1 Corinthians 3:10-23 – We Are God’s Temple

you are god's temple

“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.

god's people

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.

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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.

Own Your Struggle

sisyphus struggle

In this social media driven world, we know all too well the temptation to sanitize our respective life experiences and stories.  Even the cloistered folk who refuse any social media will often not give you a straight answer when asked the sincere question, “How are you doing?”  “Fine” is not an acceptable answer, in my book.  The reason I say we need to be more honest in our responses and presentations to one another is:

Hiding large swaths of our lives and stories from others is not the path to spiritual wellness, emotional healing, and personal peace.  However, owning our internal struggles through embracing weakness, humility, vulnerability, and faith opens to us the way of grace.

Far too often you and I have ongoing struggles within because we don’t own them.  We struggle because we don’t struggle.  I’m the expert on stuffing feelings.  I learned it well early in my life.  Yet, feelings never evaporate just because we ignore them.  Just the opposite, like a forgotten half-carton of cottage cheese in the back of the fridge, our feelings only gather moldy bacteria and crust over with nastiness.  We need to understand that feelings really do have an expiration date to them.  If not openly confronted and dealt with, they’ll fester into bitterness.  It’s much better to get down and dirty with our present struggles instead of living with the wishful thinking that they’ll just go away.

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Holy Scripture and 2,000 years of church history have given us a path to wholeness.  Lent is the season which draws out grand themes of the Christian life from the Bible.  Prominent is our need for confession, repentance, faith, humble prayer, and forgiveness.  Spiritual disciplines exist to put us in a position to confront our deepest struggles – even ones we didn’t know we had.

There are 52 references to “one another” in the Bible.  “Love one another” (John 13:34-35); “Be kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32); “Show hospitality to one another” (1 Peter 4:9); “Forgive one another” (Colossians 3:13); “Encourage one another” (Hebrews 3:13); and “Bear the burdens of one another” (Galatians 6:2); are just a few of the exhortations Scripture gives us to “spur one another on” (Hebrews 10:24) toward spiritual well-being and healthy community relationships.

help one another

Nowhere in Holy Scripture will you find references to hide from one another, pester one another, or put up a false front toward one another.  Some folks live as if the author of Hebrews said, “Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting together for worship and edification, so just let them go, slackers they are.  Forget about that encouragement thing, especially since Jesus is coming soon anyway.”  Here is what the verse says, for real:

“Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that.  We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer”. (Hebrews 10:25, CEV)

There were confessing believers in the ancient church who drifted away and dropped out.  They had legitimate internal and external struggles with outward persecution and inner doubt.  What they needed most was an infusion of faith and perseverance, which would only come if they owned their struggle through sharing it with others.  Like a charcoal briquette which falls off the pile and loses its fire, so there were individual Christians who separated themselves from the warmth of genuine fellowship and lost their faith.

hot charcoal

The ancient believers had some of the same struggles we had.  They just couldn’t make sense of why things in the world were so bad.  The people had little money, no respect from government authorities, and, most of all, family who were telling them they were crazy for following Jesus.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  Rather than embrace the struggle and work through it, they just sat in the back of the fridge, I mean in the back pew of the church, and slowly gathered mold.  Doing nothing is usually a bad idea.  If you try and fail, there is grace.  But if you do nothing, there is only nothing.

Freighted within the definition of biblical faith is risk.  Faith is stepping out and taking a chance on love, encouragement, help, support, comfort, and kindness.  No risk it, no biscuit.

“Keep on being brave! It will bring you great rewards.  Learn to be patient, so that you will please God and be given what he has promised.  As the Scriptures say, ‘God is coming soon!  It won’t be very long.  The people God accepts will live because of their faith. But he isn’t pleased with anyone who turns back.’  We are not like those people who turn back and get destroyed. We will keep on having faith until we are saved.” (Hebrews 10:35-39, CEV)

william penn quote

God desires you and me to take a risk on betting the farm on Jesus.  Embracing Christ involves owning our struggles, to him and to one another.  Yes, you may argue that it isn’t helpful to wear your feelings on your sleeve.  But I’m not talking about emotional diarrhea; I’m talking about something far worse: emotional prostitution, where we sell ourselves to others in a cheap façade of who we really are and how we are really doing.  We want to be liked and we want to be loved, and we mistakenly believe that keeping up false appearances will get us what we long for.

You might fail? Join the club. I’m willing to wager that I’ve been fired or let go from more jobs than you’ve even had in your life.  I’ve some wild ministry successes, and I have had some spectacular failures.  I have been at the lowest of the low in a major depression, and I’ve been at the top of the mountain where every prayer gets answered.  I have had God be silent for months on end, with me having no clue as to why.  I’ve had literally no money to my name, and I’ve had plenty in multiple accounts.

So, here’s the humble observation: It doesn’t matter whether your circumstances are to your liking or not, whether you have all you feel you need, or don’t ever seem to have enough, whether you have well-behaved kids and family, or wayward children and messed up uncles and cousins.  What matters is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6).  It takes risk to have faith.  It takes two (or more) to have love.

