1 Corinthians 3:16, 17
Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?…
Under the Old Testament, the temple of God was a house made with hands, a worldly sanctuary. The New Testament or dispensation reckons the people of God to be his temple, "the habitation of God in the Spirit." At Corinth there were many temples to the gods, but one temple of God. And the former were of dead stones, however beautiful to the eye. It is a common saying, "As dead as a stone." But St. Paul, with a fine audacity of thought, conceived of the latter - the temple of God - as formed of living stones, from the Foundation upwards.
I. THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE. The foundation of the whole Church God himself laid in raising up Christ from the dead. Whom men despised, he accepted; whom men slew, he quickened. And this living One is made "the Headstone of the corner." A "tried stone," too, thoroughly tested and proved to be sufficient. The foundation of the local Church at Corinth, Paul as a wise master builder had laid, i.e. he had made known Jesus Christ as crucified and risen from the dead, and taught the Corinthian converts to rest on him. Eloquent Apollos followed; and, though a party formed itself under his name, saying "I am of Apollos," St. Paul never blamed the eloquent preacher for this or showed the least jealousy of his influence. On the contrary, at the end of the Epistle he promised to the Corinthians another visit from "our brother Apollos,... when he shall have convenient time." Any builder was welcome to continue the work and enter into St. Paul's labours, provided that he did not disturb the Foundation which had been laid and could not be improved, and that he took good heed how he built thereon. The duty of builders is first to gather men, even though they be dead stones, to Jesus Christ, that they may live; and then to build them together, or edify them in faith and love. For this the proper means are found in the exposition and application of the Word with tenderness, pointedness, comprehensiveness, fearlessness, and fidelity. The power is altogether of God. Paul planted, Apollos watered; but the Church at Corinth was not their husbandry, but God's. Paul laid the foundation, Apollos built on it; but the Church was God's building, not theirs. It is so always and everywhere. "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it."
II. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE TEMPLE.
1. Holiness. "Holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, forever." The temple built by Solomon was holy, or separated to sacred use; but when its holiness was outraged by the idolatrous images and altars afterwards placed within its courts, it still retained beauty, because it was material. But now that the temple is spiritual only, its holiness is its attraction. Corrupt the character, degrade the purity of the Church, and you destroy its beauty too. The holiness of the Church is produced and maintained by the Holy Ghost abiding therein. We have not "influences of the Spirit" as from a distance, but his personal presence. When the Lord Jesus stood in the house of God at Jerusalem, he said, "In this place is One greater than the temple." For once, the less contained the Greater. Now in every meeting of the saints is One greater than the Church, for the Holy Spirit is there. And it concerns his Divine honour to purify the place of his habitation. It is his high prerogative to consecrate; and the New Testament temple is throughout consecrated, not by man, but by the Spirit of God. And as it is in calling and consecration, so ought it to be in fact and in service - holy to the Lord.
2. Unity. We read not of temples, but of one temple. However men may arrange themselves ecclesiastically, God sees but one temple or Church in each city, as of old at Corinth or at Ephesus. Indeed, there is but one temple, one Body of Christ, in all the world. And the unity is not brought about by negotiation or legislation; it is wrought by God. "By one Spirit are we all baptized into one Body." We have nothing to do with making the unity; but we are to know, feel, and evince it, worshipping together with joy, helping and exhorting each other, working together for the glory of God and good of man, and partaking together of the same bread and the same cup, not as partisans, but as Christians, members of one Body, guided by one Spirit, and cheered by one hope of our calling.
3. Variety. There are various courts, wings, towers, and porticoes in this great building. To our minds there may seem to be confusion and incongruity; but the supreme Architect knows how to adjust and reconcile all in a building "fitly framed together." Variety is not desultoriness. The mere heaping of stones together gives no temple, far less the making of little groups or heaps here and there over a wide field. They must be built and knit together in love. And then, too, there is variety in the places assigned to individual Christians. Some "seem to be pillars." They are like those vertical columns which supported a horizontal entablature in those classical temples with which the Corinthians were familiar. Others must be content to fill a niche or fit into a corner. It is an honour to be anywhere in the spiritual house.
III. A WARNING AGAINST INJURING THIS TEMPLE, One may mar the temple by not taking heed to what he builds. It may be called very liberal and tolerant to make no distinctions, and bestow Christian privileges on all; but St. Paul would call it the building of "wood, hay, and stubble," which cannot abide the fiery trial that comes on every man's work. One may also mar the temple by introducing the temper of the market place, and of the tables of the money changers into its courts. Such things call again and again for censure and a whip of small cords. One may destroy the temple, i.e. aim blows at its very life, by striking at its holiness, its unity, or its variety. Not that any one can actually demolish it; for it is an ever living Church: "The gates of hades shall not prevail against it." It is a capital crime against Christ and the Church, either
(1) to bring unholy teachings and practices into the temple ("deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate," Revelation 2:6); or
(2) to disunite the living stones, striking the pick axes of dissension and a "separating humour" into the temple wall; or
(3) to forbid in a bigoted spirit all variety in Christian organization, and say, "The temple of the Lord are we," instead of looking with an eye of charity on all who love the Saviour and breathe his Spirit, saying, "The temple of the Lord are these." - F.
Parallel VersesKJV: Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?