Over the years I have often heard Christians say, “I’m taking care of the temple brother!” This expression, borrowed from 1 Corinthians is used as a scriptural justification for working out or eating healthy. And while there are certainly benefits to working out and eating right statements like this make me kind of cringe because I think they are missing the whole meaning of what’s behind Paul’s use of the term.
In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul writes:
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
I have used the NIV rendering of this verse because it makes it clear that the “you” here is really what we in the South would refer to as “Ya’ll”. Paul is not making an appeal here for individuals to think of themselves as the dwelling place of God but rather the community of believers as the dwelling place, the temple of God. Why is this important? Because the bulk of 1 Corinthians is dealing with the very issues that separate believers from one another, the divisions that keep us from being a kingdom people gathered under the lordship of Christ.
Paul goes on to write
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! 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 of Christ, and Christ is of God.
The issues for the Corinthian church weren’t a matter of people not taking care of their physical bodies but rather operating according to a wisdom that is of the kingdom of this world. Paul frames his argument with the very real divisions that had sprung up in Corinth by some being in the “Peter” club, some in the “Apollos” club and some being in “Paul’s” club. Much like today groups were gathering around their favorite preachers of the word. I can imagine the arguments that must have gone on between these groups:
“We follow Peter ‘the Rock’ the one who was with Jesus in his ministry who walked on water and on whom Jesus promised to build his church!”
“Well we follow Paul who encountered the risen Lord and had a life-altering change of heart and who has planted more churches than any of those other disciples!”
“Forget Paul and Peter! Apollos is such a brilliant evangelist! Have you heard him speak? He is amazing!”
But as far as Paul is concerned this kind of “wisdom” is no different from the divisions one would see anywhere else in the world. It is after all the way the world works. The indictment is that these divisions are not simply a matter of personal taste but rather a barrier to people experiencing the life of the kingdom and even more so the world seeing the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
As Paul’s letter to the Corinthians continues he takes issue with them not only for their divisions around the leaders they prefer but around other divisions such as on the use of spiritual gifts in the church service, the way they practice communion in which some people were eating all the food and drinking all the wine so that when the poor showed up they are left out. These are the things that destroy the temple because people are failing to act like a community and are instead just acting like a bunch of selfish individuals who are not even connected to one another. In the end it is nothing but the plain old wisdom of the world repackaged in Christian jargon.
You see when we begin to see the church as the gathering of believers around King Jesus, then we can’t simply treat our relationships with one another as if they are simply like any other relationships in the world. We together are the temple! This means that we must take great effort to keep our hearts free of offense, to seek to walk in forgiveness, to deal with our own selfishness because we are not in this alone!
Jesus once told his disciples, “The world will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another.” It’s no surprise that Paul delivers the famous “Love Chapter”, 1 Corinthians 13 as a summation of everything that he has been trying to say to the Corinthian Church. When we as believers are walking in love with one another we are truly moving against the wisdom of this world and are beginning to show the world what it looks like when Jesus is king.
I am convinced that this remains one of the most underrated keys to evangelism. If the world truly sees a group of people who are living the love of God with one another will they not want to be a part? Sadly much of the church has become known more for what it is against, for its divisions, for its mean spirit, for its holier than thou attitude rather than its love for God, the world and one another.
I will close this post with the words of Paul to challenge us all (myself included) to truly take care of the temple.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Love one another. Follow the king!