the spirit of bitterness and division which had infected their personal and communal relationships?
The answer lies in a constant Bible theme about tabernacles and temples! The fact is, God doesn’t dwell in them. They were ever only intended to convey the message found in these, and other, Scriptures:
“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you! How much less this temple I have built?…..and may your hearts be fully committed to the LORD our God, to live by His decrees and obey His commands, as at this time” (Solomon’s prayer on Israel’s behalf – 1 Kings 8 v 27, 61).
“For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with those who are contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” (Isaiah 57 v 15).
“This is what the LORD says: ‘heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?’ declares the LORD. ‘These are the ones I look on with favour: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my Word.” (Isaiah 66 vv 1, 2).
This small selection of Scriptures reveal the characteristics and spirit of those with whom God is prepared to come and dwell. Earlier David had asked the converse but related question—who will you allow to live with you?
“LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy mountain? Those whose walk is blameless, who do what is righteous, who speak the truth from their hearts; who have no slander on their tongues, who do their neighbours no wrong, who cast no slur on others…..” (Psalm 15 vv 1—3).
Sadly, this is not how the Corinthians were behaving! Sadly, it is not how our own community’s history has revealed itself. Sadly, it is not always how we behave now, TODAY.
Many of you will be aware of the cartoon called “Peanuts” that features Charlie Brown, his sister Lucy and their dog, Snoopy. One cartoon strip involves a conversation between Charlie Brown and Lucy in which she reports to him on a religious argument that she had engaged earlier in the day. Proudly she advises Charlie that the argument was finally won in her favour! In response to Charlie’s enquiry, “how did you do that?” she replies, “I hit him over the head with my Bible!”
Many of us are like that! The Corinthians called up ‘the big guns’—Paul, Cephas, Apollos and even Christ, as the supporters or leaders of their factions or ‘power base’. We sometimes do the same—it is inevitably a former or current leader or writer’s opinion or interpretation that we rely upon as support for our position. And in the midst of bitter argument, we generally do one or more of the following:
- we rely on a personal interpretation or reading of Scripture, without conceding that another equally reasonable interpretation is possible;
- our interpretation goes well beyond what the Scripture simply says;
- we either do not take care to understand our opponent’s position OR we misrepresent what they are saying; and
- we hold our view or position with a swashbuckling pride that fits Lucy’s approach to argument and we use words like weapons designed to harm and humiliate.
When we do these things, division is the consequence. There can be no other outcome. And Paul is clear, when this occurs, those who involve themselves are guilty of destroying God’s temple and will themselves be destroyed by God. Such behaviour, Paul says, God will severely punish!
There is a regular failure to practice these words:
“The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses…” (2 Timothy 2 vv 24—26).
As we commence another week, remember these words in today’s reading. You and I ARE the temple of the living God! He dwells in us by His Spirit. But He cannot live in a temple—either the personal one which you and I build for Him in our own life, or the one which we join with regularly in communal fellowship—in which there is bitterness and envy, where words are used like swords to cut down and destroy—where the spirit of the ‘temple’ is argument and contention! He cannot live in a temple that is divided into warring factions and groups. In the week ahead, remember these ‘temple’ words:
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14 v 23).
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