16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people (i.e. “us”):
Later in the letter we will see Paul reference a human person’s physical body as a “temple of God.” Through the centuries, many have made the mistake of reading this text in light of this later one which has led to missing the essential meaning of vv.16-17. In other words, while the reference in chapter six is clearly about an individual’s physical body, today’s text is about something much larger: the local church.
We so readily read the Bible as though it were written to us as individuals. While there is much to be said about individual application, the Bible, for the most part is speaking to us as a people—God’s holy people. Being an individualistic society, we see the personal pronoun “you” as meaning “me” when most of the time in Scripture the “you” should be interpreted as “us.” This does not diminish the individual in the least. If anything, it creates a context of loving accountability for the individual to actually become a real Christian and not just an outwardly religious one.
John Wesley once famously said something to the effect of, “There is no holiness apart from social holiness.” This gets routinely misinterpreted as having something to do with social justice. While Wesley was all for social justice, this is not what he meant when he said this. His point is that it is impossible to become holy alone. Becoming holy only happens in a community of people actively participating in the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work among them. While a person can only be justified before God alone, as an individual, people can only be sanctified, or made holy, together—in the midst of a community. The people together are the temple of God. God’s Spirit tabernacles in the midst of God’s people; not apart from the world but right in the midst of the world.
This calling to be God’s holy people—which you will remember is the banner we are stretching across every page—is not a calling to offer an alternative religion to the larger community but an alternative demonstration of the good and true and beautiful life of the living God unleashed in the world.
One of the consistent bottom lines running through all of Paul’s communications to local churches—and this one chief among them—is this calling to become a dramatically different kind of community than the surrounding culture.
When Paul says, “Don’t you know,” (and he says it no less than ten times in this letter) he’s in effect saying, “Wake up people! You are God’s alternative offer in the midst of this lost world. The Holy Spirit dwells in your midst! You are the Church in this city! You are the Corinthians’s last and best hope. Humble yourselves now that you may rise up into the lives for which you were made.”
The truth? He’s saying that to our local churches today. What if we really heard this? I suspect that the extent to which a local church becomes deeply aware of God’s Spirit dwelling in their midst is the difference between being a local church that matters and one that does not.
Our Father, thank you for the way you make me a temple of the Holy Spirit. And thank you for the way you make us together the temple of the Holy Spirit in the midst of this world. I confess I am stuck in my own brokenness apart from relationships with others yet by your Spirit in the midst of relationships with others I am being made holy. Come Holy Spirit and lead me deeper into the kind of community where you can make me a gift to others and others a gift to me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
1. What would it mean for your local church to be so alive in the Holy Spirit who is in your midst that it became a beautiful thing to the surrounding community? How is this happening in your church? What would need to change for this to happen?
2. What is the level of awareness among your community of believers of the this reality: “The Holy Spirit dwells in your midst.” How could that awareness grow? What are the implications of this awareness not growing? (Resist the temptation to blame the lack of awareness on the church’s leaders).
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