Temples of the Holy Spirit

1 Corinthians 6:18-19 “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”

When we sin sexually, we ourselves are the victims! Here we could mention all the sad statistics about how much more likely your marriage is to fail if you are sexually active before marriage. Here we could list all the scary statistics about how many people are catching deadly, sexually transmitted diseases. Here we could mention that even if there were no earthly consequences, Paul warns just a few verses above that neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders will inherit the kingdom of God.

We need look no farther than this: When our Lord created man, he lovingly gave us these bodies with all their talents and abilities. He gave us our sexuality as a good gift, a pure and beautiful thing. But when we step outside of God’s instructions for their use, then we are taking these good gifts and twisting them beyond recognition. What should be pure, even holy, becomes overshadowed with shame, guilt, and fear. And who suffers all these things? We do!

In order to help us understand the importance of honoring God with our bodies, Paul asks us to remember “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 the Holy Spirit’s temple. Do you see the warning involved? Do you see how it helps us understand what a perverse thing sexual immorality is? If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then Jesus lives in you by his Holy Spirit. Your body is the Spirit’s temple. That means that you are never alone. Whatever you do, Jesus is your constant companion–not just beside you, but actually living within you. There is not a single thing we do of which Jesus is not an intimate part. If we sin sexually, Christ himself must suffer through the disgrace, because his Spirit lives in us. What a sacrilegious thing to do to our only God and Savior!

But you are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and that is also a wonderful encouragement. Our God will not live just anywhere. He wants his house to be holy and clean. When he came to us, that is not how he found us. So he set out to make us look that way himself. He swept together all our sins, packaged them up, and carried them to the cross. He got rid of them by dying for them in our place. We may continue to track through his temple with our sins, but he continues to scrub us clean in his blood. His forgiveness continues to cleanse us. Now that he has done his housecleaning, he makes our own hearts his home. We have become the temples of the Holy Spirit by faith.

If we are the Holy Spirit’s temples, the place where God dwells, that also means he comes to every temptation we face. We don’t face it alone. His power and purity give us arms and weapons to fight those sins we must fight. They provide legs and feet to flee sexual immorality, so that we can honor God with our bodies.

The Water of Cleansing

Numbers 19:11-13 “Whoever touches the dead body of anyone will be unclean for seven days. He must purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third and seventh, he will not be clean. Whoever touches the dead body of anyone and fails to purify himself defiles the Lord’s tabernacle. That person must be cut off from Israel.”

I once read a report that suggests applying maggots to a wound may be an effective way to clean it out. Apparently the maggots will devour only the dead tissue and will leave the healthy tissue alone. Anyone want to volunteer for the procedure?

I am not painting this picture to give you a creepy feeling. But maybe it can help us to appreciate how repulsive our sin and death make us look to God. In our sin and death, we are like the stinking, rotting, worm-eaten corpse. A holy God can’t stand to be anywhere near these things. That doesn’t mean he looks for ways to avoid all contact with us whatsoever. It leads him to find a way to make us clean.

God gave instructions to Moses for ceremonial purification after contact with death. Why did the Lord make such a big deal about people coming into contact with a dead body? His concern was not for any health-related reasons. The message he was sending his people was spiritual.

Death is the horrible and ultimate result of sin. None of us is fit for friendship or fellowship with a perfect and holy God, any more than the maggot-eaten, decaying body makes an appealing companion for one of us.

To impress this deeply on the hearts and minds of his Old Testament people, the Lord declared that contact with a dead body would bring a special kind of uncleanness. His message was clear: God finds sin and those it kills disgusting. His people need to be cleansed from the stench of death.

We are all in the process of dying. The worn out knee or hip that needs to be replaced, eyes that need a stronger prescription with every trip to the optometrist, hair that is losing its color, or losing its grip on our heads altogether—these all say so. And death is the wages of sin. If we are going to be acceptable to God, we need someone to cleanse us.

That requires more than the little washing ceremony Moses describes. But in the water of cleansing we can see Jesus cleansing us by applying his death to us.

The water used for Moses’s ceremony was no ordinary water. To prepare it, a completely red heifer, a young cow that had never given birth, without any spots or any blemishes, was sacrificed. Only seven to nine of these animals have been identified and sacrificed since the time of Moses.

