Wednesday, February 5, 2020

God is Building His Temple

In my experience, it seems that evangelicals talk about their bodies being God's temples quite often and rarely talk about the church being God's temple. It is true that there is a verse that speaks of our bodies as temples:
"Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?" (1 Corinthians 6:18–19)
This is part of Paul's exhortation against sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. There he argues that since (1) your bodies are members of Christ, (2) your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and (3) you are not your own because you were bought with a price, therefore, you must not use your body to commit immorality. While many people use this text to argue that you should take care of your body, Paul does not call your body a temple to exhort you to take care of you bodies (although you should), but rather to exhort you to not use you body to commit sin. Temples are holy, so they ought not be defiled by sin.

There are other verses which communicate the same idea of God dwelling with the individual believer, even though they do not use the word "temple." For example, Jesus says in John 14:23, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him."

Nevertheless, the normal practice in the New Testament is to refer to the church as God's earthly temple. (In the following passages the "you" is plural, referring to "you all.")
"So then you [all] are no longer strangers and aliens, but you [all] are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you [all] also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:19–22, see also 1 Peter 2:4-6)
"For we are God's fellow workers. You [all] are God's field, God's building ... Do you not know that you [all] are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you [all]? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you [all] are that temple." (1 Corinthians 3:9, 16-17) 
"What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, 'I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.'" (2 Corinthians 6:16)
Jesus had prophesied that the temple in Jerusalem would loose its significance and be destroyed (John 4:21, Matt. 24:1-2). Rather, the dwelling place of God on earth would be in the body of Christ, the church.

Ephesians 2 teaches that each Christian is a stone that becomes part of the temple as he or she rests on Christ and the apostolic and prophetic Scriptures and is joined with the other stones (i.e. other Christians). A stone on its own is not a temple. God is building his temple by drawing people to Christ and thereby gathering them into the church.

This means that we should treat the church with love and respect. It means that we should live as fellow members of this temple, in love and Christian fellowship, not forsaking the assembly. God has zeal for his holy temple, for the place where his name dwells. As 1 Corinthians 3 teaches, God will destroy those who destroy his temple. In context, this refers to those who were tearing apart the church through jealousy and strife.

This also means that we should promote the holiness of the church, cleansing ourselves from the defilement of sin. This is the point of 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1. This applies to each member of the church, that we might not defile the temple by our own sins, but repent of them, find cleansing in Christ's blood, and endeavor after greater obedience. This also applies to the church as a body, that we should encourage one another in the way of holiness and be holy in the way we treat each other. It means that those who rule the church should be diligent to maintain the holiness of the temple through their teaching, shepherding, and discipline.

This understanding of the new covenant temple shows why individual and corporate holiness should be a priority for Christians. It directs the believer to love and treasure the church. It should also shape our understanding and application of the Old Testament's references to the temple and house of the Lord. God is currently building his temple by building his church through the gospel of Jesus Christ. With this understanding in mind, let us pray that the holiness and glory of the Lord would so fill the temple that all nations would be drawn to its brightness.

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