This morning I want to talk about the temple of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians chapter 3 and verse 16, says this. ‘Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?’
The word “you” in 1 Corinthians 3v16 is plural in Greek. In English the word “you” is ambiguous—one cannot always tell whether it is a singular “you” or a plural “you,” for both are spelled the same. When I was in America more than 2 decades ago, I found that the further south you went, the friendlier people got and people from the south of America, have managed to remove that ambiguity from the English language.
When they mean more than one person they say, “ya’ll.” Well, here in Chapter 3v16 Paul uses the Greek word for “ya’ll.” Literally it reads, “Do ya’ll not know that ya’ll are a temple (singular) of God and the Spirit of God dwells in ya’ll.”
And he says to them don’t you all know that you all are the temple of the Holy Spirit and that God’s Spirit lives in you all. And when we understand the context we come to understand that verse 16 of 1 Corinthians chapter 3 actually being addressed to the local church
Now you know I like a bit of context, because it would be easy for us to simply answer ‘yes’ to knowing we are the temple of God and that His Spirit lives in us. Praise the Lord and move on.
But I think we just need to look at what led Paul to ask this question. So what is the context. Well 3 things.
Divisions and quarrels
We find that Paul is speaking to believers in respect of divisions and quarrels among them. If we were to go back to chapter 1v12 we find that the church in Corinth was in danger of splitting into 4 cliques or groups. So what was happening? Well it would appear that the division and quarrels seemed to stem from comparisons between preachers.
I remember David Williams preaching through 1 Corinthians back in 2011 and he reminded us that in our culture we make comparisons all the time. Insurance websites, energy websites all make comparisons for us. Those comparisons are ok. Shows like X-factor compares peoples ability on singing and performance and he said those comparisons are not ok because they are comparing people.
1 Corinthians 3 has comparisons – one follows Paul, another Cephas and another Apollos. They were comparing ministers. There was an attitude in the church at Corinth that compared people, and because of this Paul calls them infants because they were worldly. It’s like when we were kids and we would get into arguments and end up saying things like well my big brother is taller than you, well my dad’s bigger than your big brother, well my dad’s over six feet tall so there!
And it’s a very real attitude of the world to compare people or to compare ministries, this is better than that one, that is better than this one and so on. But it is also true that we can congregate into groups and cliques with people that like the same things as us whether that be in relation to a particular set of beliefs or a particular ministry or person.
Indifference and non-involvement
Secondly, there was the challenge of indifference and non-involvement (verses 12-15). Paul used building materials to illustrate this point – what were they building with? Was it with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw? Paul was warning that even though the foundation was flawless, there was a possibility that what they were building with material that would not stand the test of fire on the day of judgement – yes they would be saved but only just as one escaping the fire.
In other words, Paul was asking them was their building up of each other church really making a difference in people’s lives – were they really contributing effectively. Did they strengthen the church. Paul was warning the Corinthians that their building could be rickety and not stand strong and was encouraging them to build with gold, silver etc – build with things that last.
I was encouraged to hear about the testimony Penny brought – how folks in this church family came together to help them see Stephen and his family in France. What a wonderful display of kindness expressed between believers – that’s an example of building with materials that stand the test. But so is every expressions of loving kindness to one another that get made through phone calls, texts, cards, visits, practical help that strengthen, encourage and bring comfort to people. So to is every act of service that people do in the church week in week out simply because they want to serve Jesus. Serving one another, loving one another. Building with materials that last
The suggestion in verses 12-15 was the Corinthians were not doing that.
Thirdly, Verses 18-21 would suggest that some were seeking to build church according to the wisdom and the practice of the world. Jesus said He would build His church and we want church to grow; we want people to be saved and for this place to be filled and overflowing with people praising God for all that He has done in our lives, but here is a warning.
Seeking to make the church impressive and powerful by the methods and the standards of the world.
I’m not sure how many of you watch The Apprentice on TV. 12 aspiring individuals looking to make it big in business and looking to have Alan Sugar as their next business partner. Imagine if the techniques in that programme were the methods and standards church was built on.
If you want a big impressive church you need proper marketing – need to get a digital billboard produced to invite people to ICF. Then we need a TV advert, really selling Jesus and salvation as a product – and it’s yours for free! Text believe to receive your free 30 day trial. Start a transformed life today.
Within the church itself we will need to have a number of teams, each led by a project manager to compete the various tasks. Need to make sure everyone is pulling their weight and if it does not go well then we will need to answer to the board and someone will be to need to get blamed for the failure of the task!
Joking aside, there are a lot of useful techniques in business and yes, they can be used to great effect in the church but what I love about what Paul says is that in effect all things are yours – whether it’s ministry, or from the world or present or future – all of it is yours, but you are of Christ and Christ is of God.
Ultimately we need to remember that God is the one who is in charge and it is His Church not our church that is getting built. And again the suggestion is the Corinthians were building their church.
So the context of 1 Corinthians 3v16 is that there were divisions and quarrels – group and cliques forming around those; people not involved in strengthening or contributing to the church and there were people looking to build their church according to the wisdom and methods of the world.
