Monday, December 12, 2011

Taking Care of the Temple

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!

Audio on this Subject: Let Love Rule , One Mind


Pi Man said...

I’m not sure which NIV revision you quoted, Bro, but the NIV revision of 1984, considered by many the most reliable and accepted among theologians, as it was translated by over 100 biblical scholars over many, many years as they studied the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts, says “16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? (not “in your midst”)17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple (not “you together are that temple”). Other major translations appear to emphasize the singular meaning as well, and not the plural. That said, certainly I don’t want to turn this into a debate over translations as I know and respect your position on that. So rather than that, I want to say I respect your new (to me, anyway) interpretation of these verses and will certainly think about this for some time. May I suggest though, that it is not necessarily a “mutually exclusive” argument, but rather it may be “two sides of the same coin.” Wouldn’t you agree that the Holy Spirit indwells the individual believer personally and intimately, and the Holy Spirit is also made manifest within the corporate gatherings/assemblies as well? If so, then it’s not a stretch at all for the meaning to imply that we shouldn’t intentionally harm the creation of God (our body) which is the temporary dwelling place of the Holy Spirit (for that person) or the presence of the Holy Spirit in corporate worship. And I’m not saying that is the only way the Holy Spirit manifests itself. But it is probably the most intimate from an indwelling perspective. So from that perspective, I don’t have a problem with the former interpretation. Thanks for making me think, as always. Peace. TA

Crispin Schroeder said...

Thanks for the comment. i actually think that even the 1984 NIV is trying to emphasize the plural aspect by saying, "you yourselves" rather than simply "you" which could be singular or plural in English but is many times naturally seen as singular in our culture. The actual translation here is plural which is why the updated version of the NIV is probably a better rendering.

One of the points that I am trying to make in this post is that when one reads these passages in context of the whole book of 1 Corinthians one can see that Paul was, for the most part, dealing with sins in their relationships with one another - pride, preferential treatment, cliques, schisms. This is also made very clear when Paul calls the church the "body of Christ", one body made up of many different parts with different gifts. Paul's point there, like with the temple analogy is that if they keep elevating or minimizing their individual gifts against others then they are failing to live in the reality of being a unified body of believers.
Now this is not to minimize our individual relationships with the Lord. In one sense we are little temples ourselves but I think what Paul is hitting on is that a person can have an individual relationship with God and yet fail to live that relationship out with others in the community of faith and thus fail to live in the reality of the temple/body of Christ.

Pi Man said...

Awesome conclusion, Bro! Thank you. TA