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1 CORINTHIANS – SERIES : NR 9
Theme : Truth that liberates
Scripture : 1 Corinthians 3 : 16 – 23

One can see that the thought processes of the Apostle Paul – the human author of the 1 Corinthians-letter – are taking a new direction.

In the previous paragraph he emphasised three essential truths:
1 > Christ Jesus and the true doctrine of the truth is the foundation upon which His church is built and the apostles were the ones who laid the foundation once and forever. Nothing can be added or taken away from it.
2 > Throughout the centuries that followed, building work upon that foundation took place. By preachers of the Word, but also by every true Christian person. And he elucidates what this building work implies.
3 > God will reward each person according to his/her building work.

But now he gets to the REASON for all of it.

READ VERSE 16 AGAIN

The church of Christ must come to the definite realization that they are the temple of God and that God the Holy Spirit dwells in them. There is no longer an earthly temple, with a Holy of Holies where the Shekinah glory of God dwells. The temple is no longer some or another building. It is people. It is the congregation/church/ecclesia of Christ. THERE is where the Holy Spirit now dwells. In the individual saved person, and also in the church as such.

What a significant truth that is!

Often in the NT the church is called the TEMPLE OF GOD – for example in 2 Cor 6:16, Eph 2:21 and 1 Pet 2:5. And it is no mere figure of speech. It is meant absolutely literally. God literally lives in His church. As was the case in the OT era with the tabernacle and the temple in Jerusalem.

We saw in our study of the Tabernacle how the Shekinah glory of God’s presence in the Holy of Holies above the Ark of the Covenant and the mercy-seat was visible in the desert to the nation Israel in the appearance of a cloud (by day) and fire (by night). God was literally IN His temple.

While in the New Covenant, the temple is the PEOPLE. Not all people, but those who were supernaturally made alive in Christ, and who are embracing with faith-confidence Christ with all His merit. They are ALWAYS visibly gathered in concrete churches.

There are in the Greek two words for TEMPLE and the one used here, NAOS, refers specifically to the immediate presence of God. And that correlates 100% with that which the Apostle is saying here, namely that the Holy Spirit lives IN the believers and IN the church. The Holy Spirit has therefore led the Apostle Paul to use the word NAOS because it correlates with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and therefore with God’s immediate presence – not only in the life of the individual born-again person but also in the children of the Lord TOGETHER as the body of Christ and specifically gathered in the local church.

The Greek word from which the word CHURCH is derived is CURIAKE – which means THE LORD’S. And the Greek word from which CONGREGATION is derived is the word ECCLESIA – which means THE CHOSEN ONES. Add the two together and you get the picture.

What an enormously great miracle and glory from God. The person of God the Holy Spirit and the presence of the living God is IN and WITH the church.

The concept SPIRIT OF GOD which refers to the Holy Spirit is not used generally in the NT in this way. But it is here in verse 16. It points to the connection of the Holy Spirit and God the Father within the Trinity and emphasises therefore the Divinity of the Holy Spirit. He is TRULY God the same as the Father and the Son. And yet they are not three gods, but ONE true Trinity.

The Holy Spirit is not of a lower or lesser class or order than the Father and the Son.

When an individual Christian, but especially a church, begins to understand some of these significant realities, everyone shall be more careful about their practical daily lifestyle, and something like divisions and factions will be put to a stop – something which the Corinthians were guilty of, but from which they can be set free by simply beginning to understand the truth concerning their identity as a church.

READ VERSE 17 AGAIN

One can now better see what Paul’s entire argument in the previous verses was all about. The reason WHY he refers to the church as building-work, Jesus as the foundation, everyone who builds upon the foundation and how everyone shall receive or forfeit their reward – is because some build with building material such as wood, hay and straw which does not suit the foundation and is inferior building material.

WHY ALL THAT? Because it is the actual issue he has been addressing all the time, namely the divisions and factions within the church at Corinth. Within that immediate context, these particular divisions are an example of a building with wood, hay and straw. Building material that shall be consumed by fire. It shall not be able to pass through the fire of the last judgment. Because it desecrates God’s temple where He lives through His Spirit and is therefore directly present.

And what is the temple? The church of Christ.

To be the temple of the Spirit and the fact that the Spirit dwells there and that He represents God’s presence is not something one can feel and perceive. It is not tangible, visible and concrete. The naked eye and senses can not discern the reality of the indwelling of the Spirit and the church being the temple. It is impossible.

It is recognised and experienced through faith-confidence.

But what is faith-confidence? Is it just taking a shot in the dark and hoping it hits something? No. Faith-confidence is to sit with the black-on-white Word of God and to BELIEVE HIM FOR WHAT HE IS SAYING! Faith-confidence is not taking a step in the dark. It is based on facts and truth which goes out from the mouth of God! And it is the teaching of this Truth from God that the Apostle is passing on in these verses. Because should the church discover THIS – they discover their true and actual identity as the temple of God and they discover the reality of the presence of the Holy Spirit – and then their BEHAVIOUR shall be influenced and changed.

A Christian’s behaviour (life) changes when the TRUTH is understood and believed.

That is why proper, constant, continuous, thorough teaching of the Scriptures is so indispensable. Not milk, but solid food. Because the more secure a Christian is established in the truth, the clearer he understands His identity in Christ. And that inevitably leads to sanctification, spiritual growth and newness of life. Old thought processes disappear and new thought processes come to the fore. And that is exactly what the Apostle is doing with the Corinthians here.