And you have to ask – why is there this question in chapter 3 verse 16
So when we were holidaying in Spain, we hired a car and as you know, they drive on the right hand side of the road and it takes a little bit of time to get used to it – things like the gearstick being on the right hand and then when driving, and then there are the navigational aspects of roundabouts and left turns that need concentration. But you do get used to it. And then when you return to the UK you have to re-adjust to driving on the left.
And the question that Paul is saying is one like ‘Don’t you know that you have to drive on the left hand side of the road?’ And yes, you know that you have to drive on the left hand side of the road but for some reason you are not driving on the left hand side of the road, because you’ve just returned from Spain. The question is actually designed to provoke a reaction to put things right before you cause an accident.
And the question posed by Paul to the Corinthians is very similar. You can almost hear his frustration – do you not know this? Do you not know? This is so fundamental. Why have you drifted away from this truth that you yourselves are the temple of God and God’s Spirit dwells in you!
Paul is not saying this to teach them what they already know, he is saying it to jolt the Corinthians back to that fundamental truth because what Paul is saying is actually if you don’t get back to it – verse 17 – there are going to be implications and I don’t think you want to go there.
Paul was concerned that in their arguments and comparisons of preachers and the things that would of been said to each other. In the seeking to build the church based on worldly wisdom and methods, not building with gold and silver but with wood and hay, you can see how Paul got so frustrated because the Corinthians in their church activity and in their relationships with each other were not building the church, they were actually destroying it. Destroying by their comparisons, by their trust in worldly wisdom and methods and in their lack of building each other up with that which lasts.
Paul was so passionate about this because the church of Jesus Christ is a living organism, not just an organization. We are the body of Christ.
Now you will have to forgive the illustration I’m about to give but hopefully you get the point. You can divide a pie into six pieces without destroying it; you are just preparing to serve it. This is because a pie is an organization. But if you divide a dog in two you have destroyed it, because the dog is an organism. The Corinthian church was in danger of being destroyed and Paul needed to tell the Corinthians just how serious this was.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:17, that if anyone destroys the temple of God, “God will destroy him.” Notice that the punishment fits the crime: destroy and you will be destroyed. Does this mean eradication, extermination, judgement upon the believer? Well I am sure I don’t want to find out! Do I want to be destroyed by God? No way, so what do we need to do
Paul states that the local church is a “temple of God.” There are two primary words for temple in the Greek New Testament. One signifies the entire temple, including the outer courtyard, which anyone could enter. But the other word denotes just the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, which could only be entered by the High Priest, and that only once a year on the Day of Atonement. The Greek word for “temple” used in verse 16 is this latter word.
So Paul is saying that the group of believers at Corinth, who constituted the church in that city, was a sanctuary of God, a holy of holies. This was true not only of the church of Corinth; this is also true for our church and every other church. Imagine that! As a body of people, we are a temple of God. God Himself has called us holy and significant. It’s not we will be a temple, but we are, present tense, we are a temple of the Holy Spirit.
Paul goes further in Chapter 3v16 and states that the Holy Spirit “dwells” in the church. It’s telling us that when we gather together the Holy Spirit is among us in a unique way, creating unity, confirming truth, and ministering to needs. The Spirit of God is here right now, not just because I’m here or just because you’re here, but because a believing church, a believing group of people is here in His name.
And the challenge each of us face is this.
When the world considers God it typically associates it to the church. When the world sees churches divide because of cliques or groups, where it sees a church that is more like a successful business, or where it sees a church that does not build people up in the faith and show love then it draws its own erroneous conclusions about the character of God—based solely on what it sees in God’s people. And in the process God’s reputation is damaged. While Satan can never destroy God’s character he certainly tries to damage His reputation, and he does it through the people of God.
And Paul was saying to the Corinthians and what Paul is saying to us is this – don’t let cliques, groups, worldly methods and wisdom, indifference, non-involvement be the hallmarks of how our local church is perceived. But be the temple of God, where His glory is supreme, where His name is honoured, and where His Spirit lives and moves.
Just like doing comes out of a place of being in our individual lives, so too our doing as a church comes out of a place of being as a church and that being starts with recognising what we are together – the temple of the Holy Spirit where His spirit dwells.
What type of church do we want to be known as? Do we want to seek his glory and his fame or do we want to be involved in destroying it. This is serious stuff
‘Don’t we know that we are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in us? I’m not saying there are divisions, I’m not saying there are cliques, I’m not saying there is indifference or non involvement but what I am saying is that our foundation is flawless, because that is Christ, but that the church we want to be is the temple of the Holy Spirit where God’s spirit dwells because our collective doing comes out of a place of collective being.
Thank you Lord for the reminder of what’s important. May we be a church that is known as being a place where dwell – where your spirit brings unity, brings wisdom and direction and where your people are strengthened, encouraged and comforted, built up with that which lasts so that your glory your glory and your name is honoured in all things in all ways and at all times by all people you call to be part of your church in this place.