Sermon: “Our Mission as a Church” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
Listen to the Sermon:
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.
1 Corinthians 3:10-17, ESV
We will be looking at 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 today. May God bless the reading, hearing and preaching of his word this morning in our midst.
Yesterday morning as my wife and I were getting ready for the day, our kids said that our basement was wet. So, we went down to look at our basement and sure enough water had backed up from our drain onto the basement floor. Now, i wasn’t too concerned about it right away for a couple of reasons. Number one, it wasn’t my first rodeo in terms of cleaning up water in a basement.
Not in the house we currently own, but in the previous house we lived in in Lincoln. For whatever reason, exactly where our house was located in the neighborhood seemed to be sort of a drainage point so that whenever there was heavy rain we would inevitably get flooded with water. We did all sorts of things to mitigate that, but we cleaned up a lot of flood water in our basement in our day. Not as considerable as some of the things that had recently happened, but it is a lot of work no matter how much water gets into your basement. So, I’ve been through the drill and I realized perspective wise it wasn’t as bad as some people have been going through.
The second thing that I wasn’t too concerned about was that this was shower water, I could still see some of the soap floating in it. So, I was like, no big deal. Nice and clean, ready to go. We will clean this up and go on with our lives, no problem. We called someone to work on the clog in the drain and when they came out, they said, here’s the deal.
If you had a clean water pipe that broke and flooded your basement, that’s called category one water. It’s really clean and you just have to mop it up, dry it out and then you move on with your life. Or if you had rainwater, even though it’s a little muddy it’s a category two. Just clean it up, dry it up and you can go on with your life.
He said what you have here though, even though it looks clean and not a big deal, is in fact what we call sewage. It’s category three water. Though it looks clean, what you can’t see unless you looked at it with a microscope is that it is filled with filth. All kinds of bacteria, and germs and viruses, all kinds of things that could hurt you and make you very sick.
This isn’t a case when you can just mop it up like you have been able to in the past. In fact, anything that has touched this sewage is going to have to get ripped up, torn out and thrown away. There went several blankets and towels as well as some of the carpet, as well as even the machine that I had used to vacuum up water in the past, apparently by using it in that situation, even though I didn’t think it was a serious deal, in fact was now polluted beyond repair and has to be thrown out. It’s really disgusting.
What we often don’t realize as we consider our sin is that God originally created us to be absolutely holy. So holy that we were actually created to be vessels, to be filled with the Holy Spirit. You were created to be a vessel filled with the Holy Spirit. So far as that does not happen in your life or my life, it is because your life is filled with pollutions and defilements and filth that you don’t necessarily recognizes as such. It doesn’t look like a big deal and yet it defiles you and prevents you from being a temple in which God’s Holy Spirit may dwell.
Part of the gospel is not merely about how we may be forgiven. That’s certainly an essential part of what the gospel declares to us. But part of what the gospel declares to us is how we may be cleansed from our pollutions and defilements through Christ.
Here is our big idea for this morning as we look at this passage. God jealously protects the holiness of the people in whom he dwells.
We are going to see this in three points this morning.
1. God’s Place
2. God’s Protection
3. God’s Purification
Let’s start with God’s place. What we see in this passage is that God’s place, his dwelling place, is his temple. Now God is everywhere, he is omnipresent is the theological term. That means there’s not a place in all of creation where God’s presence is absent from there. Yet what the scriptures also tell us is that God makes a unique dwelling place in his temple. There was a physical temple in the Old Testament and what Paul is saying now in verse sixteen is that we are that temple. He says,
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 1 Corinthians 3:16, ESV
Now, this question “Do you not know” is the first of ten uses in 1 Corinthians that Paul uses. It’s only used once elsewhere in the New Testament, which is in the book of Romans. It’s something of a mild rebuke. Paul is saying, do you really not understand this? Have you really forgotten this, or has this not registered for you?