HOW are they going to stop desecrating the temple of God with their factions and divisions and fleshly behaviour? HOW are they to receive wages and praise from God at the last judgment?

When they realise that THEY are the temple and that the temple is holy – meaning BELONGING TO THE LORD – meaning SET ASIDE for Him alone. THEY are the temple – the local church of Christ Jesus at Corinth. They have to realise that – if the Holy Spirit dwells in them – He manifests HIS fruit in the church – which is love, joy, peace, and so forth.

Whoever tries to frustrate the work of the Holy Spirit and therefore desecrate the temple, is sinning.

And yet there is a word of comfort here which we should take note of. The temple is holy. It belongs to God and not to man. He WATCHES OVER His true church. We can be sure of that.

READ VERSES 18-20 AGAIN

Now we can begin to see why the Apostle made so much of human/worldly wisdom earlier in the letter, in contrast with the wisdom of God. Because THAT also he now applies to the problem/sin of partisanship and divisions in the church.

Because: It is HUMAN/WORLDLY wisdom which elevates preachers of the Word to positions of authority and justifies partisanship. It is foolishness in God’s eyes, says the Apostle. It is human foolishness that cannot see/understand that the church is the temple of God.

Do not deceive yourselves, says Paul. Be realistic. The believer lives in the church AND the world at the same time – which changes all the time. The believer cannot apply the wisdom in the church which applies to the world. In the church, you have to be a fool for the wisdom of the world to become wise according to the wisdom of GOD.

Can you feel the conflicting tensions?
Every true Christian is exposed to those conflicting tensions daily. The values to which a Christian is exposed in the world are foolishness before God, and the values by which a Christian lives within the church are foolishness to the world.

What a spiritual conflict does the child of God not find him/herself in!

And quick as a flash, the worldly wisdom is carried over into the church and is professed to be the wisdom of God, and that leads to compromise upon a compromise with the truth of the Word, and in that way, the Christian builds upon the foundation – Christ – with wood, hay and straw, and may forfeit their reward and praise on the Last Day – as the Apostle already explained.

THAT in a nutshell is the essence of the argument and teaching of the present passage.

But is it perhaps not merely Paul’s personal opinion?

No, not at all. That is why he confirms what he is saying from the Scriptures. And indeed from Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11 – where the Holy Spirit declares that God gives certain people rope until they eventually hang themselves with it. He ALLOWS people to continue in their wisdom until they become caught up in their contrivances as in a trap. Otherwise, He just allows their thoughts to turn to nothing. That is how worldly wisdom turns out. Always. Without exception.

Worldly wisdom is therefore pointless and empty and fruitless.

Blessed – very glad – is the Christian who understands that.

But Paul asks: Corinthians, do you want to be caught up in something like that? No? Then repent in time. Jump from the bus before it goes over the precipice!

READ VERSES 21-23 AGAIN

We, therefore, see very clearly that – to the church at Corinth – faith in human wisdom was very important to them – but the Holy Spirit uses the apostolic pen to turn their focus away from THAT and to show them WHAT they already have in Christ. And in that way, he corrects their worldly reasoning.

Christ shares everything which is His with those who hope in Him – those who have received and accepted Him in faith into their lives. The preachers of the Word, among others. And them also, He shares with everyone!

The Corinthian church was divided into groups. Some were supporters of this minister of the Word, and others were supporters of that minister of the Word. They felt that they belong to the specific minister of the Word to whom they could relate best. That is how human wisdom operates.

But, according to God’s wisdom, the ministers of the Word belong to the church! A believer does not belong to a certain preacher. The preachers belong to the church. The preacher is not there with the purpose to gather a group around him! A preacher serves everyone – as a unit. THAT is the way HEAVEN looks at it.

How could the church at Corinth then think that Paul and Apollos and Cephas were serving certain groups within the church? It is the flesh that does that.

Meanwhile, they have restricted themselves by boasting in PEOPLE and linking themselves to certain preachers. Instead of living with the riches of realising that all preachers of the Word – yes, even ALL THINGS – belong to THEM – in Christ! Christ shares everything with them. Everything. They were made rich. But now they are robbing and impoverishing themselves.

Besides, human/worldly wisdom always impoverishes a person and restricts one.

DON’T cut yourselves off from the true riches, the Apostle cautions them.

Take careful note of what he is saying: He is NOT saying “all preachers of the Word belong to you”. He says: EVERYTHING belongs to you.

What a significant statement to make!

There is simply no limit to everything that belongs to them in Christ! Yes, the world, the cosmos, life and death, present and future – EVERYTHING is yours.

How can he say that?
Because life in Christ is the only life that matters. And even death is consumed and conquered. In Christ, even death is gain and not loss. Whatever is the end to the worldly person who is unsaved, belongs to the child of God as gain. The threat of the future is also something of the past. That too is gained in Christ. Everything belongs to the Christian. But the Christian belongs to Christ. Included in Christ. And so you do not belong to yourself.

Gone is the human/worldly wisdom and behaviour of the flesh.

The Christian is Christ’s.

And Christ accomplish the will of HIS Father in the salvation work entrusted to Him.

That does not mean that the Lord Jesus is less than the Father. He is eternal God. There is no order of precedence within the Trinity.

But Christ accomplished the will of the Father according to His eternal Plan and He became man, thereby fulfilling the will of God.

IN HIM the child of the Lord have EVERYTHING.

The saved person is in principle delivered from faith in human wisdom, and he/she can and must and should begin to live practically of the true wisdom of God – every day!

Translated by Marthie Wilson

Category 1 Corinthians

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