3:16 – The Rest of the Story – Our Response 8: 1 Corinthians

A Bible Study exploring all the 3:16s in the Bible as they illuminate

  • the Human Condition
  • God’s Revelation of His Plan
  • God’s Fulfillment of His Plan
  • Our Response (Current location of study)

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” – 1 Corinthians 3:16

I began writing this post over a month ago. Sorry it has taken so long to get it out!

The significance of the temple to the life of the Jew is without question, and the details of King Solomon’s construction of the temple of God can be found in 1 Kings 6. However, when Jesus was confronted by the local religious leaders who were accusing him of breaking the Sabbath, Jesus replied, “Have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here [referring to himself] (Matthew 12:5-6).” Additionally, in John 2:19-22 we read, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven, as the early church in Jerusalem was growing and developing, it consisted of Jews who had become believers in Jesus as the promised Messiah and Son of God. We read in Acts 5:42 that “every day, in the temple and from house to house, they [the apostles] did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” The temple remained a part of the worship experience of the early church. As Christianity spread outside of Judea to the Gentile world, though, familiarity with the Jewish temple diminished. Then, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul made several profound statements to the churches in Corinth and Ephesus. He identified the members of the church as being the temple of God. In two of the four instances of equating the church to the temple, Paul uses a plural “you” to mean that the church, as a whole unified body, is the temple. The other two instances uses a singular pronoun “you”, indicating that the individual believer serves as the temple of God. These verses are shown below.

  • 1 Corinthians 3:16 (plural) Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
  • 1 Corinthians 6:19 (singular) Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,
  • 2 Corinthians 6:16 (singular) What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
  • Ephesians 2:21 (plural) in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

While it’s important to understand the difference between the use of the singular and plural pronouns, that’s a bit beyond the scope of this particular study. Suffice it to say that in the singular instance, Paul is encouraging believers to look at the impact of their individual choices on their own lives and individual witness for the Lord. In the plural sense, he’s encouraging believers to consider the bigger picture of how their actions influence the effectiveness and unity of the larger church body. We’ll develop this second instance a bit more as we proceed in the study of this week’s 3:16 verse.

1 Corinthians 3:16 is part of a longer, continuous point that Paul begins in Chapter 1 and continues all the way through Chapter 4. To set the context, we’ll look at part of Chapter 1 and then pick back up with his thought process in Chapter 3. First, in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 we read:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

Already we see here that Paul is speaking collectively to the whole church in Corinth with the pronoun “you”, urging them to put aside their differences and to not allow these to interfere in the unified operation of church activity.

For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.

Paul indicates that some acquaintances of “Chloe” have informed him of the divisions in the church. We know nothing else of Chloe, but we do know that Paul is writing these words partly in response to a letter from the church which has been hand-delivered to him by people from that congregation. We know the names of three of these couriers (Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Archaicus referenced in 1 Corinthians 16:17), but there may have been a larger contingent which included Chloe’s associates.

What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Apparently, the church in Corinth was becoming fractured along the lines of which Christian teacher (Paul, Apollos, Peter, or Jesus himself) each group was claiming to follow. Paul succinctly asks “Is Christ divided?” This is why he diverges from this discussion to focus on exactly who and what Christ is and why He should be the central focus of the church. He spends the rest of Chapter 1 and all of Chapter 2 following that train of thought, but then he returns to his discussion of divisions in the church in 1 Corinthians 3. However, he references the last three verses of Chapter 2, which say, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” Continuing now with Chapter 3:

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.

Paul points out to the church that they are not looking at things from a spiritual or Godly perspective, but are looking at their church through “worldly” eyes. This is a critical point. When we do things as a church, we need to keep God’s perspective and plan in mind and not seek to follow the “ways of the world” in our activity. This can be a huge point of contention and can lead to division in itself, so care must be taken to look carefully at the lenses through which we view things.

And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

Paul does not negate that fact that we are humans. He just says we shouldn’t be behaving in “only a human way.”

For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

This is getting to the big picture that he wants his readers to understand. When we focus on things which divide us, we lose sight of the things which should instead unite us. For Christians, this unity is the fact that we are God’s children, and more importantly, God’s representatives to the rest of the people on Earth.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

When we become Christians, through faith in the saving power of Jesus, that is only the beginning of our life in Him. Notice that Paul is instructing the Corinthians that they are responsible for building upon the foundation (salvation) that has been begun in their lives. Christianity is not a passive life. Every choice and action that we choose is creating something that is visible to the world around us (the building, if you will) and we will be called to account for the type of material with which we choose to build that building. Paul says, “Let each one take care how he builds upon” the foundation. This brings us to verses 16 and 17, the “3:16” for this week’s study.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Even though Paul has used individual language here recently in talking about being careful about the materials we use in the building of our Christian lives, we need to remember that here he is still talking collectively as well. “Do you [the church as a whole] not know that you are [collectively] God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells [collectively] in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple [the church], God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” As I pointed out earlier, there are times where Paul reminds his readers that their own body is a temple (dwelling place) for God and they must take care of it, and that is true, but that admonition falls in line with a much larger viewpoint that the reason we must take care for our own actions and choices is because of the larger entity to which we belong. We are not acting in isolation, as much as we might sometimes wish. Our choices and actions, both good and bad, reflect on the larger body to which we belong – the church.

I have known people throughout my life who make choices, say things, do things, etc. that I know present a harmful view to non-believers regarding the validity of Christianity and the mission of the Church as God’s ambassadors on Earth. I am guilty of this as well. And I have found myself, at times, almost wishing a fellow Christian who is behaving “like the world” would not let on that he/she is a Christian because of the potential damage it does to the overall work of the Church to bring God’s message of salvation to the world. And likewise, I’m sure some would look at me at times and think the same thing, saying, “how can you call yourself a Christian and do that …?”

This is where Paul is going with his treatise here. He continues in verse 18.

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”

In these verses Paul quotes Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11 to remind his readers that God’s ways are often contrary to the “natural” way that we might do things. This is why it is so important that we choose carefully what materials we build our lives upon. God has graciously given us His Spirit to guide us, but he has also given us His Word to guide us as well. I read a quote from Charles Spurgeon recently. He said, “When asked, ‘What is more important: prayer or reading the Bible?’ I ask, ‘What is more important: breathing in or breathing out?” We must take advantage of every gift God has given us to fulfill our mission while we remain on Earth. Many times I have wondered why God leaves us here once we become His Children, rather than taking us home immediately. And of course, the reason is that we still have work to do and have not finished it yet!

Paul finishes Chapter 3 by saying, “So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” Remember whose you are and take care to build according to His plan! I’ll see you next time when we look at 2 Timothy 3:16.

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