The Corinthians who were so proud of their wisdom, strength, and spiritual gifts. What Paul keeps coming back to is that they really don’t know as much as they think that they do. What he says here is that this issue of being the dwelling place of God is something that because they haven’t considered it has massive ramifications on the way that they live their Christian lives.
The word for temple here is really important because there are a couple of words in the New Testament that could be translated as temple. One word refers to the entire temple complex. So, not only the sanctuary which had the holy place where priests would go in to offer their prayers and would go to the altar of incense. Then also the holy of holies, where the Ark of the Covenant dwelt, where one priest only, the high priest, would go in once a year. Not only that sanctuary proper, but also the other courtyards and all of the buildings with supporting functions around the temple. One word refers to the entire temple complex.
A second word only refers specifically to that sanctuary proper. Where priests alone can go. Where the high priest can only go once per year. It’s this second word that Paul is using here. He’s saying, you aren’t just a general religious being, you are in fact the sanctuary, the dwelling place of God. God’s Holy Spirit makes his dwelling in you. It’s not that you are vaguely religious in some way or generally spiritual in some way, it’s that you are the dwelling place of God most high by his Holy Spirit.
Now this is a staggering claim, and this is part of the reason why Paul grabs them by the shirt and says, do you not realize this?
In order to understand why this is so important, we have to look back at the Old Testament. To see the way in which God in the Old Testament made his dwelling in his temple. The first temple wasn’t called a temple, but a tabernacle. It was a tent, kind of a mobile temple. You could tear it down and you could set it up and God moved from place to place with the tabernacle. The tabernacle was built in the days of Moses and Moses, in Exodus 33:11, was a man that the Lord spoke with face to face, as a man speaks with his friend, is what we are told.
We read when the tabernacle was finished in Exodus 40:34-35.
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
Exodus 40:34-35, ESV
Where Moses was previously able to enter directly into the dwelling place of God, directly into conversation with God as a man speaks to his friend; once the tabernacle was completed, apparently the way in which God made his dwelling in that tabernacle was with no filter. It was with no limitations on the blazing consuming fire of his holy, glorious indwelling presence. Then not even Moses was able to enter into that place.
We read something similar when the physical, permanent structure, the temple, was built in the days of Solomon. Right after, during the days of Solomon, when they brought the Ark of the Covenant into the holy of holies, the sanctuary, we read in 1 Kings 8:10-11.
And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.
1 Kings 8:10-11, ESV
Once again, Moses was not able to enter in once the glory of the Lord indwelt this place. Then the priests of the Lord were not able to stand in the indwelling presence of the Lord.
God’s purpose in all of this was to restore what humanity lost in the Garden of Eden. Namely, God wanted to dwell in the midst of his people. He wanted to be in the presence of his people and once that was no longer possible directly, since Adam and Even had to depart from the Garden of Eden because of their sin, God had to find another way. The way in which God would dwell in the midst of his people under the old covenant way by filling up and indwelling the tabernacle and then the temple. Then God’s people lived directly around the temple and in that way, God dwelt in the presence of his people.
But here is what happened after that. After the days of Solomon, Israel began to fall away from the Lord, to begin to dabble in things that they didn’t think were that big of a deal, but where the equivalent of sewage filth in their presence. God could no longer dwell in their presence because of their apostatizing sin in their midst. So, if you read the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel ten and eleven, you read this dramatic account of how the glory of the Lord departs from the holy place. Then across the threshold. Then even out of Jerusalem all together.
The second thing we read is that he sends the Babylonians to come a destroy the temple all together. God would no long dwell in his people in that place because of its defilements.
That same prophet, Ezekiel, in the last nine chapters, has a prophecy of another temple coming. All these great descriptions and plans and purposes are given for this new temple. One of the things that God said is that this new temple would never again be defiled by uncleanness. Here’s where we read in Ezekiel 43:6-9.
