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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

1 Corinthians 3:16-17; The Jealous God of His Temple

06/02 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 The Jealous God of the Temple;Audio available at:

1Cor 3 [SBLGNT]

10 Κατὰ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν δοθεῖσάν μοι ὡς σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων θεμέλιον ἔθηκα, ἄλλος δὲ ἐποικοδομεῖ. ἕκαστος δὲ βλεπέτω πῶς ἐποικοδομεῖ· 11 θεμέλιον γὰρ ἄλλον οὐδεὶς δύναται θεῖναι παρὰ τὸν κείμενον, ὅς ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς Χριστός· 12 εἰ δέ τις ἐποικοδομεῖ ἐπὶ τὸν θεμέλιον χρυσόν, ἄργυρον, λίθους τιμίους, ξύλα, χόρτον, καλάμην, 13 ἑκάστου τὸ ἔργον φανερὸν γενήσεται, ἡ γὰρ ἡμέρα δηλώσει· ὅτι ἐν πυρὶ ἀποκαλύπτεται, καὶ ἑκάστου τὸ ἔργον ὁποῖόν ἐστιν τὸ πῦρ αὐτὸ δοκιμάσει. 14 εἴ τινος τὸ ἔργον μενεῖ ὃ ἐποικοδόμησεν, μισθὸν λήμψεται· 15 εἴ τινος τὸ ἔργον κατακαήσεται, ζημιωθήσεται, αὐτὸς δὲ σωθήσεται, οὕτως δὲ ὡς διὰ πυρός.

16 Οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι ναὸς θεοῦ ἐστε καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ οἰκεῖ ἐν ὑμῖν; 17 εἴ τις τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ φθείρει, φθερεῖ τοῦτον ὁ θεός· ὁ γὰρ ναὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἅγιός ἐστιν, οἵτινές ἐστε ὑμεῖς.

1Cor 3 [ESV2011]

9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

10 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. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 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. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Paul is rebuking the Corinthians for their quarreling and divisiveness, and showing them that their attitudes are not in keeping with the gospel. He has compared the work of Christian ministers to field hands in God’s field and builders constructing a building. In both metaphors, unity and cooperation is essential, but competition and division would be disastrous. In verses 16 and 17, he continues the building metaphor, and we find out that there is a very specific building that he has in mind. The reason great care must be taken in how each of us build; the reason that each of our works will be revealed with fire, is that the building he refers to is God’s holy temple. Only the best methods, only the best materials are suitable for building up God’s holy temple.

1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Do You Not Know

This is the first of 10 times in this letter that Paul uses the phrase ‘do you not know’. To the Corinthians, who prided themselves on their keen insight and intellect, this would come as a biting rebuke. You, who think you have advanced into the deeper things of God, you who claim to have penetrated the secret and hidden wisdom, you who think yourselves mature and spiritual above others, you have lost sight of the plain, clear, simple, obvious, basic truths! Do you not know? Every believer in Jesus should know this. To continue the building metaphor, you think you are building a skyscraper, but you’ve neglected the ground floor! You are shaky on the foundation truths of the gospel. This reminds me of the Far Side cartoon where the scholar with a stack of books is trying to enter the ‘school for the gifted’, and he is pushing with all his might on a door that is clearly labeled ‘pull’. {Far Side Cartoon for PPT}

You are priding yourself in your great wisdom, but you have lost sight of the basics, of common sense.

The ‘You’ is Plural

We need to make a grammatical point here so that we don’t misunderstand or misapply what Paul is saying. Many take this verse to say that each one of us personally and individually is God’s temple. That is true, but that is not what this verse is saying. We could jump over to chapter 6, where Paul says that each of you is responsible for what you do with your own physical body, because your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (6:19), and conclude that each of us individually is a temple of God. But to import that meaning back into chapter 3 would be to deviate from what this text is teaching. Here, the context is clear that each of us individually are being built into a building and that building is the temple of God. When Paul says ‘you’, the ‘you’ is plural. We may be helped by adopting some southern grammar. If I am speaking to an individual, I address him or her as ‘you’. But if I am speaking to a group of people, I address them as ‘y’all’. This verse would read: ‘Do you not know that y’all are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in y’all?’ Paul is speaking to the group as a group, saying that you all together as a group make up the temple of God. He is not saying that you all are a bunch of little temples running around, but that each of you is built together into God’s temple. Peter brings some vivid clarity to this image.

1 Peter 2:5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

A stone on its own is not a temple. A bunch of stones scattered around, each standing on its own looks more like a graveyard. But lots of stones cemented together on the same foundation become a building. Remember, the one foundation, the only possible foundation, for the church is Jesus Christ and him crucified.

ναός not ἱερόν

We together are being built on the one unmovable unshakeable unalterable irreplaceable foundation of Jesus Christ. We are being built into a building. This is not just any building, so it matters how we build and with what we build. We are being built into God’s temple.

This is another place where our English language lacks the clarity to communicate clearly. We can look in the Old Testament and see that it was unlawful for anyone other than a priest, a descendant of Aaron to enter the temple of God. And we might be confused when we turn to the New Testament and see Jesus, who was of the tribe of Judah, entering the temple to teach or heal or throw out the moneychangers. We see the first followers of Jesus meeting daily in the temple (Lk.24:53; Act.2:46; 5:42). This could be confusing if we don’t realize that there are distinct words that are both translated ‘temple’ in English. When Jesus and the disciples entered the temple, it was the ἱερόν, the temple complex, including the courtyard. But when Jesus said ‘destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’ (Jn.2:19), he used a different word, ναός , which specifically refers to the structure containing the holy place and most holy place, the sanctuary. Jesus and his Jewish disciples could enter the gates of the ἱερόν, the temple grounds, but would not be allowed to enter the ναός, the temple sanctuary.

Jesus identified his own human body as the ναός, the sanctuary. Here, when Paul refers to us being built together into the temple of God, he calls us the ναός, the sanctuary, the very dwelling place of God.

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

The Divinity of the Holy Spirit

This is what makes the sanctuary the sanctuary. It is the special dwelling place of God. Wherever God takes up residence, that is the temple sanctuary. When God’s special presence leaves the building due to his people’s sin, as he did in Ezekiel, that structure may continue to be referred to as the temple in name, but it is no longer the dwelling place of God, and it is subject to being destroyed.

This verse is important because of what it teaches us about God. God’s sanctuary is the place where God dwells. If the Holy Spirit is a different being from God, less than God, an angel or an impersonal force or a created being, then we as the assembly of believers could not be called the dwelling place of God simply because the Spirit inhabits us. But Paul says that being inhabited by the Spirit of God means that we can rightly be called the temple of God. So the Spirit must be fully God, a distinct personality from the Father and the Son, but sharing the very being or existence of God. What makes us, a group of believers, the sanctuary of God, is that God has taken up residence in us. God the Holy Spirit makes his home in us!

1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Destroyers of God’s Temple

This is a stern warning. Paul has cautioned the builders to take care how they build and with what materials they build. He has warned that we must only ever build on the one foundation which has been once for all laid down. He has warned that the fire of testing is coming and many who build with wood, hay and straw will come away with nothing to show for their labor. But even they will be saved, if only by the skin of their teeth. Some build with enduring materials; some build with worthless combustible materials. Now he moves on to say that some are not building, but destroying. Some, who claim to be part of the building, are actually demolition experts, tearing apart the building from the inside.

Some well meaning Christians feel that it is their spiritual calling to evaluate everyone else’s quality of building and rip it down if it doesn’t meet their own standards. According to this passage, all building will be tested by Jesus Christ on that great day. There is room for variety within the body of Christ, and it is not ours to tear down the building efforts of others. Addressing secondary issues, Paul says:

Romans 14:4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

This does not mean that we should not be vigilant to protect the flock of God from wolves. Paul as a caring shepherd exhorts us to take care how we build; he points out quarreling and division and pride as evidence of unspirituality and indicators that we are building with sub-standard materials. He even encourages restorative church discipline for the health of the body (1Cor.5). He rebukes publicly church leaders who are deviating from the gospel (Gal.2:11-14). He warns the church to beware of those who are building on another foundation (Gal.1:8-9; 5:7-12; Phil.3:2), and he is not afraid to name names (1Tim.1:20; 2Tim.2:17). But he does not come in and tear down the building. That is the job of our Lord Christ alone.

This raises the question, what does it look like to destroy God’s sanctuary? If we as believers gathered together are the dwelling of the Holy Spirit, then anything that causes disunity, division, or harm to other believers could be considered destructive to God’s temple. Is your quarreling, gossip, or strife destroying the temple of God?

Jealous God

Jesus loves his church. He died to purchase the church as his bride and he will present her to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish. Jesus nourishes and cherishes his church. Jesus is the one who will build his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against her. Jesus loves his church and he will make certain that she stands for all time. Understand, the church is not this building or any physical structure, but is made up of people, all true followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is passionate about his church. His temple, his people are holy, set apart for him alone, and he will jealously guard his people. If someone dared violate the temple in the Old Testament, he would die. If God so zealously guarded the type and shadow, how much more will he be passionate to defend the reality!

1 Corinthians 3:17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Examples of Destruction

God is serious about his church. This is a severe warning and it is not meant to be taken lightly. Some examples will be both sobering and encouraging.

Acts chapter 4 ends with the newborn church self-sacrificially caring for each other’s needs. Acts 5 tells of one couple, Ananias and Sapphira, who conspired together to lie to the church about their giving. They were not obligated to give. They were not pressured to give. It seems they were looking for status and recognition in the church by a generous donation. They made themselves out to look more generous than they really were. They were using Christ’s church as a means to gain popularity and praise. Peter said that they were testing the Spirit of the Lord and lying to God. God struck them both dead on the spot.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul deals with an incestuous relationship within the church. Rather than grieving over the sin and confronting it; they are proud, flaunting their so-called freedom in Christ. He warns that toleration of those who refuse to repent of sin will taint the purity of the church. He says:

1 Corinthians 5:4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

He extends this disassociation to any who claim to be brothers who are unrepentantly immoral, greedy, an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or a swindler. Delivering someone to Satan for the destruction of the flesh is a sobering prospect, but the goal is that his spirit would be saved in the end.

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul confronts divisions and factions in the church that showed up at the Lord’s Supper. At this fellowship meal some went hungry and some were getting drunk. He accuses them of despising the church of God and humiliating those who have nothing. He says that if they eat and drink in an unworthy manner, they are guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. He says that anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. The unworthy manner in which they participated in communion was not that they had unconfessed sin in their lives. They failed to discern the body, they failed to recognize that they all were part of one body, each members of one another, united as sinners saved by God’s grace alone, equal at the foot of the cross. They were allowing social status and popularity and money to divide the church, and in doing this, they were despising the church of God and profaning the body and blood of the Lord. God loves his church and he takes this kind of disunity personally. Paul concludes:

1 Corinthians 11:30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

God was judging his people and disciplining those who were despising his church with weakness, sickness, even death. God is dead serious about unity in his church!

We will close with one positive example of God destroying someone who is destroying his temple. Saul of Tarsus was ‘ravaging the church’, ‘he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison’. He was ‘breathing out threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord’ (Acts 8:3; 9:1). In Galatians he says ‘I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it’ (Gal.1:13). Saul was attacking the church, and Jesus took this personally. Jesus showed up in blinding light that knocked Saul to the ground. And he confronted him; ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ Not ‘why are you persecuting my church?’ but ‘why are you persecuting me?’ In persecuting the church, he was persecuting Jesus. He had touched the apple of his eye, and Jesus is passionate to defend his bride. He said ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’ (Acts 9:4-5). Jesus showed up in blazing fire to destroy him.

And Saul was destroyed that day. He was undone. His hard heart was conquered, conquered by God’s grace, by his unfailing mercy, his undeserved, unsought forgiveness. He was no longer Saul the persecutor of the church. He was now Paul, the master builder of the church, madly in love with Jesus and death-defyingly passionate about building up Christ’s church. Jesus conquered his greatest enemy and put him to work ‘preaching the very faith he once tried to destroy’ (Gal.1:23). 

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

June 2, 2013 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment