1 Corinthians 3:1-17
“You are the temple of God,” and “the Spirit of God dwells in you.”
“We are God’s fellow workers,” and “you are God’s building.”
What shall we make of these most amazing and exhilarating of words?
As Christians, these are probably not new concepts to us, but I wonder how often we let such monumental, miraculous truths become as invisible and unappreciated as the air we breathe.
We understand by faith that God became man and that Jesus was fully God and fully man. By faith, we further understand that the power of the Highest overshadowed Mary and the Holy Spirit came upon her. I believe, as well, that the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples at the day of Pentecost.
But when it comes to believing that the Holy Spirit dwells in me, I pause for a moment. It’s not that I don’t believe this truth: I do! It’s that it’s such a revolutionary and incredible truth, and one that I can’t naturally understand; it’s just that I know my own sinfulness and weakness; and these things make this truth so miraculous that it knocks me back for a moment.
Surely, this is a consequence of God having become man and of God applying the life of Jesus to my own life through baptism and faith that I can say with Mary that God dwells within me!
Now if this is true (and it is), then the implications are mind-boggling. This makes us the temple of God, each individual Christian, for we have been made the dwelling place of God. How God can manage to stay holy and dwell with someone like me who is still sinful defies my imagination. But it’s true: I am the temple of God!
God says I am, and He makes me so, and that means that I am. If every Christian woke up each morning truly believing and acting that he was the very temple of God, I think we’d see a world turned upside down overnight. If we truly believed that we were the locus of God’s presence, His kingdom and power and glory, here on earth, wouldn’t we act a little differently?
But it’s true.
Lest this go to any of our heads, St. Paul also clearly says that it is all of us together who make up the temple of God, and not just one person. Since we are the Body of Christ with different body members, it is clear that none of us is truly the Temple by Himself. None of us has an entirely individual relationship with God through Christ: our relationship to Christ is in and through the relationship of the one Body, which is the Church. If each of us were the Temple of God alone, then there would be many, many Temples, and not one. But the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, is one.
What St. Paul actually says in I Corinthians 3:16 is that “you” plural are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in “you” plural. In I Corinthians 6:19, when Paul repeats this truth, He also uses the plural: “Do you plural not know that your plural body singular is the temple of the Holy Spirit in you plural?”
Why does Paul use all of these plural pronouns when he could have used the singular? He is teaching us that it is truly only all together that we are the Body of Christ, which is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Does any one of us claim to be the Church, the Body of Christ? Then why do we presume that we, by ourselves, are His Temple, as if these are two different things?
One of the greatest tragedies of Christianity is the idea that a Christian can be a Christian all by himself. Together, we are the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit, which is the Church. Do you remember how Paul begins his letter to the Corinthians by chastising them for having divisions and saying “I am of Peter” or “I am of Paul.” The worst of all would for any of us to say “I am of myself!”
If we, together, are the Temple of God and His building (verse 9), then it is imperative that we as God’s Temple manifest His kingdom, glory, and power – together. This is one of the reasons that Christian unity is so important: it is through all of us together that God works. Our Christian lives, our spirituality, our holiness, are not therefore just about what I myself do but also about what I do with my Christian brothers and sisters. How I live in relationship with them and how I labor with them in God’s kingdom is all-important and not just “one more thing” to do.
In fact, all together we are not only God’s Temple but also His fellow workers (verse 9) – the means by which God’s will is done here on earth as it is in heaven. Just as it is God who created us and re-created us; just as it is God who puts family members together (you can’t choose your parents, children, or siblings!); it is God who puts us together as His Temple. Even more astounding is the fact that God uses us to build ourselves into His Temple.
The very people God wants to build into His Temple are the same people He uses to build His temple! This is just another way of saying that those whom God calls as His disciples are the very ones He uses to make more disciples.
What an honor and a blessing to be a partaker of the Master by acting on His behalf in helping to find and make disciples. Some of you will be privileged to act on behalf of the Master and plant seeds of faith into the hearts of people. Some of you will come later and water those same seeds. Others of you will help to cultivate or pull weeds, and others still will have gone before, preparing the soil. One of you will be privileged to be the one who is there when the first shoot dares to poke its head out of the soil.
But this is not another “notch” to put on your belt. Are any of us foolish enough to think that we are actually the one who saved a soul? The miraculous thing is that we are privileged to participate in and truly be a part of the Master’s process of making disciples! It is actually Christ in us, His Body, who is saving souls and making disciples. But since He works through us and in us, we truly participate in the life of the Master in His greatest kind of miracle: the redemption of the world.
The implications of these truths for your lives and mine are so serious and colossal, that I almost don’t know where to begin in applying them. We could all begin, at least, by following the pattern of Mary and treasuring these things up in our hearts and listening for what fruit the Holy Spirit wishes us to take with us today.
Prayer: Lord, I am humbled by Your willingness to share Your life with me and dwell within me by Your Holy Spirit. Make me a fit vessel for Your glory, since I cannot do this by myself. Thank You for entrusting to me Your labor in this kingdom, and thank You for entrusting Your glory in this frail earthen vessel. Finally, Lord, teach me to labor diligently in building Your Temple as You work through me and others in Your Temple.
Point for Meditation:
Meditate on the implications of being the Temple of the Lord. What changes in behavior are required to cleanse the Temple? In what ways are you being called to be more clearly a part of the corporate Temple, and not just an individual part of it?
Resolution: I resolve to spend some time today meditating on what it means for me to be the Temple of the Holy Spirit, both as myself and as part of the larger Body of Christ. I also resolve to listen to what the Spirit is teaching me is to be my role as God’s fellow worker.
Pentecost, San Marco Milan – By permission of copyright holder