6 While the man was standing beside me, I heard one speaking to me out of the temple, 7 and he said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel forever. And the house of Israel shall no more defile my holy name, neither they, nor their kings, by their whoring and by the dead bodies of their kings at their high places, 8 by setting their threshold by my threshold and their doorposts beside my doorposts, with only a wall between me and them. They have defiled my holy name by their abominations that they have committed, so I have consumed them in my anger. 9 Now let them put away their whoring and the dead bodies of their kings far from me, and I will dwell in their midst forever. Ezekiel 43:6-9, ESV
The prophecy is that God would build this temple and once again he would dwell in the midst of his people. When was that temple built? When the Jews came back from their exile in Babylon, you may know the story of Ezra and the prophet Haggai. God called them to build a second temple, but we never read that the glory of the Lord entered it until the glory of the Lord was standing on its doorstep in the person of Jesus Christ saying tear down this temple and in three days, I will raise it up. He was not talking about the building, but his body, the dwelling place of God.
This second temple, the one that was built after they returned from exile, was still standing when Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians. Paul doesn’t seem to acknowledge it. He doesn’t seem to say, you think that is the temple but let me tell you that you have a different temple going. He ignores it all together! He says you are the temple, have you not realized this? The temple that you were awaiting, the temple that Ezekiel foresaw and prophesied, the temple that Moses was not able to dwell directly in the presence of the Lord, or the priests?
Understand that God in the fullness of his holiness has made his dwelling place in you. Moses wasn’t able to come in, but God has come into you. It’s a staggering principle of the gospel. You and I were created to be a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. It’s a huge part of the gospel. It’s not just that your sins can be forgiven, as important as that is, but that God wants to take up residence among you.
Sometimes we Christians, on our side of the theological traditions, get a reputation for ignoring the Holy Spirit at the expense of Christ. Just as other Christians from other traditions get the reputation for ignoring Christ in favor of the Holy Spirit. But this can’t be so. None of us, no person can be saved apart from the work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
We cannot become nervous about the Holy Spirit because he is critical for God’s work in the gospel. What the Father does, the Son is involved in and what the Son does the Spirit is involved in. Their works are inseparably united even though the Father is doing a distinct work, and the the Son is doing a distinct work, and the the Spirit is doing a distinct work. Yet they are inseparable.
The way this works is this. The Father declares that his riches are all bound up in his Son. The Son is his treasury in which all the riches of God’s love and mercy and grace toward us are contained. God’s love for you is bound up in the Son. But here’s what Jesus says in John 16:15,
15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. John 16:15, ESV
The Holy Spirit is the one who takes what is Christ’s and remember that Christ owns everything that the Father owns, and the Holy Spirit then gives it to us. He is the treasurer of the trinity, the one who takes the completed work and glory of the person of Christ and applies that to us.
John Owen the Puritan wrote this, “There never was, nor is, nor ever will be the least particle of holiness in the world but what flowing from Jesus Christ is communicated by the Spirit according to the truth and promise of the gospel.”
This is a precious promise that God intends to dwell in us by his Spirit. God therefore makes his dwelling place in our midst by making us his temple. That’s the first thing we see here. There’s a flipside to this as well. Here’s what Paul is saying, if God does indeed bless us by dwelling in us, by making his home for us, then God jealously protects the holiness of the people in whom he dwells. That’s our big idea. Let’s see what Paul says in this next section.
If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. 1 Corinthians 3:16, ESV
Now, that’s a very good translation of a very difficult verse to bring out the significance of it. Paul uses the same word twice, destroys and destroys, as it is translated in the ESV. This word destroys Charles Hodge says, “means something into a worse condition.” It might mean to judge and annihilate something, or on the other hand it might mean something more like corrupt.
Later on in 1 Corinthians 15:33, Paul uses this same word to quote the Proverb, “bad company corrupts good character.” It’s to take the character of someone and if you run around with a bad crowd, eventually their character will bring your character into a worse position. And the first phrase here, if anyone destroys or corrupts, if anyone brings sewage into God’s temple, then God will destroy that person, judge that person.
