God’s Spirit Dwells in his Holy People

Written by Joel on February 21st, 2011

Jerusalem Temple

Feb 20, 2011
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

God’s spirit dwells in his holy people; even those Christians we strongly disagree with.


Can you think of someone you just don’t get along with very well? How about a fellow Christian?

In our second reading today, the Apostle Paul continues to address division in the Corinthian church. Still we read about the various factions which claim various Christian champions – Paul, Apollos, Cephas; he also adds “life, death; present, future” all of you are of Christ! All of you are in Christ; we are one.

The most striking image for the church which Paul invokes in this section of his letter is that of God’s Temple. Verse 16 “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”

I need to point out here that the “yous” in this text are all plural. When Paul says you are God’s temple he is not saying each of you individually carry a little peice of God around in your heart – doesn’t that make each of you special. Instead, the emphasis is (allow me to break into my country slang) all ya all are God’s temple. This assembled body called the church, the called out ones, you Christians put together as the Body of Christ; this assembly here is the temple of God. What a powerful image for the makeup of the church. Remember in Paul’s day the Jewish temple at Jerusalem was still standing and operating – making daily sacrifices for the atonement of sins. And that temple, in Jewish understanding, was the place where God lived! Now Paul proclaims, You’all are God’s temple. The place where God dwells is no longer contained by walls in a physical location; Where God’s holy people dwell is where God himself dwells. You are God’s temple. Quite the contrast.

The temple points back to God’s revelation and covenant on Mount Sinai where he gave Moses the 10 commandments. God ordered that no one was to go up the mountain except for Moses; everyone who approached the Holy Lord including the wild animals would die for being overcome with the holy. This extended to the tent of meeting, the Ark of the Covenant, and finally the temple – most notably in the Holy of Holies.

The Holy of Holies was the inner most portion of the temple. It was only entered once a year and then only by the high priest. God’s power and holiness was just to much to be unleashed. That was until of course the curtain which separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn in two; God thus declaring that his presence is not confined, and Paul tells us that God dwells with his holy church.

Temples are holy places which are set apart for worship and in ancient thought it is the place where the god honored made a home. When one nation defeated another one of the first things they would do is to destory the defeated temples in order to signify that this foriegn god failed to protect his people – he was powerless, and in fact destorying the temple of a god destroyed the god.

So Paul warns us in verse 17 that “if anyone who destorys God’s temple, God will destory that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.”

You are that temple, and destorying God’s temple – and as an extension attempting to destory God is a very serious matter. The Corinthian Christians were tearing each other down with their divisions and their factions, they were attacking each other, they were trying to destory God’s temple. The old saying goes “He who lives in a glass house should cast no stones.” I believe here that the same goes for the church – “Those who dwell within stained glass should cast no stones.”

It is such a big deal, because tearing down fellow brothers and sisters in Christ within our very body and within our very family, within God’s temple. When those outside of the church see this kind of division within the church – how could anyone ever believe in the grace of God which we proclaim.

Paul’s words and caution ring eternal. Even after the Corinthians, Christians have continued to be faced with division. On a large scale as evidenced by the many denominations which rose up because of conflict; and also the small scale – such as the well known church debates concerning carpet color.

Christians tearing down each other in word and deed is like picking up a brick and casting it through our stained glass windows. It hurts the church. I’ve heard a Baptist preacher accuse Roman Catholics of idol worship; I’ve heard a Catholic priest, in a homily, accuse all Protestants of “the heresey and sin of schism.” I heard someone in town say one of the pastors at another church in Timberville that they “hate children.” Each one a brick through the window.

Paul calls us to charity among our fellow Christians, the church, God’s temple. This is where God’s spirit dwells – do you believe it? These conflicts and strife, I believe often arise when Christians fail to discern other Christians as Christians. When Paul says you are God’s temple, and that is where God’s spirit dwells – its not so much about you, but about them. Those Christians you find differences with; don’t you know that God’s spirit dwells with them?

And perhaps this is most true about the really big issues of our day. There is certainly conflict within the United Church of Christ, particularly concerning the question of homosexual relationships. I wonder that this the Paul/Apollos/Cephas conflict for our modern church. And there are strong feelings on either side.

When I was back in California this issue particularly came to a head especially in the context of the Proposition 8 vote. I had the opportunity to meet with the Regional Minister of the Pacific Southwest Region (Disciples of Christ) to talk about the internal church conflict. She shared with me her agony that several churches in the region choose not to commune with other churches which disagreed on this issue; Let me rephrase that – they chose to intentionally destory God’s temple by dividing the communion table; our most sacred family meal! They made this intention public at regional gatherings and even protested some events such as youth camps.

Oh, and believe me the issue is not one sided; the Christians which support same-sex relationships accuse their opposition of fundamentalism and homophobia. Stones through our stain glass windows! I wonder that there are differences of opinion within this church, maybe even on the question of homosexual relationships – and I choose that not to decide it today, but because it is an example people have very strong feelings for on either side; much like I imagine the Corinthian Christians did for their respective factions. But that kind of name calling destorys each other; destorys the temple and makes it very difficult to recognize God’s spirit dwelling among the other – especailly among those we strongly disagree with.

We are presented with this challenge globally among the whole church, in each of our interactions with other individual Christians, and even right here at St. Luke’s consistories and congregational meetings. When (not if), when you again face another Christian you strongly disagree with look hard and see God’s spirit dwelling among them.


1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Melissa H-K says:

    Right on!

    When I was taking classes to become a Catholic, one of the priests mentioned Protestants in a derogatory way. I immediately objected on the following grounds:

    1. Protestants are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

    2. Most of us in the class were Protestant.

    He stopped talking about Protestants meanly. He didn’t mean any harm, anyway; he was very young.

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