You are not God’s Temple! The True meaning "God's Temple" in 1 Cor. 3:16-17

Ron Cantor —  April 16, 2018 — Leave a comment
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Wow, Ron! That was harsh.

I know, forgive me, but imagine my shock on the elliptical machine, sweat running down my checks, meditating on 1 Corinthians 3, when it hit me! Paul is not talking about exercise!

In the passage, the apostle speaks of rewards in heaven, and then suddenly he starts talking about our bodies being the Temple of God. I wondered, how did he get there? It doesn’t seem to connect. I went back and reread the verses, before and after, and noticed a word I had never seen there: Together. And, boom, it hit me!

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And how ironic that I was exercising—taking care of the temple, so to speak—when I realized that eating right, not smoking and exercising had NOTHING to do with what Paul was talking about when he said:

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” (1 Cor. 3:16-17)

Now to be clear, in 1 Corinthians 6, he does refer to our bodies being temples of the Holy Spirit, in regards to sexual immorality. This is why sexual sins are especially perverse, because the presence of Jesus is inside our bodies.

“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Cor. 6:18-20)

This is different than his meaning in chapter three. In chapter six, he says “temples” plural. Meaning, the presence of God dwells in every “individual” believer. But in chapter three, he says, that we, together (plural), are the Temple (singular) of God. He is speaking of the entire body of Messiah as being the replacement for the (soon to be destroyed) Temple in Jerusalem.

Why is this Important!?

Hang with me friends—it is soooo important.

Paul is very concerned about the Corinthians, who are rife with divisions:

“One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Messiah.’” (1 Cor. 1:12)

He then rebukes them in chapter three for this.

“You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings?” (1 Cor. 3:3-4)

We think “worldly” means listening to secular music, but worldly in the New Testament sense, means living life in the carnally—anger, strife, division, pride, jealously, etc. The Spirit-empowered believer is called to live on a higher level. Now, if we skip to verse 16 and 17, we will see that Paul was far more concerned about their unity than he was about their diet.

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” (1 Cor. 3:16-17)

The word for you in Greek is plural in v. 16 and 17, hence the NIV adds the word “together” at the end of v. 17 to emphasize that we, the body of Messiah, together, are the Temple of God, not as individuals. When he says that God will destroy the person who destroys God’s temple, he is not talking about smoking cigarettes or over-eating (things I do not recommend)—he is talking about those who cause division!

Causing Splits

In the western world, it is nothing for an elder or associate pastor to split his congregation. How many churches today resulted from a disgruntled leader who left his former congregation to start a new work in the same city? Wounded feelings or pride, can lead us to deception, believing that God has called us to leave and take people with us. In my early years in Israel, I almost did that. Fortunately, I have godly leaders who kept me from doing something extremely sinful. We embraced the one year/different city rule. Either you plant in a different city or you wait a year.

The New Testament speaks regarding the sin of schism or division in the strongest language, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person.” In the midst of division, people fall away from the faith—others are led astray. Division and splits break God’s heart because they rip apart the body of Jesus.

Sometimes there are legitimate reasons to separate: gross sin, false teaching or a leader who is abusing the flock. But most splits are rooted in pride and hurt feelings.

Years ago, I was involved in a nasty split. Let me say that I am not writing this to cast blame—we were all guilty on some level. Because this was a well-known ministry, the ripple effect was worldwide. The fruit was rotten. Families took sides against each other. Pastors and congregants were divided. Roommates stopped talking to each other. This was why Paul was so upset. I am happy that all the leaders that were connected to that split have been reconciled, but that doesn’t change the fact that the division caused damage to Yeshua’s body.

Unity does not mean Uniformity

In Paul’s letter, he refers to some being loyal to Apollos, others to himself and some to Cephas (Peter). We could take this too far and say loyalty to a group or subdivision of the body of believers is wrong. That is not what Paul is saying here. It is fine that there are Baptists, Assemblies of God or Messianic Jews. There was nothing wrong with the fact that Apollos had a group of disciples that were loyal to him as their leader.  I, myself, am part of Tikkun International—a group of about 40 ministries and congregations that are likeminded.

The issue is not the groupings, but the pride that enters in. Once you start thinking that your team is the best, you have entered a dangerous place. Paul was thrilled that Apollos was bearing fruit—he was not thrilled that some of these disciples were overly loyal to a man and standing in judgment of other leaders or movements. My connection with Tikkun International doesn’t cause me to judge other movements. Rather, I celebrate our unique giftings and callings. I don’t think everyone should be a part of my group. I see people here in Israel who are doing amazing things in the kingdom of God and who are not part of my group.

My friends at One for Israel have produced powerful video testimonies and apologetics. My friend, Israel Pochter, is planting congregations and winning many to the faith. Oded Shonshani is someone to whom I look up, as he leads what may be the largest Hebrew-speaking congregation in Israel. And Chad Holland, someone I once mentored, is doing an amazing job in expanding the work of King of Kings. We can have unity without uniformity, and we can celebrate with work of God in each other.

Conclusion

God hates division—pure and simple! Paul pleads with the Ephesians: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” We must be careful before we speak against a brother or sister. We must make sure that we are being led by the Spirit and not by the flesh. In our zeal for righteousness, we can end up destroying a brother or sister, or more importantly, a young believer. Let’s strive for peace and unity, and yet, never compromise.

 

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