I won’t bother with all the details of the sacrifice and what they mean here. But there were obvious allusions to Jesus’ person and work. He was a unique and rare person in his time and in every age. Like the red heifer, he did not die because of anything that he had done. He gave his life because of the sin, impurity, and the death of others. This is God’s everlasting source of purification for us.

Unlike the red heifer, this is not a merely ceremonial, symbolic, or prophetic sacrifice. It really and permanently removes our sin in God’s site. It removes the ability of death to separate us from God any longer. Jesus makes us clean by applying his death to us.

Generations of people lived and died between the sacrifice of a red heifer. Therefore, God had a special way of connecting the sacrifice to people even centuries later. The ashes were saved, and they were added to the water used for purification. When the people were sprinkled with this water, he was applying the results of the sacrifice to each person personally.

Sound familiar? Isn’t that what happens at our baptisms? Though Jesus lived and died centuries before us, he died for our sins, too. God assures us of this, he applies the benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice to us today, in the waters of our baptism. “Be baptized and wash your sins away,” Paul was told. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins,” the Apostle Peter promised. This Old Testament water used for purification provides a picture and prophesy of Baptism, where Jesus makes us clean by applying his death to us.

            A bath can make us feel better. Even more, it’s good for our physical health. In our baptisms Jesus refreshes our guilty consciences and brings us the cure for death itself.  

You Can Say Something

Jeremiah 1:9-10 “Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Jeremiah didn’t want to be God’s prophet because he didn’t think he knew how to speak (1:6). He was afraid he would not know what to say. Christians who don’t want to talk about their faith with others are still using that excuse over 2500 years later.

God’s answer to Jeremiah, or to us, or to anyone else who claims that they don’t know what to say is to remind us whose words God wants us to say. He didn’t expect the prophet to invent a message all on his own. That’s the last thing God wants us to do. In some visible way, most likely in some kind of vision, the Lord touched Jeremiah’s mouth. God gave him the message. All Jeremiah had to do was deliver it. What could be more simple than that?

Isn’t it just so simple for us, too? We don’t receive the word of God by direct inspiration as the prophets did. But we still have the inspired word of God available to us. When we read it, hear it, learn it, and practice it, then God puts his word in our mouths, too. There is no good reason for us to say, “I don’t know what to say.” But if that is our excuse, here’s God’s answer: “Get to know my word. Put it in your heart and mind, and I will put it in your mouth as well.”

You see, God’s word goes through our ears into our hearts and minds. But if we are really listening, it doesn’t just sit there. It goes to work. As the Lord told Jeremiah, it uproots and tears down and destroys and overthrows. Do you get the picture? It uproots our sin and tears down our pride and destroys our selfishness and overthrows our rebellion.

Then it goes to work on the positive side. It builds our faith and plants our new life. With all that construction and growing going on inside, it’s not long before the word fills us up and comes spilling back out our mouths. As Jeremiah himself later complained, it will actually hurt to try to keep it in.

Why not get started today? The Lord takes away all our excuses. Sometimes it seems like we are always on the verge of sharing our faith. Someone has said that we are always getting ready to do mission work. Why not get started now?

Not Afraid to Serve

Jeremiah 1:8 “’Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the Lord.”

Earlier the Lord had told him, “I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” What reason did Jeremiah have to be afraid? Jeremiah knew well that none of the nations at that time loved the Lord or respected his word. There may have been a few faithful Jews living in Jerusalem, but most of their fellow citizens had no time for either God’s commands or his promises. The pagan religions around them were more fun. They approved of their favorite sins. They promised instant satisfaction, not future hope and glory. Jeremiah just knew his message would not be well received.

Jeremiah’s fears were realized to a great degree. At best he was ignored and dismissed. The other priests and prophets accused him of being unloving and needlessly negative. Plots were made to take his life. Jeremiah was just one in a long line of faithful prophets whose life was hard because people don’t really want to hear what God has to say.

