In ancient Israel, the building of the Temple was important. It was the center of all life, not just religious life, for the Israelites. Then the two kingdoms split and Jereboam set up other places for the people of Israel to worship and trouble began between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. Later, the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians as they ransacked and destroyed Jerusalem. The people were deported and scattered around the Babylonian empire. After a number of years, the people of Israel returned and one of their tasks was to rebuild the Temple, which they did under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. The Greeks took over the land and while they didn’t destroy the Temple, they desecrated it. Then the Jews rebelled and threw out the Greeks. They performed a ceremony to cleanse the Temple, and while they didn’t have enough oil for the lamps, God made the oil last – a feat celebrated at Hanukkah. After the Romans took over, Herod began a rebuilding project on the Temple that seemed to last forever. Jesus cleared out the Temple because the people had made it a place of commerce and focused on making it a house of prayer. When the Jews rebelled against Rome, though, the Temple was destroyed and today, nothing lasts except for a remnant of the Western Wall.
As you might guess from that long explanation, the Temple has been an important part of Jewish life since it was built, and rebuilt, and rebuilt. Many are looking forward to the Temple being rebuilt once again, although some major political hurdles would have to be cleared. Paul, an observant Jew, understood the importance of the Temple building, but also the meaning. That makes this statement startling: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)
As you look back over the history of the Temple, God used the Temple as a place for His Spirit to dwell. Ezekiel’s dramatic picture of God’s Spirit leaving the Temple because of the unfaithfulness of Israel helps us to understand that the Temple was more than a building. The Temple was where God’s Spirit dwelt and where God interacted with man. It was in the Temple where God let Zechariah know that he would become the father of John. When Jesus was dedicated in the Temple, great prophecies were spoken of Him. And it was in the Temple that Jesus amazed the teachers of the Law with His questions. Still, Paul threw all that history and tradition out the window by comparing the followers of Christ, the Church, with the Temple. While the building was still standing in Jerusalem, Paul changed the rules.
In the Greek, the word “you” is plural. I believe this means that Paul is talking about the Church as opposed to individual believers. What a high opinion of the Church. Even more than the Church universal, Paul is talking to the Corinthian Church and making that same claim. The Corinthian Church was riddled with sin, but Paul described it as the place where the Spirit dwells. So I ask, does the Spirit dwell in your church? Sure, your church may have problems and issues; what church doesn’t. Paul would come out and say, the Spirit dwells in your church. Paul would remind those people that they can worship God in other places, which is true, that they are missing out on communion with the Spirit of God when they fail to worship in church. It’s easy to dismiss the importance of the church in our individualistic society. We believe that the Spirit works in each of us individually. God has ordained your church, though, as a place where His Spirit will dwell. Perhaps we need to recognize this truth and approach our churches with more awe and willingness to serve.
Lord, thank You for my church. It’s imperfect because I’m there, but it’s perfect because You dwell there.