Own your struggle.  Don’t live in denial.  Grab it and face it squarely.  Face it with God.  Face it with others.  If you’re mad as hell at God, tell him so; he’s big enough to take it (please go to the psalms and pray them as your own).  If you need prayer and/or help, ask for it.  Don’t just expect someone to read your mind or your emotions.  If someone asks you to pray, stop what you’re doing and get on your knees with that person and pray like there’s no tomorrow.

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Life is too short to sleepwalk through it with a constellation of emotions that need dealing with.  Being overwhelmed is common to the human condition.  “How are you?” “Busy!” Tell me something I don’t know.  It takes no relational effort to give a pat answer.  Let’s get down to why you feel you constantly need to express how busy you are, even when you’re not really all that busy.

I think you get the idea.  Scripture doesn’t call us to hide, but to love one another enough to both give and receive God’s grace.  Maybe you don’t need to let it all out on social media, but there is a place and a context for you to bring your struggles before God and others.  Take advantage of the privilege and the opportunity which has been provided for you through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 10:19-25

            Discouragement can easily settle into the bones when we are not thriving in some way.  The church rests upon three indispensable elements that must be present for every believer in Jesus to thrive as citizens of God’s kingdom:  faith, hope, and love.  “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith… Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering… And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”  Just as a three-legged stool cannot stand on only one or even two legs, so our personal and corporate Christianity will not stand unless faith, hope, and love all exist side by side.
 
            Furthermore, these three vital elements must be based in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and not within our own soul’s fortifications, or lack thereof.  The basis of our confidence in living the Christian life is through the blood of Jesus, that he has taken care of the sin issue once for all through his death.  This is all activated in a practical way through meeting together and encouraging one another as the Body of Christ.
 
            The irony of the Christian life is that in losing our lives we find them; in being last we become first; in emptying ourselves as servants of others we are full.  It is people who attempt gain for themselves that miss faith in Christ; who always have to be right that ultimately lose hope; who seek to be served and thus never know real love.  Let us develop and maintain habits of faith, hope, and love – accessed fully through participation in meeting together as believers in Jesus.
 

 

            Gracious Lord Jesus, you have gone before us and secured deliverance from sin through your death on a cross.  My trust is in you, my hope is in your promised return, and my love belongs to you and your people, now and forever.  Amen.

Christian Soulcraft

 
           The word “soulcraft” might conjure different images in your mind.  I am not talking about a boat or a bike.  I am neither making reference about a video game nor a corporation.  I am not referring to any avant garde religious expression.  Rather, I put the two words “soul” and “craft” together to highlight the importance of what a solid pastoral ministry does for Christians.  Sometimes the metrics we use in the church to determine its effectiveness and impact has more to do with budgets, attendance, and building maintenance than it does with the careful crafting of souls into the image of Jesus.  We must become adept in the church at patiently and tediously constructing souls.  Caring for the spiritual needs of people ought to be high on the list of priorities for every church ministry.  It is a constant work in progress.
 
            Just as the term implies, caring for souls is a special craft that one tries to constantly improve.  Pastors and church leaders never come to the point of ceasing to need continuous training, education, and experience in the business of crafting souls that are bent toward Christ’s kingdom values.  Throughout the history of the church much attention has been given to the care of souls.  Early church fathers such as Gregory the Great took great pains to describe the pastor’s work as offering moral and spiritual guidance to both churched and unchurched persons.  The Reformation teaching of the priesthood of all believers is a special emphasis upon every Christian’s privilege and responsibility to intercede and help others toward spiritual growth and health. 
 
            In 1656, Puritan preacher Richard Baxter wrote a book, The Reformed Pastor,which set the standard of pastoral care for generations.  In his work, Baxter elaborated on seven functions of dealing with the souls of people:  converting the unconverted; giving advice to inquirers; building up the believers; shepherding the families in the parish community; visiting the sick and dying; reproving the impenitent; and, exercising church discipline.  All these functions are designed to do the pedantic work of crafting and forming souls.  It is often not glamorous high impact work; it is humble nitty-gritty ministry which typically goes unnoticed by many because it is a slow process over time.
 
            The many references to “one another” in the New Testament point toward the spiritual dynamic that needs to take place for souls to thrive.  Encouragement, mutual edification, love, forgiveness, and hospitality are just some of the tools of the trade in a careful crafting of souls.  As we look at the example of Jesus, such practices as healing, teaching, guiding, and mending souls were all a part of his mission to bring God’s benevolent kingdom to earth.  As we learn to help people toward peace, sustain them in difficult times, reconcile broken relationships, and guide them in making wise choices, we are doing good spiritual work and fortifying souls.
 
            We ourselves need to continually feed our souls if we want to do the work of soulcraft.  Engaging in the spiritual disciplines such as daily Scripture reading and prayer, practicing Sabbath rests, silence and solitude, fasting, and other spiritual tools can enable us to be built up in Christ so that we might shepherd others toward the ways of Jesus.
 

 

            The Apostle Peter encouraged his fellow leaders:  “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).  In difficult times, there is no greater need than the presence of God.  That divine presence is often mediated through loving shepherds and believers who take special care to bring grace to hurting people.  May it be so, to the glory of Jesus.