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You Are Not God’s Temple!

written by Ron Cantor
April 20, 2018

Imagine my shock on the elliptical machine, sweat running down my checks, meditating on 1 Corinthians 3, when it hit me! Paul is not talking about exercise!

In the passage, the apostle speaks of rewards in heaven, and then suddenly he starts talking about our bodies being the Temple of God. I wondered, how did he get there? It doesn’t seem to connect. I went back and reread the verses, before and after, and noticed a word I had never seen there: Together. And, boom, it hit me!

And how ironic that I was exercising—taking care of the temple, so to speak—when I realized that eating right, not smoking and exercising had NOTHING to do with what Paul was talking about when he said:

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” (1 Cor. 3:16-17)

Now to be clear, in 1 Corinthians 6, he does refer to our bodies being temples of the Holy Spirit, in regards to sexual immortality. This is why sexual sins are especially perverse, because the presence of Jesus is inside our bodies (1 Cor. 6:18-20).

This is different than his meaning in chapter three. In chapter six, he says “temples” plural. Meaning, the presence of God dwells in every “individual” believer. But in chapter three, he says, that we, together (plural), are the Temple (singular) of God. He is speaking of the entire body of Messiah as being the replacement for the (soon to be destroyed) Temple in Jerusalem.

Why is this Important?

Paul is very concerned about the Corinthians, who are rife with divisions (1 Cor. 1:12). He then rebukes them in chapter three for this (1 Cor. 3:3-4).

We think “worldly” means listening to secular music, but worldly in the New Testament sense, means living life in the carnally—anger, strife, division, pride, jealously, etc. The Spirit-empowered believer is called to live on a higher level. Now, in verse 16 and 17, we see that Paul was far more concerned about their unity than he was about their diet.

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” (1 Cor. 3:16-17)

The word for you in Greek is plural in these verses, hence the NIV adds the word “together” at the end of v. 17 to emphasize that we, the body of Messiah, together, are the Temple of God, not as individuals. This actually highlights something that is unique, and dangerous, about the English language: we have no 2nd person, plural pronoun! “You” can be speaking of an individual or a group. (Only in spoken English in parts of the South in the USA do people say “y’all.”) Sadly, there are hundreds—maybe thousands–of places in both Old Covenant and New when the Scripture is speaking to us as a people, as a congregation, as a collective “you,” but only in the English language can it sound like He is speaking to just one, individual “you.” So when he says that God will destroy the person who destroys God’s temple, he is not talking about individuals smoking cigarettes or over-eating (things I do not recommend)—he is talking about those who cause division!

Causing Splits

The New Testament speaks regarding the sin of schism or division in the strongest language, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person.” In the midst of division, people fall away from the faith—others are led astray. Division and splits break God’s heart because they rip apart the body of Jesus.

Sometimes there are legitimate reasons to separate: gross sin, false teaching or a leader who is abusing the flock. But most splits are rooted in pride and hurt feelings.

Unity does not mean Uniformity

In Paul’s letter, he refers to some being loyal to Apollos, others to himself and some to Cephas (Peter). We could take this too far and say loyalty to a group or subdivision of the body of believers is wrong. That is not what Paul is saying here. There was nothing wrong with the fact that Apollos had a group of disciples that were loyal to him as their leader.

The issue is not the groupings, but the pride that enters in. Once you start thinking that your team is the best, you have entered a dangerous place. Paul was thrilled that Apollos was bearing fruit—he was not thrilled that some of these disciples were overly loyal to a man and standing in judgment of other leaders or movements. My connection with Tikkun International doesn’t cause me to judge other movements. Rather, I celebrate our unique giftings and callings. We can have unity without uniformity, and we can celebrate with work of God in each other.

Conclusion

God hates division—pure and simple! Paul pleads with the Ephesians: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” We must be careful before we speak against a brother or sister. We must make sure that we are being led by the Spirit and not by the flesh. In our zeal for righteousness, we can end up destroying a brother or sister, or more importantly, a young believer. Let’s strive for peace and unity, and yet, never compromise.

Ron Cantor

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