Now if you were here last week talked about verses fourteen and fifteen. We talked about how there are two options for believers. There will be some believers whose work was built on the foundation of Jesus Christ will survive and receive a reward because it survives. But there are other people’s work, because it’s mixed with human wisdom, is flawed in such a way that it will be burned up by Jesus Christ the consuming fire so that those people themselves will be saved but they will only escape as through a fire.
What Paul is saying here is that there is actually a third option. There are those who are not just mixing human wisdom and human ideas in the way that they are building upon Jesus Christ in the church. But there are some people who are corrupting God’s temple in such a way that they will neither receive a reward, nor will they be saved. In fact, God will destroy and judge them, he will pour out his everlasting eternal wrath upon them in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ because they have defiled the house of God.
There’s a warning here and an encouragement here. The warning is this, you were created to be a vessel for the Holy Spirit. Whether you are a Christian or not, God’s intentions for you have been that God would fill you up with his Holy Spirit. But as long as you remain apart from Christ, you are not a fit vessel for the Holy Spirit to make his dwelling place. Because you have polluted and defiled the temple of God, the warning is that there is a day coming when the Lord Jesus Christ will come to judge. The Lord Jesus Christ will look upon your impurities and pollutions and see that no provision has been made and the you have not sought what God has provided for you in Jesus Christ and therefore the Lord will judge you.
So there is a warning, do not rely upon yourself. You think that you can clean this up, a little mopping here and there will clean it up. what you cannot see is the you in fact have something so defiling that unless it is properly treated, it must be carried away for good. The proper treatment came at the cost of God’s only Son. Jesus Christ came not just to be judged as guilty in your place so that you could be counted as righteous. That’s true but it’s not the whole story.
It’s also the case the Jesus Christ shed his blood for you at the cross, so that you could be purified of your defilements. So that you could stand pure and spotless and white before the Lord on the day of his coming. Paul has already talked about this. Do you remember the very beginning of this letter? In 1 Corinthians 1:2, in the way that he addressed the church of Corinth.
2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 1 Corinthians 1:2, ESV
Sanctified means made holy. He’s talking first of a positional kind of holiness. Of those who have been cleansed of the pollution of this world and our sin by the blood of Jesus Christ. But then he goes on to talk about those who are called to be saints. This is not only a position where we are cleansed and covered by the blood of Jesus Christ so that we are pure before God. It is also a process, a calling, that God calls us to be ongoingly purified over the course of our lives. By virtue of being a fallen human being living in a fallen world, we are still surrounded by pollutions. In fact, some of the flesh still remains in us so that we sin far more often than we would care to.
The gospel of Jesus Christ says that all those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be purified, sanctified, cleansed, brought into a right relationship with God by being made pure and holy and righteous in Jesus. The gospel also declares that is just the beginning. God has so much more sanctification by the blood of Jesus Christ. When God pours out his Holy Spirit to dwell in you, God will finish that work. The warning is to flee from the wrath to come through Jesus Christ who delivers us from the wrath to come.
Here’s the encouragement. God won’t allow you to stay where you are if you are in Christ Jesus. Some of you are struggling with sins and pollutions and you wonder how long O Lord will I struggle with this? What God says is that he is jealously, like a husband to his wife, jealously pursuing your purity and good. God is jealously pursuing the purity of the people in whom he dwells.
The next question that Paul has to answer is how does Paul do this? The answer is that God does this by sanctification. So, we come to the third point.
God’s purification which happens through sanctification.
For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:17, ESV
What Paul is doing is drawing from everything that God has said about his temple in the scriptures. That God’s intention was for his temple to be holy and undefiled. Everything that has to be removed in order for the temple to be purified and holy, God will do. This is why Jesus cleansed the temple while he was here on earth.
It’s kind of a strange story. Jesus walks into the temple and starts overturning tables. We don’t read that he returns unless perhaps there was an initial cleansing of the temple that John talks about early in the gospel versus the cleansing of the temple that happened at the very end of Jesus’ life and ministry before he went to the cross, recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Perhaps those are talking about the same issues, maybe not.