Are our fears much different? Like Jeremiah, we might not say out loud, “I’m afraid of what might happen if I serve.” But the thought is there. We have seen those who stick their neck out to serve get criticized–even by their fellow believers. If we spend too much time at church, friends, neighbors, or coworkers might get the idea that we are “some kind of fanatics.” Perhaps we are afraid of putting in all that effort just to see nothing happen. We’ve put in all that work for nothing in the past.

But the greater fear is that serving makes my life less comfortable. Honestly, how many of us are interested in making our lives less comfortable? Don’t we pour almost every ounce of energy into making them comfortable as can be? Even when we seem to be enjoying success, it’s still work. In fact, if God grants us success, we might fear that we will be making more work for ourselves. It would be easier, and more comfortable, just to stay home and watch Netflix, or work on a hobby, or go to a game, than to carry the crosses we know come with serving.

The Lord answers our excuses for not serving with a promise, “I am with you and will rescue you.” Our God isn’t some awful task master. We live under grace. First, he sent his Son to live and die for us. He removed our sins, so that the promise, “I am with you,” doesn’t make us tremble with fear. It helps us brim with faith and confidence. The Lord has chosen to be our companion.

And then we know that when we are involved in his service, we aren’t out there alone. He has chosen to be our co-worker. He’s on our side. He is touching our feeble and imperfect service with his blessing, making our service possible with his strength. If God is for us, who can be against us? If God is with us, why do we need to be afraid?

You Were Made for This

Jeremiah 1:4-7 “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’ Ah, Sovereign Lord,’ I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, I am only a child. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.”

God called Jeremiah to serve as a prophet. The main purpose of a prophet was not to tell the future. He was not a divinely approved psychic or fortune-teller. The main purpose of a prophet was to deliver God’s message. It just so happened that God’s message often dealt with the future. It doesn’t take a great deal of thought, then, to conclude that a prophet needed at least some ability to get up in front of other people and to speak to them clearly.

Jeremiah was a relatively young man, and he didn’t have any experience at this sort of thing. He protested that he didn’t meet the job qualifications. “I don’t know how to speak,” “Don’t you think you should choose some silver-tongued, silver-haired orator to be your prophet instead?” he implied.

Jeremiah’s excuse may sound reasonable, but it was actually presumptuous. Even more, it was sin. The Lord had just told him he had created him for this very purpose. He was not asking him if he wanted the position. He wasn’t waiting for volunteers. He was appointing Jeremiah as a prophet. “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.’” Turning down God’s call is not an option.

Not every one of us has been called to serve as full-time prophet. Most of us do not have a call to spend our entire lives preaching. But we would be wrong to conclude that God does not have a role for each one of us in the work of his kingdom.  Our excuses for not serving are just as sinful as Jeremiah’s. It is presumptuous to say “NO!” to God and his work, no matter who we are.

“But I don’t have the skills,” we protest. “I don’t know how to run a stewardship program. I’m not a gifted evangelist. I can’t put a Sunday School lesson together. I don’t know enough about what is going on in the congregation to know what to say or how to vote at a voters meeting.”

Do we ever really know “how to” until we become involved in doing something? I received a lot of training at my seminary. Did that mean I knew how to be a pastor when I received my first call? I knew very little about how to go after the straying sheep. I had never conducted a wedding or a funeral. I had no classes in keeping church records. Until we get involved in the work itself, we don’t really know how.

Then remember the promises the Lord gave Jeremiah. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” Of course, God knows everything. He means more than he knew about Jeremiah’s existence. The Lord was assuring him that, before time began, he knew each of us personally, as his own. He had determined that we would come to faith. He decided that we would know Jesus as our Savior. He planned for us to live in the peace and joy of sins forgiven.                

“Before you were born I set you apart.” The Lord made certain that just you, and just I, would not be like the rest of the world. We have been set apart so that we don’t wander around aimlessly in search of the truth. We don’t live futile, frustrated, meaningless, empty lives. We don’t face God’s judgment and condemnation like the rest of our dying world. The Lord has set us apart to belong to him, enjoy his gifts, and serve the purpose for which he made us.

Since he knows each one of us, since he loves each of us personally, we can be sure that he will call us into work which fits our skills. Then we can trust him to give us the gifts we need to do his work.

Holy. Really.

