“You are God’s Temple”

“You are God’s Temple”

Before continuing with Romans and Habakkuk, I want us to look at a scripture passage today, that I think, is a wonderful addition to the message that Gary preached last Sunday and it is all about the Body of Christ and how it should function.

We read in 1 Cor.3:16 the following words ~ “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” What is the first thing many people are saying when quoting this verse (or even maybe you yourself)? Smoking is unhealthy and pollutes the body. Eating too much (obesity) is killing our hearts. The flipside of the coin is, going to the Gym keeps us healthy and help keeping stress levels down. Many churches build part of their written or unwritten “sanctification policy” on this verse. “Stop smoking my brother, because that is sin.” Or, “As members of our church, we don’t drink wine, because ‘we are God’s temple’”

Although it is wrong or not good for your physical and/or emotional health, to poison your God-given body with cigarettes or by excess drinking of alcohol, or a lack of exercise, this is not what Paul is teaching us in this verse. We cannot just pick a verse and build a whole theology around that verse, we must always look at the context.

Why is it important to study the Bible in context? What is wrong with taking verses out of context? Taking verses out of context leads to all kinds of error and misunderstanding. It may lead to legalism and even disillusionment, in fact, you are missing the point and missing out on God’s Truth about that verse and or paragraph.

Understanding context begins with four principles:
• Literal meaning (what the passage says);
• Historical setting (it’s about the events of the story; to whom it is addressed, and how it was understood at that time);
• Grammar (the immediate sentence and paragraph within which a word or phrase is found) and…
• Synthesis (comparing the passage it with other parts of Scripture for a fuller meaning).

Context is crucial to Biblical exegesis (exegesis is the exposition or explanation of a text based on a careful, objective analysis) in that it is one of its most important fundamentals. After we account for the literal, historical, grammatical nature and synthesis of a passage, we must then focus on the outline and structure of the book, then the chapter, then the paragraph. All of these things refer to “context.” To illustrate, it is like looking at Google Maps and zooming in on one house.

Taking phrases and verses out of context always leads to misunderstanding. For instance, taking the phrase “God is love” (1 Joh.4:7-16). Out of its context, we might come away thinking that our God loves everything and everyone at all times with a gushing, romantic love. But in its literal and grammatical context, “love” here refers to ”agape” love, the essence of which is sacrifice for the benefit of another, not a sentimental, romantic love.

The historical context is also crucial, because John was addressing believers in the first century church and instructing them not on God’s love per se, but on how to identify true believers from false professors of the faith. True love (the sacrificial, beneficial kind) is the mark of the true believer (vs.7), those who do not love do not belong to God (vs.8), God loved us before we loved Him (vss.9-10), and all of this is why we should love one another and thereby prove that we are His (vss.11-12). 

Furthermore, considering the phrase “God is love” in the context of all of Scripture (synthesis) will keep us from coming to the false, and all-too-common, conclusion that God is only love or that His love is greater than all His other attributes, which is simply not the case. We know from many other passages that God is also holy and righteous, faithful and trustworthy, graceful and merciful, kind and compassionate, omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, and many, many other things. We also know from other passages that God not only loves, but He also hates.

The Bible is the Word of God, literally “God-breathed” (2 Tim.3:16), and we are commanded to read, study, and understand it through the use of good Bible study methods and always with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to guide us (1 Cor.2:14). Our study is greatly enhanced by maintaining diligence in the use of context because it is quite easy to come to wrong conclusions by taking phrases and verses out of context. It is not difficult to point out places that seemingly contradict other portions of Scripture, but if we carefully look at their context and use the entirety of Scripture as a reference, we can understand the meaning of a passage. The expression “context is king,” means that the context often drives the meaning of a phrase. To ignore context is to put ourselves at a tremendous disadvantage and a dangerous interpretive and theological position.

1 Cor.3:16 is a classic example of using, or misusing a specific verse out of context ~ “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” In order for us to look at this verse in context and what the exact meaning of this verse is, we need to turn to 1 Cor.3:1-23.

1 Cor.3:1-23 ~ “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 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? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. 10 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. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 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. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”

3. SPIRITUAL BABIES (vss.1-4):
Paul starts off in vs.1, with very harsh words when addressing the Corinthian church. He is very straight and even harsh, when saying, “I cannot address you as spiritual people.” He is not beating around the bush – he calls them infants in Christ; people of flesh. They remained spiritual babies despite the fact that he fed them with “solid food.”

