“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (NRSV)
You have an incredibly special position and status which no one can ever take away.
We were made by and for God. In the beginning, the creative activity of God achieved its pinnacle in the formation of a man and a woman. Only humanity carries within them the image and likeness of God. People are unique, special, and set apart as the creatures who can enjoy a close relational fellowship with their creator.
But humanity fell into disobedience, which introduced sin and death into God’s world. Ever since that time, God has been on a rescue mission. The Holy Scriptures are an unfolding drama of redemption in which a heart-stricken God goes out of his way to make and keep promises to a sinful people. The Israelites, a people set apart from all other people, were meant to be devoted to God in such a way that the world would be drawn to their relationship with him and with the created order.
Yet again, even with an impressive temple where people met God in sacred rituals and activities, the people went astray and followed their ancestors into worshiping other gods. God, ever the gracious one who does not forget his covenant of love, sent his Son, Jesus, as the ultimate fulfillment of all his good promises. Through the redemptive events of Christ’s cross, resurrection, and ascension the deliverance from all that is wrong and broken in this world is reversed. We are blessed with pardon and redemption from the slavery of sin. We are given a renewed status as God’s people.
If this were not enough, God has given us his Spirit to help us. As Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, we are never alone. God, in his great mercy, makes us his people and the temple where he dwells by his Spirit. In the Old Testament, the sacred space of worship was a physical building. Approaching the holy God meant entering a holy temple, set apart for connection between the divine and the human. But the midpoint of history in which all events hinge, is the cross of Christ. His redeeming work has transformed the world.
Now, we are the temple of God, the sacred place where God meets with us. The glory of God is to be found, once again, in the apex of his creation: human beings. It is in this rich understanding of God’s activity and humanity’s new status that the Apostle Paul appeals with a pointed rhetorical question: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
The Corinthian church was in grave danger of doing the thing that all lost humanity had done through the ages. They were breaking down into divisions and conflicts and were not thinking of others as God’s special people. Paul names them collectively as God’s temple. They were not individual temples but one holy sacred temple together. This theology and anthropology was meant to teach, persuade, chastise, and encourage the Christians that there was no place for special-interest groups in the church; no room for following pet teachers and preachers; and, no reason to ostracize others who didn’t agree exactly as you do.
As believers in Jesus Christ, we are all together the people of God, the temple in which God dwells. This makes us a holy people, set apart for the exclusive worship of our triune God. We are to live up, not down, to who we are in Christ, in the Spirit, in the realm of God’s kingdom.
We are meant to return to the foundation of the temple. If the foundational works of this great temple of God are the redemptive events of Jesus, with Christ himself as the chief cornerstone of the structure, then we are meant to return in this great season of Lent to Jesus. With meekness and humility, we are to come to God in Christ by the Spirit and confess our many sins, repent of them all, and return to God as the special, holy, and loved people we are as the temple.
For far too long these few verses in the letter to the Corinthians have been used as the argument for not smoking or drinking too much or generally not caring for our physical bodies. I’m not saying none of that is in view, but this was not Paul’s understanding of it. He was thinking much more along the lines of church unity, harmony, mutual love, grace, encouragement, and making decisions which are best for the common good of all. To break Paul’s instruction down to individual habits which harm the body is a woefully truncated view of his teaching.
Instead, we are to have a high view of one another. We, together, are the people of God. We, together, are meant for holy worship of the triune God. We, together, are the complex expression of God’s creative action – a temple set in the middle of a watching world.
Therefore, we are to be concerned for one another. We are to act as one holy people of God. We are to reflect the love, unity, and fellowship of the Holy Trinity in our life together. Let us then encourage each other toward love and good deeds; upholding the common good; and, extending grace in all circumstances. For this is what temple living looks like.
Holy God, you have set us apart together as your holy people. Help so to live up to our status as your beloved creatures that we are continually mindful of you, one another, and the grace you give for all circumstances. May our foundation be strong in the person and work of Jesus Christ, your Son and our Savior, as the Spirit dwells in us together. Amen.