************ Sermon on 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 4, 2003
1 Corinthians 3:16-17
"Wounding the Body"
Topic: ChurchThis morning we are being reminded that God builds His church in much the same way. The Bible pictures the church of Jesus Christ as a building, and each believer is a block in that building. "You yourselves are God's temple," says Paul. Peter says that we, "like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house" (1 Pet. 2:5). And Paul tells us in Ephesians that we are "joined together ... to become a holy temple in the Lord" (2:21) and are "being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit" (2:22).
The explorers who first entered Peru found huge, impressive buildings that may have been standing for as long as 2,000 years. These ancient Inca structures were built of hand-hewn rocks of different sizes and shapes. Some were 3-sided, some 4-sided, and some 7-sided. Without the use of mortar, they were fitted together so perfectly that they have stood for many centuries, even through earthquakes.
I Church - the Holy, Sacred Temple of God
A In the New Testament there are two passages that are sometimes confused with each other since they seem to say the same thing. However, a close inspection of the Greek pronouns shows otherwise. In one text Paul warns of the danger of joining oneself to a prostitute. He says,
(1Cor 6:19-20) Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; (20) you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your (singular) body.In this text it is obvious that Paul is speaking about the believing individual. He is saying that each Christian's body is the temple of the Spirit.
In the other text Paul is no longer talking about the individual. Rather, he is talking about a congregation of believers. He says,
(1 Cor 3:16) Don't you (plural) know that you yourselves (plural) are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you (plural)? Paul's message this morning: the church, the congregation of believers, is also the temple of God.
B "You yourselves are God's temple." There are two Greek words that Paul could have used for "temple." One is "hieron," which includes the entire temple area and structure on Mount Zion: the inner and outer courts, the walls, the storage places, and even the selling booths. The other, the word that Paul uses, is "naos." "Naos" is used of the sanctuary itself, consisting of the Holy place and the Holy of Holies.
The sanctuary, the naos, is where God lives. Here is the ark, here is the cherubim; here lives His Name, His Glory, His Power. From here comes His revelation for the people. And from here the people receive blessing and salvation. The sanctuary, the naos, is where God dwells with mankind and moves among them. The sanctuary, the naos, is where God fellowships with men and women and where they can enjoy His presence.
C The church is God's temple, God's naos. What does this mean? This tells us three things about the church. First, this tells us that the church is where God dwells. She is His sanctuary. In her is His Name, His Glory, His Power. From here – or through here – comes God's revelation for His people. Here God dwells with man and man fellowships with God and enjoys His presence.
The church, the people of God, the congregation of believers, form the temple of God, His dwelling place. But many people don't believe this. They think that if God is living anywhere on earth, it has to be in a ten million dollar building, or a crystal cathedral, or a magnificent edifice set on a hill-top. "Not so," says Paul, for "you yourselves are God's temple."
The church is God's temple, God's naos. Second, this tells us that the church is indwelt by the Spirit of God. The Bible teaches us that where God's Spirit is, there is the temple. That's why Paul can say, "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you" (1 Cor 3:16). A church indwelt by the Spirit is a church abounding in gifts and fruit, a church that ministers within and without the body, a church that grows and increases and matures.
The church is God's temple, God's naos. Third, this tells us she is the body of Christ. More than once Jesus identifies the temple with His body. In an argument with the Jews, Jesus said, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." The Jews scoffed at this because they didn't understand that the temple he had spoken of was his body (John 2:19-21).
"You yourselves are God's temple." The church is being identified as the body of Christ. What happened to Him happens to her. That's why Paul can say elsewhere that with Christ she suffered, with Him she died, and with Him she was raised. And, someday, with Him she will be glorified.
D The church is God's temple, God's naos. And God's temple, says Paul, "is sacred." God's temple is holy. God's temple is special, set apart, consecrated, not used for ordinary things.
Think, for a moment, of the Old Testament tabernacle. The tabernacle and its furnishings were pronounced holy by God, set apart. They were not to be touched by mere humans. And the priests could touch them only after they were cleansed, washed, and dressed in white. Remember the death of Uzzah? King David was bringing the Ark to Jerusalem on a new cart pulled by oxen. Uzzah took hold of the Ark to steady it when the oxen stumbled. Scripture says,
(2Sam 6:7) The Lord's anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.Uzzah touched a holy thing, something set apart by God, something he had no right to touch.
The church is God's temple, God's naos. And God's temple, says Paul, "is sacred." The congregation, in other words, is holy, set apart, reserved for God and His use. Of course she is sacred because in her God dwells, she is indwelt by the Spirit, and she is the body of Christ. But many people don't believe this. They want to believe that if anything is holy, it is a place, a building.
Topic: ChurchUnfortunately, even in our circles people are under the mistaken illusion that a church building is a holy place. Within her walls they try to speak in reverent tones. They leave their hats at the door. Children are told they cannot run, or laugh, or play; instead, they must be quiet, respectful, and solemn. That reminds me of how indignant the Pharisees were when little children were running and shouting in the temple area on Palm Sunday. They wanted Jesus to silence them. Jesus quieted the Pharisees with a response from Psalm 8: "From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise."
When we still lived in Wisconsin, my family and I went to Holy Hill by Milwaukee. According to legend, people have been healed at the foot of a cross erected there in the mid 1800s. So visitors treat this as a holy place. They bow and pray reverently before the cross. They cross themselves. They speak in hushed tones. They worship here and spend time in quiet meditation.