What was going on in this church in Corinth? Why does Paul call them babies? We find the answer on this question in vs.3b when Paul says that their problem is jealousy and strife amongst the members of the church in Corinth and he says that they behave in fleshly and human way. What lead to this situation – this behaviour? We see in vs.4 that jealousy was rife in the church at Corinth. They were constantly looking over their shoulders at one another, envying the gifts of others. There was little love at Corinth, only competitiveness. There was no appreciation of the different contributions brought to the Corinthian church by people like Paul and Apollos – only breaking off into cliques and refusing to mix with certain people of different views.

Such behaviour is puerile (or childish), says Paul. We can almost hear him mentally screaming, ‘Grow up! Stop behaving like babies!’ This is, in fact, exactly how young children behave. This is also what ordinary men, men without Christ and without His Holy Spirit, are like. As James says in Jam.3:14 ~ “If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.”

This is not the first time that Paul repudiated the Corinthians for divisions amongst themselves. In 1:10-17 he already spoke about this sin in the life of the congregation when he says in 1:10 ~ “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

In short, the Corinthians were not acting spiritually (vss.1-4). They were carnal; men of the flesh (vvs.1,3). They were babies in Christ (vss.1,2).

Two groups were present in the church of Corinth, the one followers of Paul and the other, followers of Apollos. Who were Paul and Apollos? They were the two servants through whom the believers in Corinth had believed. Paul says in vs.5b that both Apollos and he were only… ~ “Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.” What Paul is saying, is that ministers of the Word are only servants – they are only instruments of God, assigned and gifted by God to teach. They are nothing in comparison to God (vs.7). What does this strong statement by Paul mean? Simply this: no minister (or pastor) has any cause for glory or praise or honour or recognition. There is no room, no reason for a pastor to feel pride and self-satisfaction; no reason for a person or a people to idolize and follow a pastor. Respect the pastor, yes. Love him, yes. Care for him, for his call and task are impossible. But, he is not to be idolised and followed as though he is the founder of your faith. And that was exactly what happened in the church in Corinth – some people placed Paul on a throne and some Apollos.

Paul planted the church and Apollos “fed the flock” afterwards, but in vs.7 Pauls says clearly ~ “…neither he who plants (i.e. Paul) nor he who waters (i.e. Apollos) is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” All members in the church belonged to God and not to Paul or Apollos. Teachers are God’s instruments and the members of the church are God’s temple (vs.16). Therefore, instead of honouring teachers, honour God!

In vss.10-17, Paul pictures the building of the church. This is clearly seen in that Paul has just declared to the local believers in Corinth ~ “You are God’s field, God’s building” (vs.9).

Paul, a wise master builder, had laid the true foundation during the time he worked at Corinth (vss.10-11). He also points out that the foundation is Jesus Christ and by implication, not Paul or Apollos.

In vss.10-15, he warns against false teachers, but he also warns false teachers who dare teach anything or anyone apart of Jesus Christ. Therefore, he says in vs. 10 ~ “Let each one take care how he builds upon it.”

6. WISDOM OF THE WORLD (vss.18-23):
In vss.18-23, Paul renounces worldly wisdom. He warns the Corinthians that if they continue to glory in men, they would have placed their wisdom above the wisdom of God and been guilty of self-deception.

To be wise and well pleasing to God, one must be a fool in the eyes of the world (vs.18), because wisdom of the world is foolishness with God.

In vss.19-20, Paul quotes two Old Testament verses as proof to sustain that affirmation ~ “He (Job referring to God here) catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end” (Job 5:13). The other one is from Ps.94:11 “the LORD—knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath.”

The point is this: when a church begins to approach God and the problems of the world through worldly wisdom, the result is tragic. The church is taking a path that will destroy its witness and make it useless in the Kingdom of God. This was the path being chosen by the Corinthian church, and it is the path that is often chosen by too many churches.

Several aspects of this chapter readily apply to the modern church.
• First, like the chapters before it, chapter 3 continues Paul’s argument that the Corinthians needed to cease their boasting and quarrelling, and to be reconciled to one another. From this, we learn the importance of maintaining unity and like-mindedness in the modern church. Paul also emphasised these ideas in the previous two chapters, we should also realise how important this concept is. This is not a secondary issue for Paul, but gets at the root of the Gospel’s goal. As a result, it should be a primary issue for us as well.

