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First Corinthians

Temple and Wisdom

1 Corinthians 3:16-23

On the way out to my mother’s house we pass an edifice labeled “Sky Pilot Temple.” I presume this is someone’s sense of humor; “sky pilot” is military slang for a devout Christian, especially an obnoxious one. Americans seem to view the word “temple” as being something rather snootily pious and pretentious. So I suspect the proprietors of that temple are being cynically hip.

Our ancient forefathers would not have understood that. They took the concept much more seriously. The closest English word today which still carries that meaning of awesome sacredness might be “cathedral.” So as you read through this next passage, try substituting “cathedral” for “temple” – and see if the meaning becomes a bit clearer.

(1 Cor 3:16-23 NIV) Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? {17} If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple. {18} Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he 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 men! 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 Temple of God

Most Christians have been taught from an early age that the body – the human body – is the temple of God. This has its consequences:

· The sins of the body are grievous. By this we mean adultery and fornication, for they unite the Christian with someone other than his or her spouse – and make for an abomination. God takes this very seriously.

· The sins against the body are likewise grievous. When I inflict bodily pain and suffering on someone else, God is aggrieved and will not forget. For this reason alone we should consider striking another person to be most serious.

· Yet how little we think of these things! It’s not adultery; it’s “an affair.” It’s not fornication, it’s “sexual experience.” It’s not wife-beating; it’s “putting the little woman in her place.” Be warned: God does not agree.

But there is another sense in which the body is the temple of God.

The church – the body of Christ – the temple of God

It is not clear to all that the church is also the temple of God. We are accustomed to hearing preaching on the first usage, but not on the second. But it is equally true. Consider:

· We, the church, each and all have the same spirit – the Holy Spirit.

· We are described – as a consequence – as one body, the body of Christ.

· Therefore, that body is also God’s temple.

It makes sense. In the days of the Old Testament, if you wanted to find God, you came to his Temple. You still do.

God’s care for that temple

God cares for his temple:

· It is holy, which means it is separated out to Him. Just as we are not to pollute our own bodies we are not to pollute the body of Christ. For example, we are not to bring in strange gods and doctrines any more than we are to have sex with a prostitute. (Have you noticed how often God calls idolatry prostitution or adultery?)

· If someone destroys it, God will destroy him. The word used here is also translated “defile” in the King James; it is usually translated “corrupt.” Paul is not so much talking of physical destruction as moral corruption.

· How can someone defile it, destroy it or corrupt it? There are two methods, and they are related. First, we can bring in the world’s wisdom, doing things the world’s way. For example, there are those who proclaim the Bible to be wrong in this or that – and substitute their own brilliance. The second way is to chop up that body – to divide it.



Problems with the world’s wisdom

It’s usually argued – was then, is today – that man has gained such great wisdom and knowledge that the church is foolish to ignore it. After all, look at all the progress we’ve made in technology! Consider the truth:

· Man’s wisdom is intrinsically bounded, for we are finite. Not one of us can know everything that man knows, let alone all things that God knows. Therefore, no matter how great, our wisdom has limits.

· Our wisdom proclaims itself self-sufficient. Modern psychiatry will save your soul, we say; some preachers preach that way too. But the result of this is simple: it causes us to ignore or forget God. You may reason the elephant out of existence – until he steps on you.

· It causes us to become boastful with pride – after all, we are so brilliant! That causes some of us to look down on others of us; we look down on our brothers and sisters in Christ. (After all, a church has to keep the riff-raff out.) You think it doesn’t happen? What happens when a biker walks into your church and sits down in the front pew?

· Ultimately, what good is it? Some seek Nirvana – the problems of the world cause us no pain because we have ceased to care. Others seek goodness for goodness sake – a tree limb without a tree. Many more simply eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. And then what?

Please note: these problems apply to anyone – the leader who proclaims these principles or the poor souls who follow them. Interestingly, the followers have even more problems.


Problems with relying on other’s wisdom

Leaders who tear at the church using the world’s wisdom would get no where if there were no followers willing to follow. This too has its difficulties.

Why do we follow such leaders?

Because we are so small and insecure! We do not realize the riches that are ours; we are sleeping on a bed of gold, complaining of our poverty.

· In Christ all things are ours! Has not the one with all authority told us so? He desires us to have only the good things; we’re just a little confused on what those things are. Sometimes our blessings are quite well disguised. This is a matter of trust.

· Indeed, one of the “ours” – those very leaders! In the kingdom of God he would lead must be a servant. Rather than tearing God’s temple apart over this man or that, we should regard them as gifts from God, for our profit.

· Do you see it? In doing things the world’s way, we throw away the things that Christ has given us, and substitute the gleanings that we can gather.

Is not Christ sufficient for you?

The matter is worse than you think. If you follow those who set themselves up as leaders in separation, tearing the church apart, you are telling the world what you don’t believe:

· You tell the world that you don’t believe that Christ’s grace is sufficient for you – you must have this, that or the other leader in addition. Can you imagine the insult this is to God – and how it leads others astray?

· Worse, you deny his divinity and his authority. If he is not sufficient for you, then you deny that he is God in the flesh, for God is omnipotent. If he is not sufficient for you, you deny his authority, for he tells you that all authority in heaven and earth is his.



Compare: God’s wisdom

Consider, however, how God’s wisdom compares to this.

· God’s wisdom cause us to be humble. If all things are ours, they are ours as a gift. Therefore, none of us has anything to brag about. We can see others in the same light, and therefore none of us should look down on another.

· God’s wisdom quells dissension. It’s not the teacher or the preacher that counts – it’s the Christ they teach and preach. Thus we are united, not divided.

· God’s wisdom gives us all good things. As a father has mercy on his children, God blesses us with all good things. But like a good father, he does this when we’re behaving!

· God’s wisdom handles ultimate things. Material things come and go; God’s wisdom deals with ultimate, eternal things. God’s wisdom deals with people – it’s not Paul, it’s not Peter, it’s not Apollos (or Graydon or John) – it’s Christ. God’s wisdom deals with life and death. Where in the world’s wisdom will you find the Resurrection? God’s wisdom deals with the present and the future – and tell me, where do your worries lie? If God’s wisdom deals with all of these, what are you bothered about?

God’s wisdom places us in God’s hands, for we are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

· We are in his hands by the power of the Cross, by which we were liberated from the worst of masters – our own sins.

· We are in his hands because we have taken the lordship of Christ – let us therefore not submit to any other in the church.

If we are in God’s hands, in his power and in submission to his lordship, why then do we presume to continue to sin? What then should we do?



Don’t be any man’s partisan

No matter how well spoken, no matter how learned – and especially whether he wants it or not.

Be of Christ

· Be holy, as he is holy. Consider yourself set apart for his purposes, and keep yourself pure.

· Honor him with your body. Be faithful to your wife, for in her you see a portrait in living flesh of his church. Be faithful to your husband, for in him you see a portrait in living flesh of your Lord.

· Live in the power of the Resurrection. Remember that you are heirs of the promise: one day he shall return; the dead in Christ shall rise, the living rise to meet him in the air. He has triumphed over death; he holds the keys of hell and death – and your reward is in his hand.

As Christ is of God

· Jesus and the Father are one. His prayer – and command – are that we should be one in the same way.

· We need to work at being one.

How can we do that? How can we “be one?”

· Place no obstacle in the way of your brother; rather, consider his needs as if they were your own.

· Do not judge your brother; leave that to Christ.

· Follow no leader except as he points you to Christ.

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