It isn't a building or a place that is holy. It is a people, a congregation of believers, that is holy. "You yourselves are God's temple and ... God's temple is sacred."
II Destroy - a Great and Punishable Offense
A A warning follows from this. Paul says, "If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him." The church, the congregation of believers, is holy, special, sacred, set apart for God and His service. Therefore, no one is to destroy her. Destroying or wounding the body of Christ is a serious offense in both the Old and New Testaments.
The temple of God can be wounded and destroyed from without and within. From without I think of persecution, of attacks, against the people of God. Think of Pharaoh. It was his intention to wound or even destroy the people of God. He turned them into slaves. He killed their baby boys. He chased them to the Red Sea with every intention of slaughtering them on its shore. Think of Haman. At the time of Queen Esther, Haman hatched a plot to kill all the Jews. It was Haman's intention to blot out the people of God. Think of the Pharisees and Jews and how bitterly they attacked the church. More recently, we can point to the attempts of Hitler, the Communists, and the Muslims to stamp out the church.
The church is not only attacked from without but also from within. This is where Paul wants us to focus our attention. There are so many ways that those within the church can wound and destroy the body. All that we have to do is look at the church of Corinth. She was being destroyed from within by divisions, by fights and quarrels. One says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas "; still another, "I follow Christ" (1 Cor 1:12).
We had a wedding yesterday. What a mess. The families were seated. The groom and his attendants were in their places. I was waiting at the front, Bible in hand. The bridesmaids and flower girl had come down the aisle. Ruth began to play the organ, and everyone stood. We could not believe our eyes. The birde came limping down the aisle. Her gown was ripped and covered with mud. One eye was purple and swollen. Her hair was a mess. She had been fighting with her sisters and brothers again. We all thought to ourselves, "Doesn't the groom deserve better than this?"This didn't really happen, of course. It is but a parable of what happens when Christ's bride, the church, has fights and quarrels and divisions. A church so divided brings shame upon the Lord. A church so divided, wounds and destroys the body.
Subtopic: Strife in
Did you know that when a group of thorough-bred horses face attack, they stand in a circle facing each other and, with their back legs, kick out at the enemy. Donkeys do just the opposite; they face the enemy and kick each other!
How often the church does just that – acting like donkeys by attacking fellow believers.
In the church of Corinth there were those wounding the body by adding the so-called "wisdom of man" to the so-called "foolishness of God" (1 Cor 1:18f). False teaching and heresy always damages the body.
In the church of Corinth the body was also wounded by lawsuits among believers, mixed marriages, a spirit of legalism, an improper use of freedom in Christ, and disorderly worship.
In the church of Corinth Paul also pinpoints sexual immorality and drunkenness as being damaging to the body. In fact, Paul and Malachi both let us know that every form of sin hurts the body of Christ, the temple of God. Those who engage in sexual immorality, for instance, often try to tell us that they aren't hurting anyone but themselves, that it is a private matter that concerns no one else. And, those who use drugs or get drunk try to use the same rationalization. But Paul won't let them. No sin is private. Every sin damages the whole body.
Malachi tells us that marrying unbelieving women, divorcing the wife of one's youth, and the worship of other gods is an act of treachery against the whole body. Anytime the people of God break faith with the family, the community, or God the body is wounded.
The church is wounded when its leaders neglect their duties. Malachi faced that problem. The priests no longer learned and spoke the Word of God. They failed to admonish and encourage the people of God. They twisted the Law of God to serve their own ends and purposes. The result was a people who were led away from the Lord.
B God does not tolerate the destruction or wounding of His holy temple. In the Old Testament the penalty for defiling the sanctuary was either death (Lev 15:31) or excommunication (Numbers 19:20). God is no less jealous of His spiritual temple, than He is of the sanctuary built with wood and stone. Paul says, "If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him." This is a twofold promise: a promise to eventually punish those who do attack the church and a promise to safeguard the church.
Think of Pharaoh. The story ends with Pharaoh and his mighty army drowned and dead; like thousands of dead, bloated fish they were floating on the shore of the Red Sea. Think of Haman. By God's providence it was Haman and some 75,000 of his followers who were put to death. Or consider this:
Subtopic: Of God, Eternal
Title: Khrushchev and the Kingdom of God
Nikita Khrushchev once boasted that he would exhibit the last Soviet Christian on television by 1965. Khrushchev has since gone to give account of himself to the Judge of all mankind, and his deadline for the extinction of Christianity in Russia has also passed. Throughout history, so-called big men and little men have strutted across the stages of life defying God and attacking the church. But as with Khrushchev they too have failed and have been called to appear before the Judge of the living and the dead.
God always protects and preserves His church from those who attack her, whether from within or without.
C The church is holy. She belongs to God. She is His dwelling place, indwelt by the Spirit, the body of Christ. So God does not tolerate her destruction. Instead, by God's grace and power, we are to build her up.
How do we do that? We can encourage instead of criticize. We can live at peace instead of fights and quarrels. We can walk and live by the Spirit instead of falling from one sin into another. We can keep faith with each other instead of breaking our promises. We can study the Word instead of following error and heresy.
God does not tolerate the destruction of His holy temple. He wants her built up. So, by God's grace and power, this means we are also to add other stones by missions, evangelism, and witnessing.
You have a choice, congregation. You have a choice between destroying or building up God's temple, God's naos. So tell me, do you destroy or do you build up the holy church of Jesus Christ?
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