1 Corinthians 1:1-2 “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ–their Lord and ours…”

Like the Corinthians, we have been sanctified, we have been made holy, in Christ Jesus. That’s not something Paul is looking forward to in the future. He says that it is true right now. And that is remarkable.

Consider the Corinthians. They didn’t look very holy. Sometimes we look at the believers in the early church and we wish for the good old days when the church grew by thousands of people in a single day. The believers all seemed to be full of love and life.

Then there was the Corinthian congregation. Nobody wishes their church was like this one. The congregation was shamelessly “cliquey.” The divisions between the members weren’t even subtle. Richer members avoided poorer ones. People openly claimed to follow different leaders. Godly teaching on sex was so confused that the congregation was proud to have a family practicing unrepented incest. Part of the congregation flirted with worship of pagan Gods. Worship services were disorderly. Many people used their spiritual gifts in a selfish, show-off sort of way. One faction denied a teaching as basic as the resurrection of the dead. Corinth Christian Church was not a happy place.

We may marvel at the issues in Corinth, but let’s pause to consider our own congregations, and our own selves. The churches to which I have belonged have not been strangers to the concept of cliques. Closed circles of friends can make others feel like outsiders. A pastor I know once commented in a magazine article, “Nobody I know has a spiritual track record free from sexual stumbling.” Are we any exception? Look at the silent toleration of impure behavior. Don’t forget about our own lustful thoughts. We may not make a show of our gifts like the people in Corinth. But is that because we just don’t put them to use? What would Paul have to say about us and our churches today?

This is one thing he would say: Like the Christians in Corinth, we have been sanctified in Christ Jesus. As remarkable as it may seem, God says we are holy. That’s not because you and I have never committed any sins. We have been sanctified in Christ Jesus. In him we are holy.

As believers, God doesn’t see us by ourselves anymore. We are in Christ Jesus. All the loving, miraculous, merciful, godly things Jesus said and did are wrapped around us like a big blanket. They hide our sinful lives. All of our nasty, petty, filthy, words and deeds were absorbed by Jesus, and he paid for them on the cross. Sainthood isn’t limited to our future existence in heaven. It isn’t the exclusive privilege of some class of super-Christians. In Christ Jesus, we are holy saints today.

That is why Paul could greet the Corinthians, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” When Paul began his letters this way, the word “grace” in Greek sounded almost like the Greek word for “hello.” The word peace was the standard word for greeting someone in Hebrew, shalom. These words were more than a personal wish. Grace and peace come from God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. We can be sure that we have God’s grace, and that we have peace with him, because Jesus has made us holy.

We may not look like much as Christians. We and our churches suffer from many faults and failings. But that doesn’t change who we are in Christ Jesus. In him, God has made us holy.

See the True Treasure

Matthew 2:9-12 “After they (the magi, or “wisemen”) had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”

On January 6 we celebrate The Epiphany, the coming of the Magi to find Jesus. It is difficult to express in English the great joy these visitors from the East experienced. Our translators simply tell us they were “overjoyed.” This was the most joyful of times for them, and not just because they saw the star. It was not the star, after all, that they were here for. Their joy was in the prospect of finally meeting the Christ child. Jesus himself was their joy.

Their joy wasn’t because Jesus had made their lives fantastically easier. They still had a very long journey ahead of them before they reached home. There was an angry, dangerous king to avoid. Their joy wasn’t because Jesus had suddenly showered them with earthly wealth. In just a short time this same child was going to relieve them of some very expensive gifts. Their joy wasn’t so much because of what they had in this world, but because of what they had in their hearts. They were on the verge of seeing their Savior and their King. Their joy speaks of the great value they placed upon him.

Isn’t that what real Christian joy is about? It is true that Jesus may give us the joy of having some of the things we want, or solving some of our problems, or smoothing some of our difficulties. But for all the things we must do without, the problems that don’t go away, and the difficulties we have to bear, isn’t Jesus himself the real joy? He has given us himself: his love in God’s grace, his life in payment for our sins. These things will never grow less. They can never be taken away. Jesus himself is our true treasure and having him gives us joy.

That is what leads the Magi, these truly wise men, to the next step. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” We aren’t used to seeing the kind worship the Magi offered here. They expressed the great value this child had with their entire bodies. Their bows were not the polite half-bend with which people in Asia greet each other. They got down on their knees in front of the child. They put their faces on the floor. They were saying to him, “You are great and worthy, and we are small and low.”

We don’t have to imitate their body language to share the value they found in the Christ child. When we come to worship in a spirit of humility and brokenness, when we humbly confess our sins and trust Christ for forgiveness, when we keep our focus on Jesus and his wonderful works of love, then we will know this child’s true value. Our worship will lift us up, even if in spirit we are down on our knees.

We may be tempted to measure the value these men placed on Jesus by the treasures they brought. But we find a greater indication in our closing verse. “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” More than God wanted their offerings, he wanted hearts that obeyed him. Perhaps you remember the words the Prophet Samuel once spoke to King Saul: “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).

The Magi avoided Herod as God had told them. The gifts they had given weren’t an empty, outward show. They were a reflection of the value Christ held in their hearts, hearts that gave God their obedience as well.

It’s still true that those who value Jesus will be careful to obey him. Our hearts may not be much of a treasure to give him. Our obedience is shaky and inconsistent at best. But God takes these things anyway. That itself is a gift of his grace, and only adds to the real treasure he has led us to find.

The Only Investment that Lasts

Luke 12:32-34 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Where is this place Jesus is describing here? The purses we use never wear out. The treasure is never exhausted. There is no danger of thieves. There are no problems with moths.

Obviously, Jesus is looking ahead to heaven. But the investment his words suggest begins even now. When we spend our treasures on ourselves, we enjoy the fruits for a little while. It’s fun while it lasts, but eventually it all comes to an end. Homes and cars, clothes and vacations, insurance policies and retirement plans, are all “purses” of a sort.  We put our money in these bags and purses. They hold our treasure for a little while, but the day comes when they are worn out. They lose their value and our investment is gone.

Take that same investment and put it into people. Then what happens? A poor family is attracted to hear about the love of Jesus because they experienced the love of some of his followers. A child learns the whole history of God’s love for him in a Christian school or Sunday school. Someone half-way around the world hears the gospel for the first time because people in our country cared enough to send missionaries.

That family with whom we will spend eternity, who will love us, and whom we will love forever, grows like interest on our principle when we spend this way. Our own hope of bliss with God is safe, not because we make heaven more secure, nor because we created this treasure for ourselves, but because by faith this is what our hearts have come to truly desire. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Where we are looking makes all the difference for how we approach the coming year. Honestly, my own life is an uninspiring and puny topic. If everything revolves around me, I won’t face this year with much confidence. But look at what we have, and look at what we can do, when we are looking at our God and his kingdom. We will have nothing to fear in the coming year.

Able to Invest for Others

Luke 12:32-33 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”

God had taken care of all our big issues of his kingdom, like life and salvation. He continues to take care of all our smaller needs, like money or food, as well. That leads Jesus to this conclusion: We can live our lives for other people.

When he says, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor,” he is not saying we have to sell all our possessions. He is assuring us that God has enabled us to take care of the needs of others, and we can do so safely. After all, God has given us a whole kingdom, right?

Helping others is a major reason for which he has given us our possessions. We might be tempted to wonder, “Why did God give me these things to me if he doesn’t want me to use them all for myself? Why doesn’t he just give others what they need directly and leave me alone with my things?” But the Lord has a lovely reason for doing it this way.

When he asks us to help others, he is giving us an opportunity to demonstrate our love. Caring for someone else’s needs draws us together. It creates or strengthens a bond. In addition to our material support, those we help are lifted up emotionally. They know someone cares about them. God never created us to be independent. He put us here with other people, and he made us interdependent. This is why he gives my neighbor a need for me to fill, and he gives me a need for my neighbor to fill.

We also know what our neighbor’s greatest need is. We know the greatest poverty anyone suffers. People need the Bread of Life. Jesus just promised that God has given us the kingdom. This is the great possession that makes everything else possible. Can we give others everything else and withhold the greatest thing we have? Haven’t God’s promises made us free and confident to do whatever it takes to share the kingdom with others? We need not be afraid to give sacrificially in support of ministry at home or missions far away, because the Lord himself is the one who enables us to do so.