In I Corinthians 3:16 St. Paul makes a startling statement that, if we truly understood it, should make your whole body tingle with electricity. For he asks: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God?” The meaning of Pentecost is this: the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ has filled the Church to make us the living Body of Jesus Christ. Simple, but so extraordinarily profound that even once we understand the significance of Pentecost, we must spend the rest of our lives trying to live out its revolutionary implications.
In Greek, this phrase, “Do you not know?” always introduces an indisputable statement – but one that is not commonly understood. And so God, through the mouths of St. Paul and myself, asks you this morning: “Do you not indisputably know that you are the temple of God?” From the original Greek, we also know that Paul is saying that the church at Corinth – all together (as with us) – is the temple of God.
This theme of the Church being the Temple of God is all throughout the New Testament, once you see it, and it is the essence of the gospel, and not some peripheral tangent. To say that we are the Temple of God is to say nothing less than that God has come to live in His people, which is the goal of all history.
In Ephesians 2:19-21, St. Paul says, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you are also being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
In I Pt. 2:5 St. Peter says, “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house.”
To the first century Asian Church of Philadelphia, Jesus Christ says, in Revelation 3:12, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God.” And St. John is inspired to write in Rev. 21:2, 3 “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He shall dwell with them, and they shall be His people.” Of course St. John is imitating his own Gospel (1:14) where he writes, “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory.”
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God?”
All throughout the Old Testament God promises to be with His people, to make His dwelling place among men. He does this first in the tabernacle, and second in the Temple – and these are filled with the glory of God. But these are merely outward, physical manifestations of how God will truly dwell with men: inside them, as His people
But God says that now – we, the Church, are God’s holy city, His dwelling place, the New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven. The temple is not something outside that we go into. It is right here, right now: it is the Church. The Church isn’t the building: it’s the people of God whom God inhabits – and from us proceeds the external building of the Church.
Moses came to a mountain burning with fire, covered in blackness and darkness, shaken by tempests and earthquakes and thunder and the voice of a trumpet. But this glory of God was outside of Israel in one sense, and only Moses was privileged to see it up close.
In the New Covenant, in our Covenant with God, initiated by Jesus Christ, God is with us in a way far superior to the Old Testament. He began this work in the Incarnation of His Son. God became man so that He could dwell among us, and the glory of the Father was revealed through a man. But now where do we find the Body of Christ? Yes, He has ascended into heaven, but does that leave us orphans here on earth? Jesus promised His Spirit, but is there no Body, no temple here on earth?
And this is why Pentecost is so important. In Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after the Resurrection, God breathes the Spirit of Christ into the Body of Christ and makes the Church His Temple, the place where He dwells!
This is a truth so beautiful, so profound, that it ought to transform the way you see what we do together as the Body of Christ, as His temple. As you pray and meditate on your life – our life – in this church, [fill in your own local church’s name], always remember that we are the temple of God. Each of us, and all of us together, must be holy, as God is holy. You must each act each moment of your lives as if God is right in this room – or your kitchen – or your workplace room – and live accordingly.
We are the true temple, not made with human hands – but built by God. Just as God could raise up children of Abraham from stones, He can build His temple without any of us. Though Paul describes himself in verse 10 as a master builder – and undoubtedly he was – he is only so according to the grace which was given to him. Don’t forget that it was this same great Paul who heard Jesus tell him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
And yet perhaps the most overwhelming part of all is not just that we are God’s holy temple or that God is building His temple in our midst – it’s that because we are united with Christ (we dwell in Him, and He in us) that God has given us a role in building His temple.
God could do it any way He wanted: He could blink His eyes, or wiggle His nose, or simply will whatever He wanted. But He chose to build His temple with people like you and me. If we really are the Body of Christ on earth, then God builds, but He builds through us – for He has equipped us, by His Spirit, to do His work with Him. We are fellow laborers with Jesus Christ, the Master Builder!
I love the old cathedrals of Europe. They represented the best of man’s gifts and talents all being brought together by a master builder to build God’s Temple. But the master builder was surrounded by a company of masons (of several varieties), carpenters, glass workers, sculptors, etc.
The Lord is in His holy Temple, and He’s recruited you to build with Him. Just as He equipped Bezalel and Oholiab with great artistic gifts to build the tabernacle in the Old Testament, God has given you extraordinary gifts to build His Temple. In fact, He has given you the gifts of the Holy Spirit to build His temple. He gave you His Spiritual gifts so that you might edify (build) the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). More than this, He has given You Himself, through His Son, by His Holy Spirit who dwells in you.
God is in His holy temple, building what He began, and therefore, “Let us all take heed how we build upon it.”
Who will build with Him? What are you waiting for?
No, really. I mean it. Get to work!
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:
- What visceral, gut-level response do you have (if any) to remembering that the Holy Spirit dwells in you? What response should you have to remembering this?
- What parts of your life grieve the Holy Spirit? Repent from them.
- What work do you think that God may be calling you to do but which you lack courage to pursue? Remember that the Holy Spirit is also the En-courage-r!
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.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson