An Old Idea We Have Yet to Master

“For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” — 1 Corinthians 3:17, NRSV

“My body is a temple.”

We have heard, said, or disliked someone who said that phrase at one point or another. It is a spiritual idea that comes from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, yet we somehow have taken it to mean that one shouldn’t enjoy Pringle’s every once in a while. Jerks…

Anyway, I have been reading 1 Corinthians (First Corinthians, not “One Corinthians,” Mr. President) for my New Testament devotional text, and I felt compelled to use this section from chapter 3 to talk about the purpose of the Christian faith and provide some encouragement for all of us to take it seriously. So let’s dive right in.

Verse 16 of the text says that we “are God’s temple” and “God’s Spirit dwells in” us. It should be noticed (as the footnote tells us) that the “you” in this text is intended to be plural, which serves several purposes, the first of which being that the entire Church (the body of believers in Christ) is considered the temple of God in which the Spirit of God dwells. When we gather and act together (in accordance with our faith), the Spirit of God is powerfully present, revealing the love of God to the world through us. As Jesus says in Matthew, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

The “you” in this text can also refer to the body of individual believers, because each believer is said to have the gift of the Holy Spirit (see the entire Book of Acts). Both our personal and communal lives, therefore, should bear witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ. Whether we are gathered in a church, Bible study, service event, or individually at work, school, or home, the Spirit of God and our connection to it should guide our thoughts, words, and actions.

Too often, however, we are not so intentional with who we are. We react based on how we feel, our instincts, or what will seemingly benefit us the most. Our personal, political, economic, and social lives too often fail to reflect that which we claim to be when we gather on Sundays (or Saturdays or Wednesdays, depending on your denomination). In fact, we have developed a system where this is accepted, known as the confession and pardon of sin.

Not every denomination has this as a formal moment in worship (which also contributes to the problem), but for those of us that do, the ritual actually reinforces the idea that wrongdoing is just a part of who we are. If we say the words with the correct measure of guilt, everything will be okay for US, which is hardly the intended point. Similarly, those churches that don’t talk about sin and the need for forgiveness contribute to the problem by failing to acknowledge that we do harm to others. Sometimes it is intentional, sometimes it isn’t, but either way, it needs to be acknowledged and fixed.

So what does this have to do with the whole “you are that temple” talk? I’m glad you asked. Step into my office.

A self-centered life does not witness well to the love of God with which we claim to be connected. I shall repeat that in bold. A self-centered life does not witness well to the love of God with which we claim to be connected. This holds true for when we gather as the Church and when we are in the midst of our daily individual lives.

Do I go to church for me? Do I go to church for my friends or so I can go to heaven? Do I go to church so I can act how I want during the week? Do I leave my faith in my private life? Do I treat others how I want, knowing I can ask forgiveness from God later? Do I keep my faith strictly personal and make my political, economic, and social decisions based on other things?

These are all good questions to ask, and more than likely, we are all begrudgingly nodding our heads in response to some of them. After all, it is how we were all raised to see church: as a service industry. What’s worse? The institutional church plays right into this role. Church is for us. It is so we can get what we need. It is also for when we have the time to do things for others, but mostly it is for us. It’s okay to admit this, because that is how our culture views almost everything. How is it useful? What does it do for me?

Unfortunately, this is hardly how the faith was designed to work. Our intentions do matter when it comes to what we do. If we gather because we are supposed to or because we are getting what we feel we need, we are not gathering in the name of Christ. We are gathering in our own name, and the Spirit of God is silenced. We unknowingly place an idol that looks like us on the altar of Christ and defile ourselves, the collective temple of God.

When we leave our faith at the church or in our hearts, making decisions based on what will make us the most friends, money, or success, we do the same thing. If we treat our neighbors based on stereotypes, prejudice, or ignorance, we defile the temple of God within us. When we poison our earth because we feel it is there for our uses only, we defile the temple of God within us. The same happens if we believe the lies of our culture and what they have to say about us, our bodies, and our value. Whether collectively or individually, we defile the temple of God when we fail to realize our value and the value of all others. 

So what do we do? We go back to square one. We hit the basics again.

We must re-accept the teachings of Christ daily, resolving to live in a way that honors the Spirit of God within us and within each other. When we gather, it must be in order to connect with God. When we go out into the world, it must be to live in light of that connection. We must be willing to change when we are in the wrong, and to stand firm in the love of Christ when we find ourselves tempted to act in self-interest.

In short, we must daily resolve to seek to both experience the love of God AND reflect it. This takes practice and grace, both for yourself and for others. It is about building daily habits of mindfulness and compassion. It is a journey that will last as long as we are on this earth, but it is one that is worth every twist, turn, and disruption.

I don’t know where you are on your faith walk, but I can tell you that all of us need this reminder every once in a while. Remember that you house the Spirit of God within you, and every decision you make either honors that or… does not. If we can all be more conscious of that, we will all get the chance to experience the love of God on a greater level. It is my hope that you will join me in this re-evaluation, so that we can all be the temple we are designed to be.

Peace be with you!

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