1 Corinthians 3:16-17 “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.”
When elderly Christians become weary of the struggle through life, it is not surprising that they long to go home to live with God. What is surprising is that the God who already lives in heaven not only make his home with us. He makes his home in us. But that is what it means that we are his temple. It may seem redundant to say that God lives in a certain place when we know that he is present everywhere at all times. He is present with us right now, though not in the same sense that you are present and occupy a certain amount of space in a room or on a chair. He fills all things. He permeates the walls and the furniture and the people. He is this vast being, and we exist inside of him, so to speak.
And yet, since the creation of the world, God has always made himself present and available to his people in special ways. He takes up special residence in places where people can find and experience his grace and love. At the time of Moses, he did this in the tabernacle, the mobile worship structure the Israelites moved with them through the desert to the Promised Land. From the time of Solomon on that place became the temple. There God made his home on earth with the people of Israel in a unique way.
Since Jesus has come, God doesn’t use buildings or structures in the same way. Now he emphasizes the fact that he has taken up residence in each one of us by faith. We are his temple, his special home on earth. We are places where people can come to find God’s grace and love.
This is why Paul warns, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.” When members of a church behave in a cliquish or mean-spirited way, they are ruining hearts for the gospel. This is a serious sin. The weak in faith may become disgusted and be driven away. Lack of love among church members convinces them the Christian faith is all a sham. These temples of God are destroyed.
Those outside a congregation won’t be able to see past the bickering and infighting to embrace God’s grace and salvation. Their hearts are wrecked before he gets a chance to set up shop in them. Without repentance, a prideful party spirit and self-promotion destroy the heart of the person who thinks and acts this way. It drives God’s Spirit out. Those who make it impossible for God’s Spirit to live in the hearts of others make it impossible for God’s Spirit to live in their own. There is only one fate left: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.”
But Paul was convinced that the Corinthians had not yet fallen so far: “…for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” These words were more than a warning. They were the solution to the root problem. God had still chosen to make these Christians in Corinth his home. They had this in common. It made them truly important. A sinful human being can receive no higher honor than to have the Almighty God cleanse him of his sins and make him holy, and then live in that heart himself. There is no more prestigious position than “God’s own temple,” no promotion, no “up” from there.
We share this honor. It puts how we treat each other in a whole new light. The people sitting around me, the people who take the opposite side of an issue at a church meeting, the people who always seem to rub me the wrong way, are the Holy of Holies where God himself is living by his Spirit.
It puts how we value ourselves in a whole new light. God’s house is not just a place I go on Sundays. It’s who I am. God lives in me, and that makes almost everything else I am tempted to use to feel good about myself insignificant in comparison. We are God’s temple, his home, together with all our brothers and sisters in the faith.