• Second, regarding church leaders, we should not idolise them, but recognize that they are servants of Christ, and that all they accomplish is only by the grace of God, not by their personal abilities and merits. We must not rally around personalities, no matter what use Christ has made of them. Rather, we should make certain that whatever we build has the true gospel as its foundation.

Leaders themselves should not only focus on Christ, but should always make sure that their flocks also focus on Him. They must always be careful that their flocks do not fixate on human leaders, and must warn the church against celebrity worship. If they do not, the people may tend to fall into the error of Corinth even without their leaders’ prompting.

Leaders should also remember the coming Day of Judgment when their works will be tried by fire, taking encouragement that any work they build on the true foundation (Christ) will survive, and refusing to build with inferior materials such as pride and worldly wisdom, or even popularity. All Christians should take comfort in knowing that this judgment will not threaten our salvation, but should weigh seriously the fact that man-centred workmanship will yield not eternal reward.

If we hold pride in worldly wisdom or in leaders other than Christ, we should be ashamed at our behaviour, knowing that we are acting immaturely. Instead, we ought to be humble toward one another, seeking unity in the simple doctrinal truth of the gospel. We greatly need humility to bring us to the point where we can comfortably be labelled “fools” by the world.

• Third, to help us accomplish all these ends, we need to remember that the church is God’s temple. It is the holy building in which He dwells. Individual Christians need to remember that they are not simply in relationship with God, but in relationship with each other in Christ. As a whole, the church is God’s temple.

We need to have a proper respect and love for the church, and not to treat it as a simple human institution. As much as we dislike things the church does, and as much as we may dislike certain people within it, we need to remember that it is holy to God. God loves His church and dwells in its midst. We as well should learn to love the church. If we do, this love will go great lengths in helping us quash quarrelling and jealousy, restore unity, and work toward maturity.

• As a further help against boasting and jealousy, we should remember that all things are ours in Christ. That is, everything belongs to Christ – He has inherited all dominion, power, and authority from the Father. Since He shares His inheritance with us, all things belong to us in Christ. We need not bicker over insignificant items like the status of our leaders, or the superiority of our wisdom, or all kinds of other small things. We possess so much more in Christ that no such worldly treasure could possibly compare to it.

Much like the tabernacle (Ex.25:8; 40:34-38), the later temple was the place where God dwelt in the midst of His people (1 Kings. 6:12-13; Ps.132:12-14; Ezek.43:7). Ezekiel 40-48 prophesied a future day when the temple would be rebuilt, marking not so much the rebuilding of the structure, but the eschatological hope of the restoration of the Kingdom of God (Ezek.47:1-12). The New Testament picks up this theme, especially as it portrays the coming of the Kingdom of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Joh.2:19-21; Eph.5:5; 2 Tim.4:1; Heb.9:8-9; 2 Pet.1:11; Rev.11:15).

As Christ’s body, the church also takes on the identity of the temple (2 Cor.6:16; Eph.2:21), where it may be said that the Holy Spirit dwells in the corporate body of the church, the unified fellowship of believers (1 Cor. 3:16).

Much like the Old Testament tabernacle (Ex.25:8; 40:34-38), the temple was the place where God dwelt in the midst of His people (1 Kings 6:12-13; Ps.132:12-14; Ez.43:7). Ez.40-48 prophesied a future day when the temple would be rebuilt, marking not so much the rebuilding of the structure, but the eschatological hope of the restoration of the kingdom of God (Ez.47:1-12). The New Testament picks up this theme, especially as it portrays the coming of the kingdom of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Joh.2:19-21; Eph.5:5; 2 Tim.4:1; Heb.9:8-9; 2 Pet.1:11; Rev.11:15).

As Christ’s body, the church also takes on the identity of the temple (2 Cor.6:16; Eph.2:21), where it may be said that the Holy Spirit dwells in the corporate body of the church, the unified fellowship of believers (1 Cor.3:16).

Kobus van der Walt

• Last, back to vs.16 ~ “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” It is crystal clear from our passage and the context that the word “temple” in vs.16 is not a reference to our physical bodies, but to the body of Christ – the church. According to vs.17, we must be very careful not to destroy (or injure) … ~ “God’s temple, (because) God will destroy him (who destroys the temple). For God’s temple is holy, and (we) are that temple.”

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