Once or twice Jesus cleansed the temple. Why? Because Jesus was giving us a picture of what he does to his temple. He cleanses it and removes impurities. He applies the blood of his cross to you to cleanse you from all defilements. Again, this means much more than to simply say that we have been forgiven. That’s so critical, that if you are in Christ your guilt has been put on Jesus and he has been judged in your place. You are counted righteous and not guilty through Christ in faith.
This means so much more than this. In Christ it’s not a done and over with idea, but an idea that God is saying that I love you so much that I’m going to cleanse every last defilement in your life.
Brother and sisters, we are not our own, we were bought with a price. We don’t determine our own destiny; we don’t set our own rules. We are blood bought by Jesus Christ and God is calling us to continually progress in sanctification in Christ. That is a lifelong process that will not be completed this side of glory. Every day, every moment of our lives is one more opportunity to be conformed and committed to the purposes of God for us in Jesus Christ holiness.
We could take that a lot of different directions, but let me simply close with a way to think about the campaign that we have been in. In this campaign we are considering what it means to be committed to the Lord as holy. Now I’m going to say something that may sound surprising for someone who has beat the drum for this campaign for twelve weeks. I don’t want you to give a dime beyond what God would have you give. I won’t give you any amount that I would want you to give because my desires are irrelevant. You are not to be committed to my purposes, your pastor’s purposes for you, or your elder’s purposes for you.
You are being called to be committed to the Lord’s purposes. That means a lot of different things and the Bible doesn’t spell out what each of us are called to give. That’s why since the beginning we have asked you to pray and seek the Lord’s will. You could look at two gifts and there was one that was very very large, and we could look at it and say that is wonderful.
The issue is about the one that Jesus pointed out, which is that someone who gives just two small coins, perhaps have given more than the one who has given much. It’s not about equal giving, but about equal sacrifices. It’s up to us to seek what the Lord would have us do, and this is why I don’t want to know what your pledge is because I have no way of judging way. I have no way of knowing what your budget is, what opportunities you have, nor do I know what the Lord is calling you to do.
This has been from first to last been about a free will offering. This has been, just like in your parenting, marriage, how you conduct yourself in your job or classes, all of these small things in life are one way to be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ.
The question that we have to always be asking ourselves is, Lord what would you have me do? How would I be dedicated to your purposes rather than walking in mine? I’m not your conscience, I’m not the Lord of your conscience, God is. The Holy Spirit is. At the end of our service today, there is an opportunity, if you feel called to do so, to bring your pledge up and lay it in the basket.
We will give that to the treasurer and count them up and see what we have to work with in terms of seeing Harvest’s future. We will see if we have the money we need to repair our building so that we can build up our facilities. To build out our outreach and to, Lord willing, build new churches through Jesus Christ and church planting. All of this, we put before you and ask that you be prayerfully considering how the Lord would have our church dedicated to the holy calling of Jesus Christ. That’s according to his purposes not mine.
Let’s pray. Lord I pray that you would call us individually. You are the one who knows all things, sees all things, you know every element of what I spend my money on and what my bank account looks like and places that I can sacrifice. You know all of that information in a way that no one else does, and perhaps I don’t even have a full grasp on it. But Father that’s why it’s so important for us to seek your will and seek your face. That we would do what you call us to do. Father I don’t want anyone to give one dime more or one dime less than you would call them to do.
Ultimately Father, this is an opportunity to practice faith driven obedience to the leadings and promptings of the Holy Spirit. So, Father I ask that you would put a conviction on every heart and I pray Father that no one would give more or less than what you have committed us, but that all of us would be faithful and obedient to what you have called us to do. You have called us to be cheerful, sacrificial givers and I pray that through this campaign you have stretched all of us in that area. We now commit it to you and ask that you would be glorified in the extraordinary generosity of your people. We pray this in Christ’s name and for his glory and for our great joy and good. Amen.